I don’t often write about the writing I do. There’s a couple of reasons.
Firstly, if I write in any detail about something I’m currently working on, I’m afraid I’ll jinx it.
Well, not ‘jinx it’ exactly, that just sounds silly and superstitious and it’s not that. It’s more that the exposing of my idea to any kind of atmosphere, other than the rarefied oxygen-deprived one in my head, will cause it to rapidly wither and die away.
Secondly, if I leave off writing about it until after I’m finished, I’ve completely lost interest in doing that and have moved on somewhere else.
Also I don’t rate writing advice terribly highly. Strike that too. I don’t rate any individual persons writing advice all that highly. I love to read what people have to say about their writing and their methodology but I find only the smallest proportion of what they say is actually applicable or useful to me. Thus I read lots of stuff and only hold onto the bits that suit me. It’s like asking all the writers to throw strands of their cooked spaghetti at me and see which bits stick. Okay, it’s not like that at all.
Having said all that, it should be clear that I don’t expect anything I might say about my own writing to be of very much use to you. In fact, I’d be disappointed if it was. I think we all need to find our own way with the stuff we do and if your way is the exact same way as somebody you’ve read about, then maybe you haven’t quite uncovered that truth about your own writing yet. Maybe you have. Maybe that’s just the first strand of my bullshit spaghetti advice.
Emmm… I can’t remember what I wanted to say now.
I’ve just started writing a new full length play and I’m very excited about it and it’s going rather well… and all that jazz. It just struck me that I naturally go about it on a rather odd, haphazard, sort of a way. I thought this might be worth mentioning because I reckon there are people out there who may feel, deep down, that they don’t deserve to get their play written if they don’t do it by the book, step by step, stage by stage, until it’s all neatly packaged up and done. That’s where I thought this particular strand of Fettuccini might have some value to .03% of some as yet undefined collective of writers.
If I were to try to do my thing by the book, I would have a few weeks of head scratching and frustration by which time any enthusiasm for the fledgling idea would be cold and dead and I would throw it by the wayside and trudge on to the next failed attempt. Mostly failed because I tried to do it somebody else’s way.
The important thing is to get it done. Whatever way you can. Get it done.
If I were to sit down, with my precious germ of an idea, and try to develop it into a synopsis, a treatment, God help us – a series of cue cards, I would not get very far. I know this because I’ve tried. Robert McKee in one hand, cards in the other, I’ve neatly written stuff on postcards, spread them on the floor, and taken a photo of them to show myself what I good kid I am.
So that do I do? What is my great secret to success?
I sort of… dick around.
If I’ve only got a germ of an idea but, crucially, if it’s coupled with that tingling in the back of the neck that implies there’s something developable there, then I dick around with it.
Bear in mind it’s only a germ, a seed if you will. If it’s going to grow I need to lay it in some fertile soil and pour water on it. I need to read and view stuff related to the idea, the more obtuse the link the better. I need to think about it.
But most importantly, and here’s the rub, I need to write whatever I can about it. This could be anything, a note on staging, a bit of business, a scrap of dialogue, a phrase, a joke and bit of music… anything that adds another molecule to the idea.
It’s a random process with little notion of a start, middle or ending. Bits of stuff are dicked-around-with and added to the germ and, bit by bit, the germ grows. It sprouts little weak yellow shoots. I keep dicking and adding and eventually, it finds a form.
There will be 'Eureka' moments and there will be 'Fuck' It moments but the thing will continue to grow.
It’s quite like the way I might do a crossword puzzle and how you might do it better but that wouldn’t work for me. You might start at one across and solve it and then do two across and then three across and you might get them all. Then, when they’re all done in fabulous order, you start on one down and fill them in.
With me, I don’t have a clue what one across is. Not a clue. But there’s a three letter word in thirty-one across that I think I know and the letter ‘n’ at the end of that three letter word might give me a hint about thirty-two down and now I’m stuck again but, wait, doesn’t five across look teasingly gettable?
I can finish the crossword too. Maybe not as impressively or even as easily as you can but the end result will still be a finished crossword. And the picking around, the deciphering and the general sorting-out can be fun and fulfilling to do.
I suppose all I’m saying is this. If you feel you have a play in you or a story or a poem, you don’t have to start at line one or even at any line at all. Spend time with your germ. Write whatever you can around it and, I promise you this, every little thing you write will open up another line in towards the centre of what you are trying to do.
Then, one day, the thing reaches critical mass. Suddenly there is enough to work with, to write with and the flow, the wonderful flow, can begin.
The secret. The thing that makes this process work. Is that you have to be willing to throw lots of stuff away. As the germ grows and strengthens, it will naturally start to shed lots of stuff that you tried to put on. Don’t try to keep it there with spit and glue. Let it go. I think some people fail by being over reverential of the stuff they dream up. Learn to step back, recognise the lesser parts of your creation, and let them fall to the ground.
Hark at me, almost sounding like I know something of which I speak.
That’s the point.
I don’t have to.