Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Write? Riiiiight…

This is a selfish entry, but I don’t imagine anyone comes here thinking they’re not in for a heaping helping of my narcissism. Maintaining the Morgue is a huge distraction for me. It’s better than not for me as a writer to keep doing it, but often it’s just too damn easy.

A screenplay that I’ve been working on for some time now should take precedence. It’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever conceived and yet just keeping on top of it is a task in itself.

The blog is me. Self-delusional though I may be, I feel I put forth an accurate facsimile of myself here, which allows me to throw down with a fair amount of ease. If only the screenplay came as easy, I wouldn’t even make time for the Morgue.

Writing a screenplay requires getting inside the heads of my characters, and while no character I’ve ever written doesn’t have a little bit of me somewhere inside, in order for a script to work, they’ve got to be their own dogs...and that’s tough. I write with the constant fear that I’m taking them into territory that isn’t true to what I’ve set up. I’ve never not second-guessed a single line of dialogue at some stage of the process or wondered whether the latest scenario devised was less convincing than something out of Hogan’s Heroes.

When I read about screenwriters who “wrote it in about three weeks”, all I can ask myself is “Do they just shit it out?” How does a person write an original screenplay in three weeks? Is it a good screenplay? Is the best screenwriting the kind to which no second thoughts are given? (People working within the Hollywood system are exempt from this line of reasoning – were I being paid several hundred thousand upfront, you can bet I’d shit it out, and quickly, too...which kind of explains the quality of so many Hollywood scripts.)

I read something about Whit Stillman recently, and how it took him four years to write Metropolitan[1]. Sigh of relief. But I could tell within the subtext of the interview that he wasn’t happy about taking so long to write scripts. I’ve never met a writer serious about his craft who enjoyed not being able to just string together magnificent word after glorious idea. It’s frustrating on so many levels, so what do I turn to?

Alcohol. Yep, you betcha’. Vodka works best for me, but gin will do in a pinch - you gotta be real careful with gin, though, or else you’ll just slump over the keyboard, in glazed stupor. Rum doesn’t work for anything except sleep. Has any literary work ever been written under the influence of rum? (It’s all about body chemistry I gather.) Beer? I think not, although I'm sure many a college a term paper was written by beer. Wine in general doesn’t agree with me on any level and I’m not about to taint the process by diddling with what I know will lead to failure or sickness (suckness?). One of my all-time favorite liqueurs, Ouzo, can lead to inspired madness, which directly ties in to “the balance”.

There’s a delicate balance that must be maintained when writing under the influence. One drink is ideal, but it must be timed with precision. Begin sipping about ten minutes before beginning work. Usually this leads to a good couple pages…but then comes the dreaded crash, where you hit a point when you contemplate the second drink.

The second drink may lead to the paradise of two more pages, but usually not. Usually the second drink leads to a half a page of absolute gibberish: Crap that couldn’t possibly be conceived of by even the most inept group of one-armed monkeys, using a typewriter that’s missing half the keys on the machine.

It’s when contemplating the second drink that a writer must rationalize to themselves that two pages was better than no pages – the second drink is the crapshoot: I may go somewhere glorious, but the odds are always stacked against it. At least the DVD player is only a room away, and a late night viewing awaits my drunken gaze. Oh yeah - I always write late at night when the rest of the house has gone to sleep; you didn’t think I got up in the mornings and started drinking, did you?

The stuff I write here is largely written sober. I don’t need alcohol to write a movie review or talk about British sci-fi or bitch about The Passion. That’s all on the surface and easy to get to. The screenplay, however, is buried and I’ve got to get in touch with my inner pirate in order to dig up the bootie. (Strange then that rum is so useless to me.)

So I said upfront this was a selfish entry and it was written as more of a piece of honesty than anything else. But I also hoped that other writers who check in here might like reading something about my own difficulties, hurdles and roadblocks. Like I said about Whit Stillman (and I’m not equating myself with the genius of Whit), if it’s tough for him, then it’s tough for all of us, and I live with the hope of writing something as good as Metropolitan someday: the key word there being hope.

Hope and vodka. Shake vigorously and blend. What a mix.

[1] Metropolitan was recently given a spiffy Criterion DVD release, for those of you who care about such things.

UPDATE! Over at The Church of Rick, the incredible Rick Reynolds wrote a short piece on writing yesterday that I just found. If you've got some time, and you've never hammered around his site, there are some wonderful bits of wisdom to be found at The Church.