Saturday, September 6, 2008

What Makes a Writer's Writing Space Work

As far as I can tell there are two distinct camps when it comes to a writer's writing space.

Camp #1 believes in beauty, comfort, and a view.

Camp #2 believes in utilitarian efficiency and a brick wall.

Okay, I'll admit I'm simplifying a wee bit but you get the idea. Some writers are inspired by gazing out at the rolling vistas and natural wonders outside their window. Some writers (and I suspect I might be one of them) wouldn't write a word if they had--oh, let's say Mount Rainier to look at every day. (You really must check out Susan Wiggs's blog The View From Here. Great blog and boy, does she have a view to die for!) That's why I tend to keep the shades down and the curtains drawn when I'm deep into a book. I imagine it must look pretty weird to neighbors passing by but it works for me. Otherwise I'd be daydreaming at the window, watching the cardinals and goldfinches at the bird feeders, the multiple generations of rabbits in our yard, the squirrels, and the occasional groundhog family sunning itself on our deck.

Neil Simon is a brick wall kind of writer. At least when he wasn't writing in New York City. Turn your back to the world and dive inward. Which is great as long as the pool is filled with deep water. It's when that pool of words and ideas runs dry that a writer runs into problems.

It's a constant battle: the intense need for long stretches of isolation and quiet, followed by the urgent need for movement and excitement. I'm over twenty-five years into this career and I still haven't managed to figure out the balance.

Then again maybe the balance can't be understood. Maybe it changes every day, every minute, and it's a lucky writer who somehow manages to keep that pool filled to the brim.

And a quote from Neil Simon:

“Don't listen to those who say, you taking too big a chance. Michelangelo would have painted the Sistine floor, and it would surely be rubbed out by today. Most important, don't listen when the little voice of fear inside you rears its ugly head and says. they all smarter than you out there. They're more talented, they're taller, blonder, prettier, luckier, and they have connections. I firmly believe that if you follow a path that interests you, not to the exclusion of love, sensitivity, and cooperation with others, but with the strength of conviction that you can move others by your own efforts, and do not make success or failure the criteria by which you live, the chances are you'll be a person worthy of your own respects.”

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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Neil Simon: writing coach?

In her book, THE CREATIVE HABIT, choreographer Twyla Tharp talks about "reading fat." I've always read fat; I just didn't have a term to describe it. Reading fat is what happens when a book or an author intrigues you enough that you begin to dig deeper in search of -- well, in search of more. More information. More insight. More stories. More connections. More everything. It's a version of Six Degrees from Kevin Bacon but played with books instead.

That's how I ended up with Neil Simon as my writing coach. To be honest I'm not even a big Neil Simon fan. With the exception of THE ODD COUPLE and THE GOODBYE GIRL his work leaves me cold. Yes, I recognize his talent. Yes, I applaud his success. But there's always been an urban chill to his work, a certain Updike/Cheever middle-class bitterness that didn't set well with me.

One of the first books I purchased to read on my Kindle was Marsha Mason's autobiography. It was a little New Age-y, a little gossipy, very sincere, and very entertaining. I'd known some of her history and I guess I was feeling nosy and wanted to learn more. She was Neil Simon's second wife. He married her just a handful of months after his first wife Joan died of cancer. Marsha Mason stepped into an apartment decorated by the first wife, slept in the bed where the first wife slept with their (now shared) husband, used the first wife's plates and cups and glasses and silverware. You get the picture, right? It was doomed to failure and fail it did.

So I wanted to read about it from Mason's perspective. Then I wanted to read about it from Neal Simon's perspective which led me to his memoirs (REWRITES and THE PLAY GOES ON) which didn't so much enlighten me about what in the name of God he'd been thinking when he married so quickly after losing the love of his life but about his writing process.

It's all about focus. He's one of those lucky writers who can turn off the world around him and sink into his subconscious at the drop of a pencil. He finds comfort in writing. Writing soothes his soul. Writing answers his questions. Writing is like food and drink to him. And the ideas never stop. Not even when his wife was dying. Not even right after she died. The ideas, the plots, the plays were always there waiting for him.

It's about rewriting. He never gets it right the first time. He doesn't expect to. The first time is about capturing the story, the characters. The tenth time is about getting it right.

It's about being fearless. He's not afraid to fail. He's not afraid to succeed.

Mostly because, first and foremost, it's about the writing.

Some examples tomorrow.

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Monday, September 1, 2008

Amazing Faces, Beautiful Men

Another winner from Philip Scott Johnson. I think you'll love this.


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