Diehards

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Bogged Down in the Writing Process

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?'
'Um.'
'Well how much have you still got left to do?'
Um.'
'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.

20 comments:

Kim Ayres said...

I'm sure there's some witty comment to be had here about writing crap, but I can't think of it just now. Maybe it'll come when I'm ready...

Eryl Shields said...

Of that I have no doubt Kim, I only hope you get to the keyboard in time.

Kim Ayres said...

I've rarely felt more constipated. I'm at a complete loss as to what to blog about at the moment

debra said...

my #2 daughter loves to write.
She was taking a writing workshop with a guy who just didn't get it. She
often says that the characters tell her what to write and how they will develop. I'll have to see if the BBC story is available here.

debra said...

just answered my own question. Not available outside the UK yet :-(

The World According To Me said...

He likened writing to 'having a poo, you can't go if you don't want to.'
I've never thought of it like that, but he does have a point...

savannah said...

i'll get back to you after i clean up the spit out coffee and upside down toast and jam on the table (thanks, kim!) xoxox

Conan Drumm said...

Paul Abbot wrote Shameless, I think. Must see if the interviews are available to us here online.

Eryl Shields said...

Kim ~ then don't blog. I'm sure you once gave me some brilliant advice when I was at a loss for stuff to blog about. Sadly I can't remember exactly what it was, but I'm sure it was something along those lines.

Debra ~ that can sometimes happen to me too, when my subconscious has been properly fed no doubt.

World ~ me too.

Savannah ~ OK honey, XXX

Conan ~ yes, that sounds familiar. I hope you can get them.

PI said...

Oh dammit I really meant to watch this and I can't tape digital. Hopefully it will repeat or continue. Like you I am fascinated with other writer's experiences.
Paul Abbot hails from Burnley near where I was born and bred - an awful place. He wrote a very popular series set on a sink estate. I can see all the characters but can't remember the title. James McElroy made his name in it.
I haven't touched my book for three days - only because there are so many other pressures. I may take time off from everything over Christmas to finally finish editing.

Eryl Shields said...

Sometimes it's good to have a break from things, you go back to them with a fresh eye. I'm always amazed when I go back to something and spot glaring mistakes that I had previously missed.

Have you read the Paris Review Interviews, two large paperbacks of writers on their writing experiences, they're my bible.

Kanani said...

I like listening to writers talk about the process as well. I think one of the most interesting was Martin Amis who was interviewed by Charlie Rose.

PI said...

Eryl: no. I'll see if Amazon have them.

Eryl Shields said...

Kanani ~ Martin Amis is really good on process, so good other writers quote him!

Pat ~ I'm sure they must though I can't imagine anyone selling them second hand, why would anyone want to let them go? I've read certain interviews over and over again and always learn something new.

Kim Ayres said...

For goodness sake, Eryl, you don't seriously expect me to follow my own advice do you?

PI said...

Eryl: have just ordered:
'The Paris Review Book: Of Heartbreak, Madness, Sex, Love,
Betrayal, Outsiders...'
from Amazon as I thought that would be the most relevant. I should have it before Christmas. Thanks for the heads up. You can buy both new and second hand - the last three have bought have been S.H. and in excellent condition. It was a toss up between second hand, or new with free postage and the SH was cheaper. Gotta watch those pennies:)

Eryl Shields said...

Kim ~ what was I thinking?

Pat ~ that does sound exciting and very relevant. I pretty much always buy SH from Amazon if I can, the saving is usually too great to ignore, especially these days.

Mary Witzl said...

I'm a great procrastinator too, so I don't want to be told that I have to want to write in order to write! Anyone who tells me that is just enabling me to do what I naturally do anyway; I need someone to prod me to get off my butt and get back onto it -- and write. I wish that weren't true, but it is. Also, I'm great at starting stuff and getting it done up to a point. What I cannot seem to do for the life of me is follow it right straight through to the end.

I can't afford anything from the Top Shop either!

Eryl Shields said...

Snap, Mary! If it weren't for my tutors making me write I probably wouldn't finish anything, and, in fact, I don't think I have finished anything to a publishable standard which is why I keep my work between me the university. But we're not alone, all these chaps said that they find finishing things difficult but they have deadlines so they have to. Most of them said they hate the writing process but they love having written. When I finish my course I will have to find someone to set me deadlines. Now how do you do that?

PI said...

Mary and Eryl: I suspect sometimes procrastination is also to delay the pain of rejection - in my case - sometimes.