I've been watching Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe (series 4, episode 3) over and over again on BBC iPlayer. In this episode he interviews a number of screen writers about their art. It's a joy. I love hearing writers talk about their process, their ideas, and the obstacles they have to overcome. I love reading about it too and have several books on my shelves of writer's interviews. It's the nearest thing I get to staff room chat.
The great thing about this show was the variety of answers given to the same questions by the various interviewees, in an easily digestible chunk of time. Just like a lunch break with colleagues. I could identify with pretty much all of them at some stage. So, as they are all doing well, I felt kind of vindicated. For example Graham Linehan (who wrote the first series of Black Books, and Father Ted amongst other things) made me feel much better about my tendency to procrastinate: he procrastinates a lot he said, partly due to fear, 'but also it's partly feeding the subconscious,' and you can't write if your subconscious is empty. He likened writing to 'having a poo, you can't go if you don't want to.' You have to feed your subconscious until you just have to write. People falter because they start too soon. Thus he put into words what I have always felt but stumbled at explaining, feeling a fool and a lazy one to boot. I love that man! Even though I have read other writers who have said exactly the same thing – in non bodily function terms – it's something that I seem to need to have constantly reiterated.
This might be because some other writers say things like, 'if you want to be a writer you have to write, just write.' Which can make me anxious when I'm not actually writing. When I have a deadline, and instead of just getting on with it I find myself looking at Topshop on line and wondering if that lovely green silk dress would be over the top for Christmas lunch, or my thighs are slim enough for those skinny leather jeans, there is always a whining voice telling me just how much I am not writing. Especially as I can't even afford to buy anything, even from Topshop, so there's no reason to be looking. I know I am doing it just to avoid doing the thing I profess to want to do most of all. And this notion, that all you have to do is write to be a writer: as though it's easy, simple, as though writers are creatures who only write; that they just have things to write about, asserted as it often is by established writers can be rather debilitating. Like having tiny amounts of noxious fumes pumped into your room. And it's not just them, well meaning friends and family do it too:
'How are you getting on with your work?'
'Well how much have you still got left to do?'
'Come on Eryl, just write!'
From now on I'll answer: 'you can't force out a poo if you don't need to go.'
There were also interviews with: Russell T Davies (Dr Who), Paul Abbot (can't remember what he wrote but it was a lot, and he must be doing well because he now employs people to force him to sit down and write!), Tony Jordan (Eastenders and lots of other stuff), and Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain who work together, at what I can't remember but again it was a lot. Because I don't have a TV I don't know any of these people's work – except Black Books which I watched by other means and loved – but I didn't find that an obstacle at all, they all clearly knew what they were talking about. They all have the same love/hate relationship with writing that I have, and I feel I have learnt tonnes from hearing and seeing them. Russell T Davies and Graham Linehan glowed as they talked, you don't get that from reading books.
So if you haven't seen it, and you are interested in the writing process, grab it while you can it won't be there for much longer. I'm going to watch it again just one more time, now.