Showing posts with label essay. Show all posts
Showing posts with label essay. Show all posts

Friday, June 5

Writing And The Movies

Years ago I watched a reality TV show that chronicled Jamie Oliver’s (at times desperate) attempts to teach a group of unambitious youth the art and craft of cooking, the idea being that they would go on to culinary school and, in due course, become chefs themselves.

As I say, that was the idea. I’m not sure how it turned out, but one scene from the program has remained with me through the years. Let me try to set this up.

One thing I learnt from Food TV, and from Jamie Oliver’s shows in particular, is what I call the number one rule of cooking: One must taste the food one prepares. Does it need more seasoning? Is it undercooked? Overcooked? And so on. All these questions can only be answered by tasting the food

Obvious, right? But I hadn’t been doing it! This simple rule radically improved my cooking. 

Back to Jamie Oliver’s reality show. This dictum I’ve just shared, what I’ve called the number one rule of cooking, is of course something Jamie Oliver shared with his proteges. So you can imagine how surprised he was when one of the aspiring chefs categorically refused to taste seafood. She wasn’t allergic to shellfish and she wasn’t a vegetarian. Shrimp, she said, were “icky.”

How, he asked her, can you expect to prepare seafood if you’ve never tasted it? How could you hope to prepare a dish—and prepare it well—if you have no idea how you want the dish to taste? (There’s a difference between liking something, and knowing how it should taste.)

Perhaps you can see where this is going. Just as a cook must be familiar with how a certain dish should taste (how else could she be sure she'd gotten it right?), so a writer must read within her genre and so be familiar with the kind of stories she writes/tells. This goes back to the (often repeated) first rule of writing: To write, you must read.

Back to the movies ...

When I was a teenager, my friends and I would head down to the local theater every weekend. Every weekend. Sometimes we would even go on a weekday, though our parents (“You need to do your homework!”) tried to discourage this.

We ended up watching about 80% of the movies available in our area, and that includes art house pictures, though our little town didn’t have many of those.

Some movies we liked, a few we loved and there were what we called “the groaners,” movies so terrible we considered it our duty to warn others against them.

But, honestly, the true joy of going to see a movie had more to do with what happened after the movie. The group of us would head off to a restaurant to eat and discuss. It didn’t so much matter whether the movie was bad or good, what mattered was what we thought of it and why.

*  *  *

The members of our amorphous little group melted away over the years, drawn away by the demands of work or family.

And that was fine. In fact, I think we barely noticed as the group shrank and, eventually, died. Our lives had changed, we had drifted into adulthood, and the slow dissolving of the group seemed inevitable.

It’s only now, after a span of more years than I care to count, that I look back and feel it as the loss it was; and not just in terms of the strange, unconscious, camaraderie we shared, but in terms of ... well, in terms of the shared experience of story.

Until recently I had almost given up watching movies. After The Group had faded into memory I all but stopped going to movie theaters. I didn’t even watch many movies at home, though I hadn't realized this until the other day when I looked at a list of one hundred of the top rated movies of 2014 and realized I had watched four on the list. Four out of one hundred!

My mind plays the most devilish tricks on me. The moment I realized how few movies I’ve seen lately I remembered Jamie Oliver’s student, the one who refused to eat seafood. 

Then I had an epiphany: That was me! 

Yes, of course, I read, but story comes in many forms. I find that reading and watching a movie—even when both tell the same story—are different experiences. The point about the number one rule of writing—To write, you must read—is for writers to immerse themselves in story, which can only happen through a steady diet of all sorts of different stories by all sorts of different writers.

As I say, reading is essential for a writer, but I think it would be a mistake to neglect (as I have) movies.

First, there are practical considerations. Even a short book takes about three times as long to read as the longest movie takes to watch. Also, book clubs aside, I generally don’t read the same book at exactly the same time as my friends and there is something to be said for experiencing a story together. 

And, finally, there’s something magical about sitting in the dark, having one’s senses assaulted with sound and light, having one’s mind teased and entertained with new ideas, vicariously experiencing (as much as we are able) how it might be for someone else, learning to walk in the shoes of another.

So. The point—one of them at least—of this rambling and somewhat ramshackle post is that I have resolved to watch more movies. My goal is to watch at least 50 of the movies in the top 100 list for each year, beginning with 2014.

I don’t know if watching more movies will make me a better writer, but it certainly couldn’t hurt!

What about you? How many movies did you watch last year? What about this year? What were your favorites? Did you watch what I’ve called a ‘groaner,’ a movie so bad you feel obligated to warn others away from it? If so, do tell!

Till next time, happy writing (and watching)! 

Saturday, April 6

How To Not Write Crap

The Writing Blahs

Every writer is different but I think, at some point, most of us have felt we're writing garbage. Absolute drivel.

I've felt that.

The temptation is to stop writing. No one likes writing crap (or what you feel is crap, sometimes it's not).

Being honest, I have to admit that occasionally, in the past, I have stopped writing. Here are some of the excuses I've used:

- I need to read because the second rule of writing is "Writer's read (critically)".
- I need to do research on the Internet.
- I need to tidy my desk so I'll be more productive.

But what happens is that I waste a half hour, or an hour, doing something that isn't writing.

Most of the time, though, if I feel I'm writing crap, I keep writing. I keep writing because, if I don't, there is zero chance I won't write crap.

No writing = No good writing

Besides, often, I just need to push through the whispers (or shouts) in my head telling me I'm a fraud, my writing is crap, no one will buy it, I'm deluding myself.

As I write, these voices fall away, or I forget about them. A new world unfurls around me and exploring it becomes more interesting than self-flagellation.

And I write words that don't totally suck.

When this happens a few times--this process of ignoring the voices, of proving them wrong--the voices become less strident, less credible.

I think the voices will always be there, just as there will always be someone who doesn't like what I write. But that's okay. The important thing is that I'm a writer and that I write.

#  #  #

I'm not sure where that came from! Over the past week I watched the first season of Girls and most of the second, so maybe I felt it was time to do a personal essay. (Hannah, the main character, writes essays.)

Now I'm wondering if watching Girls was procrastination but, no, writers are allowed downtime. Something is only procrastination if I do it during the time I've set aside for writing. Writers needs lives or we wouldn't have anything to write about!

Did I really just use watching Girls as an example of my having a life? Wow. I need to get out today. (grin)

Before I go, let me leave you with a fantastic writing link I just discovered. Someone emailed this to me, but the link is public so I'm passing it along:

The Thirteen Weeks Novel Writing Program

I'll talk about that more later, I wanted to share it with you now because it looked like a fabulous read.

Other articles you might like:

- Writing Scenes: Getting Up Close And Personal; Using Sensory Language
- The Strange: How To Hook A Reader's Interest
- 3 Elements Of A Great Story Opening

Photo credit: "A Case of The Rainy Day Blahs" by D Sharon Pruitt at Pink Sherbet Photography under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.