Sunday, May 11, 2008

Not Like Carrie Bradshaw: Day Seven

These days, there seem to be reality shows for pretty much everything. Dancers, singers, models, actors, filmmakers, fashion designers, entrepreneurs, chefs, and even wildlife experts. But, to date, there has been no reality show for writers.

And it ain’t ever gonna happen.

Why? Because writing is not Good TV.

A bunch of guys with plaid shirts and beards sitting in a cabin in the woods staring into a fireplace as they try to come up with the best haiku.

Even I wouldn’t watch that.

Unless you can find a batch of drop-dead gorgeous writers who wind up on a suicide watch as they attempt to complete their novel and backstab each other during the read-thrus---well, FOX will not be hopping on that particular bandwagon.

Writing is an interior pursuit. Period. Sure, there are those great TV writing jobs where you write with a partner or even a roomful of staff---but even still, the real writing is done in the head.

And, I have to say, I’ve had some experience writing in those group situations. Comedy, mostly. It’s hard to work on drama as a group. Just doesn’t come off as well. Comedy in groups works because the point is to make someone laugh. And if the other guy laughs, then you know you’re at least on the right track.

But comedy writing is not as fun as you would think. The weird thing is the better and more professional the writers---the less laughing you do. Yeah, you laugh. And yeah, it’s more fun than staring at a blank page all by your lonesome. But the pros rarely laugh out loud. It has to be REALLY spectacular to elicit a guffaw. Generally, the only laughter in the room comes when they’re laughing at private jokes or at themselves or each other.

But when it comes down to the sketch, the mood is often so heavy in thought and they’ve heard so many jokes in their day that often, the best they can do is to pull their hand away from their chin, wave it in front of them and say, with great seriousness, “Now THAT’S funny.”

Sure, there’s some yuking it up going on. But generally, writing comedy is a serious business.

In fact, the ones that laugh the most at their own jokes are generally the least funny. And if you think it’s painful sitting in a roomful of comics spitting out one bad joke after another---well, that’s nothing compared to your mind spitting out hours of shit-poor ideas in your head.

Carrie Bradshaw never seemed to have this problem. Carrie sat at her desk---relaxed, peaceful and all cozy in her yoga pants---sipping a glass of red wine, taking thoughtful drags from a cigarette, looking out the window for a moment, and then suddenly coming up with the perfect words. I never saw her struggle with just the right word. Never saw her pull out a dictionary or thesaurus.

“Hmmm---should I say ‘connote’ or ‘denote’? Hmmm.”

I never saw her re-write. Never saw any rough drafts or notes. Never saw her edit even one word of her precious thoughts.

In fact, when she finally got an opportunity to write for Vogue, she seemed floored that an editor for a national magazine had covered her two double-spaced pages with red ink. Well, Ms. Bradshaw---welcome to the wonderful world of writing!

Writing can SUCK! That’s why Dorothy Parker, when asked if she liked writing, famously replied, “No. I like having written.”

Years ago, a writer friend of mine stumbled across a great piece that the late Spalding Gray wrote about being at a Writer’s Colony. He made a copy of it for me and I loved it so much, I put it in a little frame and keep it on my desk.

And now, I’m passing it onto you.

Spalding Gray
At A Writer’s Colony

Then I got down to the writing, and it was awful. I don’t know why anyone would want to do it. It stinks. It’s like a disease. It’s an illness, writing. It steals your body from you. There’s no audience. You’re alone. My knuckle was swelling up. I had an arthritic knuckle from the pen pressing against it so hard while writing longhand. I was losing my sight in my left eye. I was going blind in my left eye, which was a horrible experience, because here I was working on all my Oedipal themes, and I thought, “Oh no, there goes the first eye.”

So I’m writing, writing, writing. I’m writing longhand. How long can you write longhand? Three hours? Four if you’re lucky, and your hand’s like a claw. Then what can you do in six hundred acres of woods? You go for a walk in the woods. And you walk and you walk and you walk. You go back to the main house and you drink. And you drink and you eat. And you reread what you wrote and you get up in the morning and you write. And you walk and you walk and you drink and you eat. And you reread what you wrote and you write and you walk and you drink and you drink and you drink. And you drink. I just wanted to get out of there!

But how could I leave? I was in a privileged place. Something had to draw me away----some disaster. Someone had to have a heart attack. Who would it be?

While not all writing is as tortuous as this, it’s not too far from the truth.

That is, except for Carrie Bradshaw.

Carrie Bradshaw and her perfect, un-edited, 500-word, overpaid columns can kiss my sore-from-sitting-too-long-in-my-desk-chair ass.

Writing is not that easy. Nor that financially rewarding for most of us.

But it does have its other rewards. The joy of finally figuring out the perfect twist in a plot. The thrill of discovering that a small element you accidentally planted on page 3 magically pulls the whole thing together on page 119. The adventure of finding out that pacing the floor to stimulate a dialogue between characters not only works---but helps bring a three-dimensional element to your cast.

And, last but not least, the ecstasy of hitting “PRINT”.

Nothing beats watching those pages roll out of your printer like little sheets of gold.

Of course, then you have to sit down with a red pen and mark that gold all up. But that’s okay. Because you’ve finally got something tangible to hold in your hands.

It’s even better when the piece is finally complete and you can make a title page and stick it in a binder and hold all that gorgeous bulk in your arms. It’s got to be the closest thing to giving birth---without all the great drugs.

But it’s your baby. You created it. Nurtured it. Sacrificed for it. And painfully pushed it out of you with sheer force. And there are no caesareans for writers. Not even forceps. Just you and Mother Nature alone in that six hundred acres of woods.

And then, before you know it, the day comes when you have to send it off into the world. You’ve done your best to raise it and help it become the best it can be. It’s your baby and you love it---and you hope the world will love it as much as you! With great expectations for your child, you let it go.

Unfortunately, the world can be a cold, hard place for your child. As it gets rejected by society, it crawls back home and winds up on your doorstep again. You take it in, of course---but do everything you can to help it get back on its feet. You give it everything you can give and send it out into the world again.

But after awhile, when your kid keeps marching back home to Momma, you have to face reality and realize that, as hard as you tried---well, you just have a shitty kid.

Luckily, for writers, we can just stick that shitty kid on a shelf and try to make a better one.

Today, while sitting on the train to work, I realized that I was currently raising a pretty decent child. Two of them, in fact. And sure, they take up a lot of my time and energy. And yeah, they can be a pain in the ass sometimes. But I think I’m doing a pretty good job of raising them in a big city as a single Mom on a waitress salary.

And the great thing about my kids is that if they turn out to be completely worthless---well, abortion is always legal at any age and any stage of development.

So, there you go. A week in a life of a NYC Writer. I wish I had more for you. Wish there were some major career developments or plot twists or new characters for you to identify with. But, while life here is occasionally like Sex in the City---it’s generally like life anywhere else. Or writers anywhere else. No matter where you live, it’s pretty much just you sitting down with your thoughts, some paper and a pen.

And while this has been an interesting exercise for me---well, frankly, I need to get back to work. Writing these daily essays takes quite a bit of time away from my regular writing duties. On average, I would say it’s taken me approximately 3-4 hours to write each one. Sure, some of it is done on the train back and forth to work. Some of it is me actually AT work jotting down ideas and bits and pieces in a small notebook I keep in my apron pocket. But it definitely takes time.

And, to be honest, I’m not thrilled with these pieces. I will admit to occasionally going back and making small minor changes in the blog from the previous day or even the day before. It’s hard to write so quickly and then just let it be. These aren’t exactly shitty kids. They’re more like a houseful of foster kids I didn’t pay enough attention to. If they wind up in jail or hooked on drugs, I can always say, “Hey, I only had them for a short time.”

But this has certainly been a challenge. And, for me, that’s one of the fun things about writing---constantly being able to challenge yourself and damn the risks.

So, while Carrie Bradshaw may never have written a less-than-stellar column---she never really took any risks. In writing, at least. We all take risks in life. That’s where the great stories are. And you can’t REALLY write if you aren’t living. So, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to my fabulous life in this amazing city. It’s not exactly Carrie Bradshaw, but then, I don’t have to constantly turn everything into a pun. God, I hate those puns.

And just so you know---at this moment, I am sitting at my computer, sipping a glass of red wine in a pair of comfortable yoga pants while looking thoughtfully out my window. And the perfect words are coming…

With the help of my thesaurus.

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