Thursday, February 7, 2013

"The Presumption Known As Writing"

Today’s post emanates from comments I received on a recent post concerning the issue of “Writer’s Block.”  I have been thinking about this matter, in the way I think about things, which is to not think about them, they simply grind around my brain thinking about themselves, and when they’re ready, they inform me, by tapping gently on my consciousness, that they have arrived at certain conclusions.  Which on the issue “Writer’s Block” is the following:

One reason – I’m not sure it’s the most important one but it’s up there – that it is difficult to write is that, on some fundamental level of humanity, there is absolutely no reason to do so.     

You write.  You don’t write.  Either way, the world keeps turning.  (I was going to say “spinning”, but when the word came to mind, I got dizzy.)  In the grand scheme of things, whether you write makes no difference whatsoever.  Jonas Salk discovers a vaccine that cures polio, and our lives are permanently, and positively, changed.

DR. SALK:  “I found the cure for polio.  We are all better off.  Except for "Iron Lung" manufacturers.”

If Salk hadn’t made that discovery, who knows how long it would have taken to find the cure?  By contrast, you don’t write something…

And nothing happens. 

This awareness – that nobody’s waiting for you to write anything – is, I feel, a major contributor keeping people from writing.  The only way to overcome it?


By this process of doing something unnecessary, something nobody asked you to do, by that spontaneous and voluntary undertaking, you are unequivocally proclaiming to the world that, “I believe what I’m writing – by objective standards, or maybe simply my own – has a lasting and meaningful value.”


Writing professionally means you believe that not only does your writing have value, but that that writing is actually worth money.


Big time.

But, lest you think I am railing against hubris, allow me to include an additional, clarifying word:

Necessary arrogance.

The distinction?  Without at least a modicum of arrogance, you cannot write a thing.

Normally, I don’t like arrogance.  A person behaves arrogantly and my reflexive impulse is to tell them to knock it off.  Because it’s annoying.  However, if they require that arrogance – and I truly believe they do – to proceed from the state of “I’d like to write something” to sitting down and actually writing it, I have to qualify my complaint to just, “Knock it off when you’re not writing.”

And now, a personalizing “turn.”

I saw two plays recently.  One was called Coney Island Christmas (by Donald Margulies), which was appealing but thin.  The second play, called Other Desert Cities (by Jon Robin Bates), was more satisfying but its plot felt overly manipulative.

What struck me most powerfully was not that these plays were not perfect – I could write an entire separate blog post about that, and if I remember to, I will – but that these plays actually existed.  Somebody (the two playwrights, in fact) finished them, got them produced, and people were paying money to see them. 

The Coney Island Christmas program lists eleven other produced plays written by Mr. Margulies, the Other Desert Cities program lists eight other plays penned by Mr. Bates, meaning they have both accomplished this “writing a play” thing numerous times before. 

This was not a fluke.  An idea came to them, they said “That’s a play”, they sat down at their writing apparatus of choice and – it came easy, it didn’t, whatever – they wrote it.  And there they are – two plays, in performance, in front of live audiences.  I have the tickets stubs to prove it.

You cannot write anything without a substantial amount of necessary arrogance.  I had that with sitcoms.  In movies, yes, until I continually failed, and then no.  Books – no.  Plays – Ditto. 

Demonstrating that even a professional – albeit in another genre – can lack the necessary arrogance to take the next step. 

After a considerably layoff, I may have lost what it takes for writing sitcoms.  To regain my momentum, I may have to drop down a notch in “Degree of Difficulty”, possibly to “Thank you” notes.  Although if you’ve ever faced an empty Hallmark card your wife thrusts at you and says, “Write something” – it’s really not that easy.

What about blogs?

The bar is considerably lower here.  You write what comes to your mind and there’s no one you have to show it to.  Though admittedly, you are still writing something nobody asked for. 

I can handle that.

Anything more… 

Would take more arrogance than I currently possess.

1 comment:

Yossi Mandel said...

Writing takes an idea and spreads it. Folks found out about the polio vaccine from other folks writing about it. Doctors find out about current research through writing. Corruption is uncovered through writing. Emile Zola released Dreyfus through writing J'Accuse.

The cure to writer's block is to write something meaningful, something that will change people, move people. In a spec we can do that to a larger degree. But even when (in my hopefulness) we end up writing to a request or to notes, we can add meaning beyond what is there. When Thomas Harris finally provided the reason for Hannibal Lecter's behavior, the entire series just jumped up to real-life concerns for me. It speaks of the consequences of war for the ostensibly good side, and is no longer mere entertainment extremely well written. Shallow characters might cause writer's block. Adding depth might relieve it.