So have you been taking a short break from writing over the festive period or has the short break suddenly become a bit too long? Have you slipped into ‘just another mince pie and glass of Prosecco please’ stupor, promising yourself you’ll get back to it tomorrow or maybe the next day or even next week.
I think Writers only write because they have to. The first draft is like pulling a tooth while scratching your skin with nettles. The second draft will be better, you promise yourself. At least the itchiness has gone but not the anxiety as you wait for your notes from your beta reader. And when they come, you wonder why you bother putting yourself through all this torment. Even Agatha Christie’s fictional character, Ariadne Oliver comments that she’d rather solve a murder than have to write one.
This comment from a writer who taught a creative writing class sums it all up. A couple of her students achieved considerable publishing success in a short time. At the end of the term, she asked what writing projects the class was planning, expecting the successful ones to be brimming over with enthusiasm. She was disappointed at their response – “It’s not guaranteed that we’re going to sell everything we write, so we’re going to give it up.” And the teacher’s reply? “I wish I could!”
You’re in it for the long haul, so stop complaining. Get on with it. Don’t procrastinate, don’t waffle, don’t stand on the side lines or the bathroom scales, lamenting the box of chocolates you’ve just ate. Even if it’s only a line in your diary – write something every day. I wish you all the best for 2019 – This is going to be a very interesting year and if you don’t know what the Chinese said about that adjective, check it out below. Be Happy and Write!
One of the first pieces of advice I got as a beginner writer was to read other writers’ work. I’ve modified that for myself – read about the writers themselves as well. When you’re alone and suffering those scary writers’ blues and wondering if you’ll ever achieve the goals you’ve set, it helps to know that some really famous writers have been where you are and still have days when they doubt themselves or find it difficult to get that vivid idea in their head onto the page.
This year is the 50th anniversary of Judith Kerr’s brilliant children’s book, The Tiger Who Came to Tea and it is also Judith Kerr’s birthday today, Thursday, 14 June. Judith Kerr is 95 years old and came to England as a refugee, escaping the wave of Fascism which took the lives of so many. The Tiger Who Came to Tea was a bedtime story she told to her daughter and it became her first picture book.
In a BBC Radio 4 programme this morning, she explained how she’ll make several copies of a piece of work to give her scope to play around and develop it. She freely admits that “Drawings don’t take me as long now because I’ve got better at it.” Such honesty is encouraging when so many famous writers prefer not to share their development process and give the impression that they’ve always been able to create with great ease.
Listening to her speak this morning and reading about her in the The Telegraph Magazine of 2 June, she had some useful tips and although she is an illustrator, she’s also a writer:
“I go on for as long as it works. You can’t just stop, even if what you’re doing is rubbish, because you have to work through that …”
However, when she has to stop, it’s always “at a point where the next thing is sort of in view.” And her final comment: “A blank page can be very intimidating.” We can all identify with that!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Judith Kerr!
“Pink Rabbits and Other Animals” available to download on BBC i player
You need a destination when you’re writing, even if you’re not physically travelling. Whatever it is, book, play, short story or film, if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up in a place you never intended with your protagonist not achieving their goal or overcoming the obstacles you’ve placed in their way.
But that’s not going to happen to you. You’ve planned it all out. You’ve got the chapter breakdown, you’ve written the detailed treatment – nothing can go wrong yet somewhere along the writing road, you lose your way and the ending’s muddled.
Here are three pieces of advice to avoid ending up in a cul-de-sac.
My first writing tutor told me to write down in one sentence what the main character’s aim was and to pin this on the wall in front of my keyboard.
Tony Jordan, gave me the second piece of advice, when I wrote for “Eastenders”. Always know what the end of the scene will be.
And the third piece was from a tutor on a screenwriting course, visualise what will be on the cinema billboard advertising your film. This last one will leave you in no doubt who the most important characters are and breathe colour, atmosphere and life into your story.
It does whatever it says on the label – maybe it scares you, pulls at your heart strings, intrigues you but it’s complete and shouldn’t leave you wanting more.
They need to be standout, showcasing the talents of everyone involved in their genre, be high quality productions and have something that draws you to them and makes you remember them.
This is one of my favourites:
Je t’aime John Wayne – starring a young Kris Marshall
Available on YouTube and Wikipedia
So you’ve just typed ‘THE END’. Whatever it was, and no matter how long or short it was, you’re flush with a sense of achievement . You’ve done it – you started, got past the middle and romped home to the end. Time to stick it on the shelf and give yourself some distance.
Some writers keep everything on the cloud but I like a couple of ring binders and print off every chapter of the first draft as I finish it. Then it’s like a real book when I come to the critical re-read and it’s as though I’m approaching virgin territory. Did I really write that?
At least a month after finishing the first draft, I begin to read. The way I work is at the beginning of each chapter I insert a page. At the top I put a heading, ‘First Impressions’ and half way down the page another heading, ‘Narrative’.
First impressions are useful because sometimes there’s a distance of several months between writing the first draft and reading it again and that gives you the brutal honesty you’ll need to make it better. You know instantly when something isn’t working, when it’s not dramatic enough, even when it’s in the wrong viewpoint. And while your spirit might sink at the thought of all the work ahead, your pride won’t let you step away. You invested so much time in creating that world, no matter how many drafts it will take, you’ve going to get it right.
The Narrative section is perhaps more important. Under this heading as you read, you’re going to jot down the precise plot points of what has happened in that chapter. Even if you think you know it off by heart, when you strip away all the description and simply list the events that move the plot along, you can be surprised to find contradictions and improbabilities, sometimes downright hilarious.
You can also find yourself having to make big changes and it’s important not to fudge around them. You’ll know when something’s not working and has to be changed. Grasp the nettle even if you’ll need tons of imaginary dock leaves later.
A few posts ago, I talked about how female actors were choosing not to wear make-up when filming. Amongst those who had made this decision was the actor, Sarah Lancashire. She recently won the BAFTA for Leading Actress in the Best Drama, Happy Valley, so less make-up obviously didn’t affect her performance.
Why is it so important for female actors to portray themselves in a naturalistic way? First, the world of drama becomes more like the ordinary world of the audience and female viewers will connect better to the actors. It’s all about role models and even adult women need those but do they need the ones portrayed in films. Yes they can dye their hair the same colour as the heroine and get longer lashes but when they’re playing Jane to some he-man’s Tarzan, as soon as the screen goes black, they’re back in a real jungle where too often they really are Jane.
It’s not just about making role models for ourselves but about finding stories that mean something to women. Female actors are trying to do this all the time as well as finding work. For too long, actresses have gone from playing the love interest for the lead man to playing the lead man’s mother – apparently the only acceptable roles for women in a male dominated industry.
When groups of women are portrayed in films, not many story lines dip beneath the surface of what society expects from them so it was good to watch a conversation between Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern talking about how much they enjoyed working with each other on “Big, Little Lies”. In Witherspoon’s words,
“I think the show pulled back the curtain on what women are really thinking in marriage and life and that it’s not just the persona we construct for society.”
“Big, Little Lies”, the screen version was adapted from the novel of the same name by Liane Moriarty.
This difference between the real world and film where women are concerned was forcefully highlighted when Jessica Chastain spoke out at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
“Chastain, a member of the 2017 festival’s jury, was witness to 20 of the world’s most acclaimed new movies and noticed a disheartening trend. The Academy Award-nominated actress acknowledged that there were exceptions, but most of the female characters seen at the festival were passive and empty shells of characters. Chastain continued by saying that these characters did not reflect any woman she had ever encountered in real life and that the lack of accurate representation speaks to how the world views women as a whole.” (uinterview.com/news)
Unfortunately, until there are more female directors and writers, film story telling is unlikely to change and neither is the world.
For further insight into women in film this article in the guardian is worth a read. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/sep/27/geena-davis-institute-sexism-in-film-industry