Category Archives: Writing and rejection
Question:Who owns a writer?
Answer: The person who buys their work?
If you’re a famous writer, you can become a bit like a celebrity where everyone who reads a cheap rag thinks they own a piece of you.
But do writers owe anybody anything? You wrote something, someone bought it and liked it and wanted more and more.
And they liked it because you created a whole make believe world they could lose themselves in, with a host of characters they could identify with, with magical powers they could use to solve any difficulty they came up against – it was their escape route from a world that was challenging and stressful and didn’t appreciate them. And most of us can identify with that.
And then one day the books stop. But hey, the writer’s produced a play with the same characters, the saga continues. You don’t go to see the play, well it’s in London and anyway you don’t go to the theatre but they’ve published the play. So off you go and buy it and then all your excited anticipation turns to dust. It’s not a book, it’s a play. Well yes, that’s what it says on the label.
Then just as you went in hordes to buy that writer’s books, now you descend on Twitter to lambaste that poor writer. One irate fan even suggests that “she owes me a book!”
J. K. Rowling doesn’t owe anybody anything. She had an idea, made a decision about how to deliver it and carried her decision out with the help of a playwright and director. There was never any secrecy about it; it was on the television news and in the papers.
If all of this furore highlights anything, it’s the ignorance of the different formats of dramatic writing – just because you like the Harry Potter movies doesn’t mean you’d be able to enjoy one of their scripts.
The irony of all this is the Harry Potter series of books is rightly credited with increasing readership amongst children but judging by the level of English displayed by the irate tweeters, it’s done nothing to improve their literacy – grammatical errors, misspellings and their inability to read labels! It’s a pity Harry Potter’s magic wand couldn’t fix any of that.
On a writing forum recently, someone asked a question about why novelisations of television dramas and films were always so badly written. The answer is they were written by screenwriters, who aren’t used to writing description or thoughts and feelings.
Film scripts are economical – they have to be. The dialogue and the plot are in the hands of the director and actors and they bring it to life in how they react and interact. At most a screenplay will be 120 pages long – a novel can be as long as the market and the story requires.
Writing a novel from a screenplay needs a completely different set of tools and skills than the screenplay requires. Fewer characters, perhaps fewer locations in the screenplay but the novel allows as many characters as the reader can deal with, because the brain takes in the information differently. The novelist isn’t hampered by budgetary constraints either – characters can go to Mars, travel back 500 years and as long as the reader believes them, the cost is the same as placing their story in the 21st century in a supermarket.
There was a trend in the 80’s for books the size of doorstops with so many characters there were lists of them at the beginning, to help the reader identify who was who. It seemed like people had forgotten that the human brain could only hold so much information and keeping it simple worked. When stories originated they were drawn on a cave wall long before they were spoken – woolly mammoth and man with spear – job done. Even when storytellers gathered around campfires, there were likely only a few characters, if that, in their tales – look at the traditional stories: Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel. Walt Disney and Pixar might have had a problem with their multi character casts.
There are some on-line blogs that start off talking about adapting a screenplay into a novel but half way through drift into talking about the reverse process, which has been the accepted trend for years. Advice is that you choose the major characters from the novel and the stand out scenes and write your script around them, keeping in mind the end of the story. You can turn this advice around for the reverse process but you could end up with a scaffold of empty rooms through which the characters move. Adapting a screenplay to a novel is like moving to a different country and setting up home there. To be able to write well in both mediums is a formidable talent – as Graham Greene displayed in The Third Man, both screenplay and novel.
Prose has to paint pictures for the reader and this is something that screenwriters aren’t used to doing. The script is a tool to produce the entertainment, the novel is the entertainment.
Yesterday was a black day for all the people who voted Remain, because the majority of the British people who voted, did so to Leave the European Union. It’s understandable that many are concerned for the future and their jobs that they are worried will disappear as will the EU funding that’s supported countless enterprises and projects.
But this is not a political blog. It’s a blog about reflection and also hope – this particular entry found its inspiration in a Face Book post when a distraught Remainer complained that the British were ungrateful for the EU funding that had supported so many creative projects, although we have contributed our share to the communal purse. I know there is wide spread concern in the creative industries for a future without this support or European co-operation/partnership. We should remember, however, that Britain has been spectacularly creative in the past and we can continue to be so in the future. Political institutions do not control what goes on in our heads or our imaginations and talent will eventually succeed. Artists will always find ways round barriers and across borders. It is too early to say – “we are doomed” – the politicians may think there is a line drawn in the sand but soft breezes and gentle tides can change all that, when there is mutual benefit. Art, in its conceptual stage, does not need huge funds. Europe may close its doors but there is the rest of the world.
In the mid 20th century, one of the greatest revolutions in music took place in a north west English port against all odds, without EU funding, though industrial decline and social deprivation would have made it a shoe-in for such if it had existed. However, it was Liverpool’s sea links with America, from where Scouse sailors returned with records of a new kind of music and guitars, (mostly smuggled, hard-to-come-by in post war Britain) that created something that spoke not just to Liverpool and then the UK but to the rest of the world. If we could do it then, we can do it now. Have hope, faith and create.
And anyway, twelve gold stars on Ringo’s bass drum – would never have worked.
Excuse the paraphrasing but why get rid of the old just because it’s a New Year. It’s only a way of keeping time not like anything drastic happens except if your birthday’s right bang at the beginning, then you could be entitled to feel a bit down in the mouth just because you’re another year older and haven’t finished that great masterpiece that was going to win you fame and fortune but worse than not finishing is never having started at all.
Forget the resolutions – which always look a bit like you’ve never done anything with your life until the 1st of January, year whatever and are usually so draconian you’re never going to keep them anyway. Instead of looking forward into the unknown with a list as long as a mile or kilometre, depending on your preference for imperial or metric, time travel back to the 1st January 2015. Where were you at in your writing ambitions and now fast forward 12 months and see what you have achieved. A word of warning, if you’re measuring success by having a three book deal with Random House and a film option with Steven Spielberg, this is not the blog for you.
If you’re going to carry on doing what is one of the most difficult jobs in the world, except for being perhaps a trainer in a flea circus, you need to value yourself and what you’ve achieved and resolutions just seem like whipping yourself for no reason at all. And we writers are very good at doing that already!
Who have you met that inspires you, makes you want to write? What books or films have you seen that have changed the way you think? What skills have you learnt or honed to help you and can you see the difference?
The only resolution worth making is to avoid anything negative and in the face of difficulties such as rejection – usually by people who don’t know what they’re talking about, resist tears, four letter words and sinking into black dog depressions. Do not compare yourself with more successful acquaintances – as someone very dear to me once said “You’re doing different things,” and instead search out anything that makes you feel better – things that have gone well, phrases you’ve plucked from the air in a moment’s divine inspiration, images you’ve caught from the corner of your eye that have seared your writer’s soul and will return to haunt you until you bring them alive with words and then, there’s that old standby for when you’re questioning your sanity – quotations by writers but don’t make a habit of it, in case it becomes a bad one. It can amuse, divert and also make you realise you’re not totally alone in this profession we’ve chosen but it’s not a replacement for writing.
So, for today, here’s my quote: “In the writing process, the more a story cooks, the better.” Doris Lessing.
Happy exploits in your future writing.
It was eleven pm and I’d finished a few hours working on a difficult part of my children’s novel. I’d run out of steam and my eyes were hurting. It was time to call it a night but the siren call of the internet, which I’d ignored all day, stopped me closing the system down. Ten minutes emptying my in-box was just good housekeeping and there might even be something important and life changing in there. Peculiar how you convince yourself to ignore your tired eyes and behave like a four year old who doesn’t want to go to bed in case they miss something. But I was glad I did because I came across this post and it made a great deal of sense.
Mark Manson’s question ‘what kind of shit sandwich would you be prepared to eat to realise your goal or dream in life’, isn’t something I’d ever asked myself because my drive to write was so strong that I was prepared to take any amount of rejection in order to succeed – and at the time, success was getting published. But what happens in the low periods, when inspiration or the so called muse escapes you, what drives you then – that’s where your eight year old self comes into play. Back then, when I scribbled stories in an old exercise paper, I had no idea of publishing; I wrote because just the very business of escaping into a world of make believe, all of my own making was worth it. I wrote the kind of things I enjoyed reading, reproducing the pleasure and the excitement over and over again. The writing itself was enough, even though it wasn’t very good but at the time I was happily ignorant of that. It wasn’t until I grew older and got distracted by puberty that I wrote less and when I returned to it at different times over the next few years, I’d find I’d hit a brick wall – not writer’s block – I just didn’t have the skills or the technique or the tools to carry on.
The shit sandwich of rejection that would be coming later, had a different filling to the one I had to chew then – I had to write in order to find how to make my writing work now I could see that it wasn’t good enough, wasn’t convincing or credible and that my reader wouldn’t suspend their disbelief. Looking back on things I wrote during that period, I can see some outstanding scenes and passages amongst the dross but at the time the sandwich of failure was hard to swallow. It was excruciatingly painful. You can take classes and join writers’ groups but the only way through this period is to keep on writing and I wanted to be a better writer so much I was prepared to do it.
If my eight old year self had been told I wasn’t any good and I should stop, would I have given up? I don’t think so. I was a very determined, bloody minded, ‘I’ll show them’ kind of girl – and maybe that’s what you need to keep going, because there are plenty of nay sayers along the way and plenty of cutting comments and the further you go in your career, the more vicious they can become. So it might have made me cry but it wouldn’t have made me give up. I’ve always taken heart from William Goldman, the writer of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” who said “Nobody knows anything.”
In his blog, Mark Manson asks what kind of olive do you want to eat with your sandwich. My olive has always been to get better at what I love doing because if I get better, then the chances of being published or produced are increased and also because at the end of a long day’s writing, I can go to sleep with an easy mind, a sense of fulfilment and if I’m not too tired, a quick look at the internet.