Behind The Scenes – Writing VS ActingSo I’ve been watching a lot of behind the scenes clips lately for a few shows and movies. I saw one in particular from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (I know, I’m obsessed…what can I say?)
In the clip, the Executive Producer comments jokingly that a camera should’ve been put on the director, Chris Columbus, because he was working with three completely inexperienced child actors and so everything the kids put up on screen was a reflection of what Columbus was doing off-camera through his direction.
This struck me as enviable. Why? Well, look at it from a writer’s point of view. Actors stand in front of a camera–they’ve memorized their lines, they’ve done their best to get into character and to be able to draw that emotion out for the camera. But really, if they fail, the director is there to call, “CUT!” and then explain how they should do it the next time.
“You’re not showing enough alarm on your face. This is the worst thing that could possibly happen to you. Try it again with that in mind. And here we go again! ACTION!”
Right? You’ve all seen it happen that way. Actors get cut after cut after cut…they end up with countless outtakes until they’ve hit their mark perfectly and it all falls into place. THIS is what goes into the film or show. You don’t see their failures or their pathetic attempts (not until the blooper reel, anyway, yeah!).
As a writer, I sometimes wish there was someone like a director to stand over my shoulder and point out when I’ve gone wrong.
“Ah! No, no, no, cut! CUT! CUT THAT! What are you doing? How could you ruin your protagonist so easily? Don’t you understand that if you leave in that paragraph then you’ve destroyed everything you’ve built up to til this point? You’ve tried so hard to make the reader believe in this character and you’re just going to undo it all? No! Rewrite it! Immediately.”
“I…I did that?”
Of course, writer’s are often blinded by bad writing while they’re in their zone. Or…at least I am. I see it instantly the next day when I re-read what I wrote the night before. I cringe and grit my teeth and it’s almost embarrassing to look at. And immediately I know that half of that whole scene is going to be cut and rewritten. The hours I spent putting down hundreds of words – it’s all become time that I can never get back.
It’s true I can sense it myself, sometimes, as I’m writing it. My fingers slow and the pace changes, the words still come but not quite as easily. There’s a marked hesitation there and it’s trying to stop me but I barrel through it because I’m so used to the saying, “Bad writing is better than no writing.” Sometimes when this happens I can stop myself. I read a few sentences back and realize I should just stop and take a break before I waste any more time.
We don’t have anyone but ourselves. I hope that this detection power is something that we hone through experience…that all professional writers out there started out where I am, just writing for the sake of getting the words down, but eventually, I really hope they learned when they’re writing utter crap. I hate to think that even after I’ve been doing this for a long time, I’ll still find myself counting all my wasted time.
“That was two hours Friday night and another hour Saturday night and–”
Let me believe in my delusions. It’s the hope that gets us through it, after all.
But seriously, actors kind of have it easy in that if they actually have talent they can fix a bad delivery the next time round or they can redo a weak scene in that very moment. They get immediate feedback. Whereas I could work on a chapter for three days and then read the whole thing only to find out that I should have gone a completely different direction and none of it works.
If I’d known I was heading down the wrong path in the first place, I could have adjusted my course.
It’s this kind of unfortunate reality that sort of reminds me why some people consider writers to be so masochistic. It’s torture to cut that much writing after you agonized over it, pounding out every last word…
So what’s the only solution we have as writers? Maybe to write with breaks. Don’t burn yourself out by trying to force the words.
It reminds me of this quote by Raymond Chandler:
The faster I write the better my output. If I’m going slow, I’m in trouble. It means I’m pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.
If you start pushing, it’s time for a break. Maybe we should give up on the ‘bad writing is better than no writing’ mindset and just go for some coffee or ice cream instead. You can always pick up where you left off after clearing your mind a little.
Because really? “Don’t force it” is just about the only direction we’re gonna get.