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Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Longest Journey

Getting your thoughts and ideas out of your head and onto the page is the longest journey in the world. We can see the scene, we can feel the emotion, but we have to use keystrokes and words to get it onto that white sheet of paper. And it's not easy, right? Because now we are constrained by a certain way of expressing that on paper - the screenwriting way. Or the prose way. Or the poetry way. Contrary to the saying, we are not a bunch of monkeys in a room.

Being a writer doesn't simply mean you have a lot of neat ideas in your head. It's all in the name: w-r-i-t-e-r. You write it down. And it's more than wanting or needing to write down your ideas and stories, it's the ability to write it down in such a way that other people reading it are engaged, surprised, touched and entertained by the words you took out of your head and put on the page.

Think of someone you know who is very funny. Think of the way that they command the room with their joking, imitations or comments. They love it. They love to bask in the glow of the laughter they evoke. They might be naturally funny, they may have a unique, wry, cynical way of looking at the world. But they don't sit around by themselves and crack jokes.

Any Rouge Waver reading this knows the wonderful feeling when someone says, wow, what you wrote in my birthday card made me cry. Or wow, your short story really surprised me and made me see things in a new way. And maybe you haven't had this particular experience, but when an editor says, yes, your essay or short story will be published - WOW - it means it did its job and that now, thousands of people will also be able to read what you wrote and integrate it into their own lives and point of view. I get that WOW feeling from the Rouge Wave - if a Rouge Waver says, thanks, I learned from that, or that made me laugh - geez, that means using the characters of the alphabet and my keyboard, I took what was in my head and wrote it down in such a way that it made a difference to you. Because a writer not getting read is like one hand clapping.

That's what we all want ultimately, right? To entertain others? To have an impact on them? To change their thinking, crack them up, scare them to death or otherwise make them FEEL something? We don't write just for our own benefit. Or maybe we do. But that's called journaling. Nothing wrong with that - it's therapy, it's reflection - but it's not for public consumption.

Before your writing can possibly have an impact on a reader, you must be adept at using the language. Spelling, grammar but more than that - the lyricism of the language itself. Here is a bit from a TC Boyle short story: Fall settled in early that year, a succession of damp glistening days that took the leaves off the trees and fed on the breath of the wind. Fed on the breath of the wind. Ah, TC, how I love you so.

Can you write a sentence like that? No, it's not screenwriting, it's prose - a different beast altogether - but screenwriting can also be lyrical and beautiful. Believe it. It's not just a blueprint, it's a gorgeous blueprint/presentation and words are your only tools with which to create it.

Are you a good writer? I mean - are you really? I don't mean have you sold a script or have you published a novel or have you come up with the best idea in the universe, but what is your facility with the words on the page full stop? Can you look out the window right now and write 250 words about what you see in such a way that I would be entertained by it? Can you make me see the buildings, the streets, the flowers or the rail car going by?

Screenwriters should watch a lot of movies. If you haven't checked out the GASP list, please do so and begin checking movies off it. If you are a television writer, get those hours of TV in. But remember, before your words hit the screen, they hit the page. So read good writing. And read it a lot. Take pride in the way you wield the words on the page. At the end of the day it's unimportant whether it's screenwriting, prose, essay writing or anything else. You have a gift. Use it, expand upon it and spend time daily getting it out of your head and onto the page.

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2 comments:

jcarends said...

Magnificent. The writing, the message, the timing, and the love imbued...

Thank you!

Trina0623 said...

Thanks Julie.
Love the quote from TC Boyle -- Love beautiful phrases like that.
I have always loved unique turns of phrase and word choices and the melody and rhythm of words.
Sometimes it's easy to forget that the words on the page are just as important as the imagery we are trying to evoke.