Friday, July 24, 2015

Television's Big Lie

A few years back I was watching this TV show called 'Californication'. You may have heard of it. It chronicled the adventures of an American author played by David Duchovny. Decent TV show. I made it few two or three seasons before I stopped watching. Nothing on the show, I just rarely make it to the end of TV series.

The way 'Californication' presented the writing process is fairly similar to how many movies and TV shows present the writing process. Here's how it works.

1. The writer struggles. Writers can't just come up with an idea or a story or a topic, sit down and write it. They can't just set aside time in their day to brain storm and plan. Or rather, they could, but it always ends up being fruitless and they have a montage of making pencil towers and throwing scrunched up paper into their waste bin. Writing can't just happen.

2. Inspiration strikes. Somehow, some way, somewhere, the writer is inspired. Often it's because of something they see or somebody might say something that makes all the pieces of their potential novel fall into place. More often, however, they experience something amazing and unusual and it becomes the catalyst for their story. Whatever the case, inspiration comes and at last they can write.

3. The writer writes. They sit down at their typewriter (or computer, but often a typewriter because writers are quirky like that or because it's a Stephen King story from the 1970s) and they punch out a story. This also often involves a montage or similar time lapse but the suggestion is that the writer simply does nothing else but write from when the time inspiration hits until the time that first draft is done?

4. Did I say first draft? Oops! That's not how it works. Because inspiration is so strong that you only need to write a book once. You get those last words down and BAM! Your work is done. Time to send it to your agent or maybe straight to the editor working at the publishing house. This person may also be your best friend and wing man when you go out drinking. Having a purely professional relationship with your professional colleague would just be weird. They love it to. Best thing you ever wrote! Sold! Print it!

5. Six months later, the book is on shelves. Everybody is buying it. It's 10/10 and you're doing interviews for Time Magazine. Fame, money, prestige and acclaim are all yours! Midlist? Obscurity? What's that? You, sir, are a genius!

Obviously it's fiction. Nobody believes this is what it's like. Nobody wants a montage for the author's third draft, most of which he does while watching repeats of Bewitched in his pyjamas. There's no value or charm in an episode where the author browses in search of a good name for a throw away character. And seeing the hero's hard work reap little to no reward, unless that's the key conflict to the story, isn't much fun to watch.

So whatever. It's fiction. Who gets upset about fiction? We all know it's not true. Writing's not like that and anybody with half a brain gets that.

But there's an idea in here I think does need some proper refuting,and that's the idea that authors work alone. Writers write the book, send it away and go onto the next book. The author jealously guards his manuscript, crafting it his art like a lone wolf. He is the keeper of the magic.

But that's not how it works. Books are made by teams and if that's an idea you need to get friendly with or you're in trouble. You, the writer, are not enough. At least, at the absolute very least, you need an editor.

And by editor, I mean an editor. Not you with an editor's hat on, not your friend who knows grammar really well. You want to make a professional book? Get a professional editor.

But books aren't made by writers and editors either. You're writing a book for people to read, yeah? So get some people to read it. Find some readers. Obviously they should be people who read lots of books. They'll have the best knowledge, intuitive or otherwise, of what works. They'll also probably get through the manuscript. Other writers are good, presuming they're writers who read books. But what's really important is that they're somebody willing to give you an honest opinion, not just of the manuscript as a whole, but as a play by play commentary, picking over each scene and telling you what they really think. Some people suggest this shouldn't be your mother or your spouse or your friends. But they can be, so long as they're willing to give you honest feedback.

We're not quite done though. Because books are made by writers and editors and test readers, but they're also made by your friends and your family, by people you brainstorm with and who suggest ideas, by their encouragement and their interest in your creative endeavors.

What it all comes down to is you are one person with one mind and one imagination. There's not enough in you to make a good book all by yourself. It takes a team, one bigger than you may have thought. Like the man said...

It's dangerous to go alone.

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