Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fair Game: The writing thing

I got an e-mail from a friend of mine who was asking about the whole writing thing. It's one of a number of questions I get asked a lot:

Is writing by nature narcissistic? Is this why i resist it? Because I think it's too self-indulgent?

The honest answer? Yes. Writing is totally self-indulgent. For most of us normal mortals, we start out writing because we think what we have to say is so important that the world should stop in its tracks and listen to us the moment we open our mouths. "Me me me!" we cry. But if we keep at it long enough, we grow out of the Me stage and into the You and Us stuff that is writing about the world and about ideas and about people, instead of just our own egos.

Some lucky people can do that right off. Not me. I went through the Me stage and I've never really gotten out of it, especially in my science plays, where I'm so obviously saying "See how much Matthew knows!" And I have to admit, I dream of the day I'm walking through Times Square when suddenly the sky opens up, a dove descends to hover over my head, and the voice of God proclaims for all to hear: "This is my beloved playwright, in whom I am well pleased. Give him an advance just for living."

So maybe you never lose the self-indulgence; maybe you only wear an unpretentious jacket over it when you go out in public. I do know one thing, though. It's one of the rules I live by.

MATTHEW'S SECOND LAW OF WRITING: The first draft is always therapy.

I've learned through experience that (unless you're like Noel Coward) you never show your first draft to anybody. Anybody. It's always too personal, even if it doesn't read that way to you when you've completed it. It's the second draft that counts, the one where you take whatever the hell was on your mind and turn it into something that a total stranger can relate to. Hopefully. Which sometimes takes five or six or ten drafts. At the end of which there may be very little left of your original words. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Because

MATTHEW'S THIRD LAW OF WRITING: If you're in love with it, cut it.

If you keep going back to a scene or a line or a monologue, and you read it with a smile, or rework everything else around it to make it work better, or you think it's the best thing you've ever put on paper, Vegas bookies will be laying odds that this scene/line/monologue is shouting "Me me me!" which is why you don't want to get rid of it. Rule of thumb: the second you say "I have to keep this in" about anything, cut it out. Second rule of thumb: if you have something you've cut from another piece and you keep trying to work it into new projects, don't. Post it on your blog and move on, because whatever it is, it's all about you.

So what's Matthew's First law of Writing?

MATTHEW'S FIRST LAW OF WRITING: The more you do it, the better you get at it.

Which is also a rule of life, but as far as writing goes, the Writer's Way system never (repeat: never) fails to result in something creative if you keep at it consistently. If you write two pages a day about anything--if you complain about your job or record what you remember about last night's dream or describe the woman sitting across from you on the subway or jot down notes for a story or a play or a novel, then the more you write, the better you will get at not just putting words down on paper, but at organizing those words into beginning, middle and end. It's like there's an unused muscle in everyone's brain that can not only see order in something, but create it. And when you exercise this muscle by giving it 500 random words a day to digest, it is going to arrange them into something. Trust me on this: it will automatically happen. It's like your hard drive needs a certain amount of input before a program kicks in and starts to arrange that data sequentially. That program is resident in all of us. But it's not something you can access from your mental desktop. It needs something to open up, like Picasa.

Bottom line: yes, writing is self-indulgent. But you shouldn't resist it because it's self-indulgent. You should embrace it because it's self-indulgent. And then point that impulse out, into the world, so that it can embrace me.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Yes! I feel so indulged! Thanks Darlin' for the lovely "rules"