Monday, July 7, 2008

Why I Write: For me

If a script that I'm writing isn't working for me, it isn't really working, regardless of whether other people like it.

I've noticed this effect when writing in group or for others - the desire to accept the opinion of others that something's good even when I know it isn't working for me yet. Sometimes others will be happier with stuff I've written than I am - or they'll be more willing to move on.

In those kind of situations, the temptation is very strong to leave something alone. And in some situations, factors such as time pressure or producer edict may mean that I do.

But I know the writing process, and probably the writing itself, is better if I feel happy with it. That way I can own it. That way it really comes from me, and I feel I have written for me.

Screenwriting can turn into a bit of a factory where no one really owns the finished product. And I instinctively rebel against that - I want to be able to own something I've written, or have participated in writing.

I believe that if I totally gave away writing for myself, then I'd be giving away a piece of myself - the piece that cares. And I'd be what I call a hack.

For me, that term doesn't mean someone who writes for money or whatever. It means someone who doesn't care about what they're writing and doesn't care what happens to it. I have had one encounter with a fellow writer who gave every impression that this was how he felt about his writing, and that encounter turned my stomach.

I don't want to give it away.


Benedict Reid said...

Interesting. I hope to be a hack in the future but haven't quite managed it yet.
I think (and hope) I wasn't the writer who turned your stomach... but if I'd had the breaks I could well have been. In order for me to be able to write freely I need to not be thinking about the future life of my script. Otherwise I get too caught up in the politics of it's future before there's anything written. So in that sense I try to not really care what happens to my writing in the future. Then again I do tend to try and spend my time on the scripts I believe have the best chance of being made. I guess I'd prefer to write something bad which is made to writing something good which isn't.
This morning I'm actually going to start writing a script for a project which I have very little love for. It's likely that this project isn't going to go anywhere (just like any new project)... but as I'm doing it for a producer, it's slightly more likely to be made than my spec scripts. I guess that this means I'm breaking your rule about writing for yourself.
However I truly believe that anything I write contains some of my attitudes and personality. How could it not? Also, everything I write makes me a better, more experienced, writer. And therefore if I'm working on a project which is not to my taste or liking, it's still a worthwhile exercise.
I can't help but think of the screenwriters with a unique style, and how much TV series work they did on crappy shows. 9 years of sitcoms for Charlie Kaufman is the obvious one that springs to mind.
Then again. I agree that you do have to write for yourself first. If you honestly can't see anything of you in the finished project it can be disheartening. On a certain sketch show I wrote for I had the experience of seeing a sketch I wrote performed without any of my lines. That was unpleasant. Interestingly, I was more concerned with being paid that week than I normally was. I sort of considered the pay to be my compensation for what they'd done to my writing. My beautiful writing.

Sean said...

Hi Ben,

Thanks for your very thoughtful comments.

You are not at all that person who turned my stomach.

What I took from that encounter was that the person genuinely didn't seem to care about writing well or what the outcome of the writing would be. Writing was a product, devoid of personal interest. The writer was producing 'gags' to order, and if they were never used, that didn't matter as long as the paycheck came in.

One aspect of it was I felt that the writer felt if the writing met some mark in the sand, it didn't matter whether the writing was good or not. Because then they'd get paid. It was like watching someone just trying to pass an exam with minimal effort - "how can I reach the 51 percent and get my C pass?"

So it wasn't pursuing a project based on a judgement call about whether the script was going to be made. The writer didn't even seem to care if the script was going to be made. They seemed to have effectively totally divorced the personal from the professional at the innermost level. And maybe it was the lack of caring about quality that I was most disturbed by, that really drove my reaction.

I don't know if that was how that writer actually felt. I hope they didn't. And whether they really did or not is beside the point for this blog, which is a reflection on personal experience. And my personal experience in this case was a revulsion towards their attitude. Which was an interesting reaction I've never forgotten.

One more comment on your comment (though there's so much more in there!) - You refer to breaking my rule about writing for yourself in your comment. I wouldn't go so far as to call what I'm extrapolating here in my blog a rule - more a piece of my own self-knowledge about how I react to a particular phenomenon. I'm presenting it here for others to reflect on their personal experiences. If your experiences or philosophies differ, I'm interested in that, and (I hope) respectful of that too.

Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Was your hack a film and TV writer?

Cos the reason I find myself disinclined to write in those mediums is that it would suck to put my heart and soul into something that is then going to be brutalised by a committee process to genericify it to make money, and then it goes through the process of filming, and what survives of the original vision is god knows what; if I was giving up that much control, and doing it for the money, I would probably detach myself from the outcomes more.

Whereas with prose, what I write *is* the end product. My total committment is rewarded.

Sean said...

Hi dreadbeard,

The person was writing in those mediums, but not exclusively. I do think prose writers are quite capable of giving up on caring as well.

In my experience, a group collaborative process can destroy the heart of a work, but other people can also improve and build on what I've written. I've seen both things in action.