Friday, January 13, 2017

"Belated Awareness"

I’ve had a couple of these recently.  With apologies to the other one, I shall begin with this one.  Bringing to mind the “Jewish Mother” joke, though it may possibly reflect any mother with the applicable temperamental proclivities.

A (whatever kind of) mother brings two sweaters home for her Sonny Boy – this story works less successfully with “Sonny Girls”; I am not exactly sure why – a red sweater and a blue sweater, and she says to her offspring, “Try them on.”  The boy runs upstairs and comes down wearing the red sweater.  To which the mother reflexively responds,

“What’s the matter?  You don’t like the blue sweater?”

You cannot try on two sweaters at the same time (without covering one of them up.
And appearing demonstrably bulky.)  Two “Belated Awarenesses.”  I have randomly selected this one to go first.

No judgments need be inferred.  There were two alternatives; I picked one of them. End of story.

All right.  This one is marginally less embarrassing.

(Did you ever notice that “End of story” is very rarely the end of the story?)

What spontaneously popped into my consciousness not long ago were the words of a Universal Studios television executive I once worked for who, in response to a super late-night rewrite of a Major Dad episode on which substantial changes had been made, observed,  

“You guys ‘punched’ the shit out of that script!”

Clarifying Note:  “Punching up” a comedy script means making it funnier.

I was totally exhausted, pleased with my writing team’s performance, and appreciative of the exec’s acknowledgement.  So appreciative, I chose to ignore its underlying implication – and a not inaccurate one at that – that the script, before we “punched” the shit out of it, had been terrible. 

I simply said “Thank you.”  Or possibly, if I had residual energy for a flourish…

“That’s what we do.”

And I left it at that.

Another Clarifying Note:  There were two functioning Executive Producers on Major Dad.  (The third Executive Producer was the show’s star, but… don’t get me started on that.)  I had no concern about sharing the top credit on the series.  My one requirement was to have the final determination of what went into the script.  I say this, not as a personal “horn toot” but as, actually, the opposite.  If the script was substandard, which occasionally happened, or the rewrites took forever, which happened a lot, it was entirely my fault.

Okay, so I am working on a blog post.  I begin writing around nine, and by close to ten, I have completed a First Draft.  I proceed to take the next three or more hours to revise.  Mostly – bordering on invariably – this process does not involve massively reconsidering the story – its skeletal structure and informational content remain inherently the same.  The subsequent rewrites involve writing the story I have selected to write better.

What does “better” mean?  Clearer, tighter, more evocative – efforts to enhance the overall story-reading experience.  I cannot describe it exactly.  I alter the words.  I “facilitate the flow.”  Whatever it is, it takes at least three times longer than writing the original material.  In other words…

I “punch” the shit out of these blog posts.

And that’s when the light bulb went on.

Other writers, faithful to and sincerely trusting of their original inspirations are convinced they hit the Bull’s Eye the first time.  They are not being lazy, or letting themselves off easy.  Unless, of course, they are.  But those are the hacks.  The best writers I worked with believed in and felt passionately about – giving prepositions a good workout – their original bursts of creativity.  Any Rewrite Room tampering earned the stinging pejorative, “Stabbing the frog.” 

My entire writing approach, I have come to understand, is “stabbing the frog.”  Unlike those “First is best” writers, my original attempt is “in the neighborhood.”  Later, after two or three… or eight subsequent revisions, I nail down the specific address.

Of course, this is all subjective.  Collaborating with another writer, when I offered two possible alternatives and asked him which was better, his response was often the elided “Sixty-one”, by which he meant, “Six of one, half-dozen of the other.”  I philosophically disagree.  There is always a comparative distinction.  Though maybe there isn’t, and I just like to make myself miserable.  As I recall, that other writer was considerably happier than I was.

My “Writing M.O.” is “The Jackhammer” – first, breaking the ground, then boring incrementally to the core.  All writers rewrite.  But that often means going in an alternate direction (for the story or the joke.)  I trust my conceptual impulse.  What I am looking for “conceptual impulse” enrichment.

During those interminable Rewrite Nights, I now belatedly realize it wasn’t that I was deliberate or uncertain or incompetent, or a combination of the three.

I was simply “executing my process.”

(Arguably incompatible with series television production but I am trying to stay positive here.)

And now, because I feel like it, I shall “bookend” this post with a story similar in tone and texture to the one I began with.  (I originally heard this from {now Senator} Al Franken.  It may actually be true.)

A teenaged boy calls up his grandmother and reports, “Grandma, I just made quarterback on my High School football team!”  To which the grandma immediately replies,

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

I look at the clock.  It is nine fifty-one.

I have just completed the First Draft.

And now, Ladies and gentlemen…


The work begins.

2 comments:

Stephen Marks said...



Sigmund Freud said......

A post about a mother, a grandmother and a Major Dad, excellent Earl.

Fred from Scarborough said...

Who doesn't enjoy punching the shit out of something?