Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Carpal tunnel froze your fingers?

That's writer equivalent for "Cat got your tongue?" Psh, I don't know, I hate making up titles for my blogs. Or my screenplays or teleplays or novels or anything.

Since I have the attention span of a goldfish (yay, I'm shiny!), I sometimes am unable to read through other writers' brilliant and looooong blog posts. I don't know how most of them do it, by the way. Maybe that's why those people are real writers...


Anyway, one of the blogs I was so perusing in my scany eyes-glazed-over way was Kay Reindl's post Readers & Writers that followed up on Josh Olson's angry diatribe. These particular passages jumped out to me, emphasis mine:

I can tell if someone can write. End of story. The script may not be very good. The writer may have made all of those rookie mistakes that we all made. But if that person has the ability to write, I CAN TELL. If they have a tin ear for dialogue, I CAN TELL. If they can't structure a story, I CAN TELL. Not because I'm successful, but because I've read three million screenplays. I've been in writer's rooms breaking stories. I've given notes. And I've written. I've read scripts that are hot messes, but there's a voice there. Writing is ALL about voice. Either you have it, or you don't. Sure, people can learn to structure stories correctly. They can learn the mechanics of writing. But they CANNOT learn to be writers. Either you have a voice, or you don't. If you don't understand what makes a writer, then I guess I can't explain it to you. ...

I was an illustration major in college. Like Josh, I can draw pretty well. And I thought I could make a living at it until I met someone whose work had voice. And I realized that although I could do a pretty decent job, I didn't have that voice. I realized it because even though I love making art, I allowed myself to be open enough to really see what made a successful artist. And I didn't have it. I was close, but I didn't have it.



Now Kay Reindl doesn't know me, but I'm very sure she picked up a 2x4 and whacked me across the face with it. Because I'm pretty sure I have the most pedestrian voice ever. And first of all, what the crap is voice? Sidney Lumet says in his book that style is one of the most overused words ever. Isn't voice just another word for style? I don't know how to become self aware of my voice. Maybe I'm unsure about my voice because I have yet to carry a screenplay to its business-ready draft. The first couple drafts are so much about getting the story out there - I turn off my internal editor just so I can finish a page without worrying that I sound uninspired - and subsequent drafts are where my voice finally finds it to the page.

She has a point, you know. You can know how to write a screenplay or a story or a concerto but not have a gift for it. I can learn about the mechanics of perspective but never draw a stunning picture. But the problem is, you can still draw. I can write. Five completed first drafts say so. But I think it's difficult to become self-aware of your voice. And part of me just isn't sure yet where to find it in all those pages. I feel like the little mermaid here, clutching my throat after Ursula commandeered my voice (ugh, tentacles!).

Which is why, on the flip side, I love Julie Gray (she's just nice. And she likes cupcakes. We would definitely be friends). Her recent reply to an email about jealousy is a nice balance to other panic-inducing blogs:

If you feel jealous, take a deep breath and sit with the feeling for a moment. Articulate it. Bob got an option, and I suddenly worry I’ve been wasting all these years and I’ve GOT to get a real job one of these days and [insert random, stream-of-consciousness worry here]. Okay, those are all valid feelings. So what are you gonna do, quit? Become an angry, bitter, ugly person and throw some coconuts at Bob? Or how about sit your ass back down and get back to work like a pro and maybe make some of your killer spaghetti sauce later?

And that's what we do. Sit ourselves back down and get back to it. And maybe there's a voice of indomitable character in that.

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