The Wide Margin: A Writer’s Rules, A Writer’s Tools

Hello.  I’m Kevin.

Van Gogh - Self-Portrait - Google Art ProjectAnd I’m a writer.  I have never thought of myself as a playwright.  Never thought of myself as a screenwriter.  Nor a novelist.  I’m not an essayist.  And I’m most certainly not a blogger because – let’s face it – until the Internet was invented, “blogging” was what you did after getting poisoned from rancid Chinese food.

So, I’m a writer.  Period.  And why not?  You don’t hear painters calling themselves “water-colorites,” “oilists,” or “pastelers.”

So, I’m a writer.  How do I know?  Because I write.  Same as Van Gogh was a painter.  He was a painter not because he was able to sell his work.  (He couldn’t.)  He was a painter because he painted.  If you paint, you’re a painter.  If you write, you’re a writer.

(We all hope, however, to be more immediately successful than Van Gogh was.)

Here is a “list of 10 things I try to remember whenever I sit down to write anything”[TM]:

0.   Trust.

1.    It’s not a blank page; it’s a clean slate.

2.    If you can’t play like a child, you can’t create like an adult.

3.    Always work with your muse. But also work without her.

4.    The audience is not that patient.

5.    Structure is for the audience’s unconscious mind, not their conscious one.

6.    Everybody likes a surprise.

7.    Tighter.

8.    Nothing should be arbitrary.

9.    The best creations only appear to be effortless.

10.  Generate a body work, even without venue for it.

Okay?  So, I’m a writer.  Since you’re reading this, I’m assuming you are a writer, too.  Let’s take a quick survey:  what are your writer’s tools?

Time’s up.  Let’s see a show of hands:

How many said laptop?  (And, yes, I’ll include the joker – there’s always one – who said “Underwood manual typewriter.”)

How many said paper and pencil/pen?  (And, yes, I’ll include the joker – there’s always one – who said “yellow legal pads.”)

Anyone else?

Didn’t think so.

And perhaps, if you are only a novelist, a short-story writer, or an essayist, you really have just listed all your tools.

But if you also write for the performing arts – and this is a column about writing for the performing arts – you’ve left out a key set of tools:  actors and directors. (Editors, too, if the performance is to be recorded.)

Wait a minute.  Did I actually just call actors and directors “tools”?

You bet I did.  They are, in fact, the most critical tools at your disposal to get your story across to the audience.  Time to stop thinking that your writing is meant to be read.  It’s not.  It’s meant to be performed.  (That’s better anyway because – as people in Los Angeles will tell you – no one reads anymore.  Not that they ever did.)

In the performing arts, writers do not write manuscripts.  Writers write scripts.  Remember that old rule about writing for your audience?  Well, in this case your audience is the actors and the director!  Everyone else will only see their interpretation of your words – through either the performances created by the actors or the images created by the director.

That’s so important I’ll say it again:

The audience will only experience your words through the artistic interpretation of the actors and the director.

That’s something to keep directly in mind at all times.

But don’t lament (as so many writers do) having to collaborate with the actors and directors.  Instead, celebrate the expanded set of tools you get to have for your mission.  Exactly how to hone and utilize those tools is a topic for another post.  Actually, a lot of posts.

So I’m a writer and although I have my “list of 10 things I try to remember whenever I sit down to write anything”[TM], I always remind myself that performance writing is a great deal different from prose writing.  But I don’t worry if it seems that my writerly reach has diminished compared to my pal the novelist who gets to communicate directly to her audience without intermediaries.  Ask yourself this:  Can you name the actor who first played the titular character in Hamlet?  No?

But I bet you can tell me who wrote the show.

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