Chattin’ Script

I recently listened to a podcast that featured the screenwriter Randall Wallace, who was talking about writing one of his most famous screenplays, Braveheart, starring Mel Gibson.

He was speaking about having issues knowing whether his first draft of the award-winning movie was good enough to take to a second draft, or whether it was destined for the scrapheap. He reached out to one of his critique partners, Jack Bernstein. Having been the man responsible for Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Bernstein is no slouch. Wallace explained that he loves Bernstein as his writing consigliere because their genres and styles are so different, but are both big fans of each other’s work.

Picture credit: Internet Movie Database

After listening to this chat, I couldn’t help but think about how lucky they were to have each other. Two blockbuster writing writers to bounce ideas off one another. I gotta get me one of those. But then they were already reasonably established in the industry. I had a think about other well-known writers who had collaborated with a group of creatives before they were famous, and thought of J.R.R Tolkien. At Oxford University, his clique, named “The Inklings” consisted of C.S Lewis and Charles Williams, to name a few.

Left to right: Charles Williams, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien (picture credit: Wikipedia)

It’s hard to write something terrible – or at least have the guidance for it to be dramatically improved – when you have a posse of writers like that to lean on. But I guess the key word in that little example is “Oxford” – there’s no slouches at that gaff.

Writers are flaky, and I include myself in that observation, which makes it hard to build a successful collaboration. It’s also hard to find writers who press you for work, which is why I enjoyed university so much. It had deadlines, and if you didn’t meet the deadlines, you failed. Furthermore, it’s hard to find a collaborator who resonates with your work, or at least has an honest desire to read any and everything you churn out, no matter how crap. And another point, we all have day jobs, other non-writerly lives (yuk). We ain’t got time to collaborate.

This makes writing a generally solitary job, which for some can make it more unproductive.

Do I have a point to this, or is it a rambling of huffs and puffs that are blowing my writing desires to the ground? I have no idea. But what I do know is that we are pushed by others in so many other aspects of our lives, by our spouses, our bosses, our children, heck, even by our dogs asking us to take us out on that walk usually promised them.

But writers aren’t pushed. Many of us aren’t even welcome to the party and can spend up to a lifetime trying to gain entry.

So yeah, there is a point. It’s a well done. Well done to the writers who turn up, put their bums on the seat, and type something, when there is always something else that needs doing and no one telling you to do it.

5 Comments

  1. Awesome blog, Michael.
    I learnt a few interesting facts and, of course recognised myself, in the gist of your offering!
    Belonging to PATW gives us that sounding block and that ‘push’ – just have to take advantage, get writing and keep writing!

  2. “But I guess the key word in that little example is “Oxford” – there’s no slouches at that gaff.”
    Rupert Murdoch
    Cecil Rhodes
    Margaret Thatcher
    Field Marshal Douglas Haig
    Boris Johnson
    ????????????

    There are good and bad everywhere. I could equally easily compile a list of brilliant Oxford students who went on to do good works, but nevertheless I had to pick a bone with that sweeping statement.
    For those of us who will never likely achieve the dizzying sales of J.K. Rowling or Salman Rushdie there are writers’ groups in many areas of the world, and in the UK for both conventionally and self-published authors also the Society of Authors, which began regional zoom meetings during the pandemic, which are continuing, and useful.
    And there is Pens, which for me, in the Text Share sessions, fills exactly that role you describe. We write in vastly different genres, but almost always someone, or all, will have some useful tips and criticisms to offer each other. You should join the next session Michael!

  3. Much truth in your piece, Michael! But as Gill mentions, we do have each other and it really helps me to bounce my writing off someone instead of just off the wall. That’s what we’re here for. I also have another writer/friend with whom I’ve worked on the German to English (and then back again) aspect of writing as well as translating. Sometimes our discussions have become quite heated, but friction can be good and thought provoking. As long as you stay professional, of course!

  4. Great stuff Michael. I keep thinking hmmm… as I read through your excellent piece. And I know why. I feel that the narrowness of some of the group examples of which you write just would not work in today’s wider creative world. I imagine in those ‘old days’ they all sat back, puffing on pipes and quaffing pints, as they did in the upstairs room of The Dove on the banks of the Thames. I know – I was in the downstairs bar – it was hard not to hear the camaraderie of Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe bouncing ideas off each other. True creative comrades. There were many other well-known authors and poets, much in the same vein as painters (eg Les Fauves and The Group of Seven). But writing and writers’ groups go further back – Shakespeare and cronies gathered in a pub once a week for instance. I think I might have blogged about this a few years back. In my view, though, it wouldn’t be diverse enough these days. Enter Pens Around the World: colleagues from all walks of life – with very varied academic backgrounds – all ages. And genders. Boundless experiences for us each to use to help each other. And a treasure trove of POVs. The true meaning in 2022 of writing colleagues in my book.

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