Okay, so here’s a confession. Last week, I went into the archives – or whatever you call them – of my blog and I rewrote one of my already published posts. You may find that strange. I did. Nobody is likely to read that post again. Nobody. Ever. And yet, I thought of a better word than the one I had written, and I felt compelled to go back and delete the word I’d thought was the right word and replace it with what I now believe is really the right word.
I’m a little ashamed of myself. But not so ashamed that I’m unwilling to share what I did with my readers. The real “ashamed” stuff, that’s not coming out. Unless I’m completely out of material.
I do this all the time – rewriting. I try to make whatever it is better, nudging it ever closer to perfection. It’s frustrating. Every time I write something, I think, “That’s it.” But it’s never “it.” There’s always an “it” that’s a little more “it.” Till you finally get there.
And that’s the point – I believe there’s a “there.” I believe, and I may be wrong, that there’s actually a “right” in these matters, and that you can get there, if you just keep at it. A lot of people disagree about that. Especially in the creative arena. They think “right” is subjective. One person’s “right” is another person’s “wrong”, meaning there’s no objective right or wrong. All there is is a countless accumulation of differing opinions.
This is a central battle between liberals and conservatives, primarily in the behavioral arena. Conservatives believe in objective standards of right and wrong. Liberals contextualize. Wrong but with an explanation; or not wrong at all, but actually “right for them”, in the context of their circumstances. All that’s for another post, which I’ll warn you about ahead of time, so you can avoid it. Today, I’m focusing on writing.
My confession continues.
Not only do I constantly rewrite myself, I also rewrite other people. Even though none of them asked me to. I guess it’s the way writers are. Maybe painters do the same thing. They study a painting in a gallery or museum, and they think, “The tree’s in the wrong place.” Maybe if you’re an expert artist, you can actually say something like that. Maybe you can’t. Maybe “tree placement” is simply a subjective question of “Artist’s Choice.” But if it is, how do you distinguish between good artists and less good artists? Or is there no such thing as that either? Then again, if it’s all just subjective, how come some artists’ paintings cost more to buy? Is the price predicated on tree-placement ability, or is it just hype?
Back to writing.
I rewrite movies while I’m watching them. I rewrote Knocked Up a little, even though I thought it was a very good movie. I only rewrite very good movies. The bad ones, even rewritten, will still pretty much stink. But good movies, movies edging towards perfection, somehow, inspire me to help them to make it all the way.
It isn’t major, my Knocked Up “fix.” But I think it would have helped. Maybe I’m wrong about that. You tell me.
Okay. The woman’s in labor in the hospital room and the doctor’s making a fuss about anesthetic. The guy, the Rogen guy, takes the doctor into the hall and lays down the law. Then, the woman’s sister comes in and starts making a fuss, and the Rogen guy takes her in the hall and lays down the law to her. Two scenes, exactly the same. To me, that wasn’t the best way to handle one of the most important moments in the story.
They did the “lay down the law” scene twice; I’d have done it once. To me, and maybe to the Immutable Rules of Writing, but, most importantly, to the rule of the audience’s emotionally responding to that significant moment, once would have been better.
So there’s that.
I also rewrite song lyrics. And sometimes, the melodies, though I’m not as confident about my melody rewriting. That could be subjective. Although it seems like the best tunes sound exactly the way they should. Imagine your favorite song. Now, imagine it being different. You can’t. They got it right. That’s what makes it a great song. That and what you were doing the first time you heard it. That stuff, I leave alone.
But I do rewrite lyrics. Lyrics is just writing with rhymes at the end, so, technically, it’s my field. Which lyrics do I rewrite? Well, for the past couple of years, I’ve been taking piano lessons. I bring my teacher songs I like, and he devises arrangements within my playing ability, so I can accompany myself when I sing. I love to sing. Maybe more than I love to do anything else. I don’t have a great voice, and breathing problems keep me from holding notes too long, but none of that matters. I’m singing for myself. And to me, I’m the best singer in the world. I’m also fortunate that my wife likes the way I sing too. In singing, I’m the King of my House.
Recently, I’ve been studying Rainbow Connection, by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher. It’s a good song, and my daughter asked me to learn it, so I did. The tune is infectiously catchy and the tone is wistfully upbeat – all good.
But there is one section – the “bridge” section – where the song goes
All of us under its spell
We know that it’s probably magic…
As I once said, in another context, “No good that one.”
The lyric doesn’t make sense. You can’t “know” that something is “probably” anything. You can’t. Knowing connotes certainly; “probably” connotes uncertainty. Uncertainty’s what “probably’s” all about. You can’t be certain about something of which you’re uncertain. Unless you’re certain in your uncertainty. And that’s not what Rainbow Connection is about.
What about this instead?
All of us under its spell
We know that it’s got to be magic…
Isn’t that better? A tiny, little change, and it hurts nothing. It scans musically, it’s lilting, it’s positive. More positive than “We know that it’s probably…” Now, we’ve got two certainties: “Know” and “got to be.” That’s definitely an improvement. It’s consistent. It’s melodic…
And it’s right.
Okay. I’m aware that by criticizing other people’s work, especially successful work, I’m open to the multiple charges of “snooty, superior and jealous.”
“Hey, Man, where do you get off, criticizing a fabulous movie, and a lot of people’s favorite Muppet song? If you think you’re so great, why don’t you go write your own blockbuster movie and classic song? You big Loser!”
I’ve got to be nicer to myself when I write the other guy’s dialogue. The thing is, I can’t help rewriting. I see some written stuff – mine or other people’s – and my mind immediately kicks into action. Am I jealous of other people’s success? Always. But “snooty and superior”? That’s not the point. I have an enormous respect for talent. And when their work advances towards perfection, it’s like, “Come on! Let’s get there!”
Also, I’m fully prepared to have it work both ways. I fix what you write; you fix what I write. Judd Apatow, Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher:
Be my guests.