Sunday, March 27, 2016

"In Collaboration With . . . "

A friend who is doing a series of articles for a writing/publishing site, BookBaby, sent me the latest chapter in which the subject was finding a collaborator. The writer suggests putting yourself together with a writer whom you admire, and through their work, letting them advise you. That doesn't mean sending a letter to Agatha Christie, or Stephen King, for instance, seeking advice. The idea, according to my colleague, would be to immerse yourself in the other person's writing to discover how their goals were achieved; how they made the right words fall into place to achieve the effect or point you are trying to make. It reminded me of a technique I had been introduced to many years ago by a colleague. It happened like this.

I had moved from writing every script to actually producing the medical teaching films that were the mainstay of my organization. I hired a couple of writers to share the load. One was a young man with good skills but not much experience. The other was an older writer, a man of great standing in the teaching film community, the son of a very successful Hollywood writer/director from the Silent Era. One morning, making my rounds of the various departments, I went into the writing office where the older man was working away. I hadn't given him a new assignment, so I asked him what he was writing.

"Hemingway," he replied.


"Well, when I asked what writer you most admired," harking back to the time I interviewed him for the job, "you said 'Hemingway.' In Hollywood if you were adapting or working with a known writer on a script, the best way to write like him (or her) was to simply sit down and type from the original novel or script, until you had developed the style, the rhythm, the music of the original."

Seeking to satisfy me, my new associate was putting on Hemingway.

The kinds of films we were producing didn't offer many opportunities for such a skill, but it was a useful one to have. I've tried it. It works.

So take the writer you most admire, want to write like, and start typing. After about 30 pages, slip into your own work. Let the rhythm, the feel of the words sing you the song you want to hear. Begin every writing session with a page or two from your "collaborator's" text, and then pick up your own work where you left off.

After the first few sessions I think you will find your co_writer standing less and less heavily on your shoulder, but perhaps just close enough to nod when you get it right.

It's a collaboration that will help you find your own, true voice.

Monday, March 14, 2016

A New Ism

Well, it really isn’t so new: ageism. Ageism, as defined by the cultural monitors of our time, relates to perceived discrimination based on a person’s age. That is, being rejected for something (or promoted for something) because of one’s age. Some of it is self-imposed, I’m sure.

I have friends and acquaintances a decade or so younger than I am, who are constantly sending me things that say, in effect, "I’m one of the old people, now." Well, I’m not. But that isn’t the point.

The point is, from the time we are born, we face discrimination because of age. One is too young to do this or that, too juvenile to understand, to immature to have some responsibility and so on. And them, somewhere along the way, the pointer shifts to "too old." And while we accept that we are too young or too old for some things, we admit our admiration for those who begin adult tasks younger, or undertake strenuous activities as they get older.

I reject being classified by my age. It has the negative effect of making me think there are things I can no longer accomplish, tasks I can no longer do. There are days when I may not want to do some things that need doing, but that doesn’t mean I can’t. Instead, it means I’m more thoughtful about how I expend my energy and my time. I still can do anything I want to do or need to do, but just because I do them more slowly doesn’t mean I have lost the ability. It means, I believe, that I’m wiser about how I use resources; mine and the world’s.

Years ago, when we were relocating to our mountainside, I sometimes worked along side the men who were constructing our house. I noticed then that if 20-foot 1 x 12 boards needed to be moved from the stack to the house-site itself, two men would take two boards and walk them to where they were needed. I would pick up two and balance them on my shoulder and carry them myself. That’s when I discovered my version of the law of conservation of energy: at the end of the day the two guys were ready to go home and feed their cattle or check the turkey houses or make their firewood. I was ready to pour something over ice and sit down. We got the same amount of work done in a day, but they could do it longer. It wasn’t a question of age, but of science: share the work and have energy left over for other jobs. It wasn’t a matter of age, but of physics.

So now I’m 25 years further along, and I still have to cut and split firewood to heat the house we built then; still maintain equipment that is needed to move snow from the driveway or repair fences or haul logs to the furnace. I still have to build bookshelves for the ever-expanding library or install new lights, fix plumbing problems and other things needing attention. Where we live, how we live, means taking care of things that need help because getting someone to come and do it isn’t easy. Maybe it isn’t easy anywhere these days, but when "town" is 30 miles away, or 15 if you go to the one three mountains to the west, you have to be self-sufficient where ever possible. Age can have an effect on that, too.

Age should give you experience and knowledge. You should be able to remember what happened before, so you can apply the same fix again, or at least eliminate that as a problem and go on to find a real solution. What should not happen is that you say "I can’t do that anymore," and sit down. Unless that’s what you want to do. I’ve known people who retired so thoroughly that when you asked them what they did all day, replied that they "watched tv." I watch TV, for maybe an hour at night, maybe two if we have a movie we want to see. But after that, I still have things to do, things I want to do or need to do that won’t wait. I don’t work as quickly as I one did, but I can still do the things I used to do when I was younger.

I still remember how eager I was to take on adult responsibilities, grown-up jobs. Well, now I have them and then some. I am learning to take them on one at a time, as they occur. I want to leave time for the things I want to do, learn a few new things, try things I couldn’t do the first time I tried them, perhaps. After all, I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

It’s just "Older-and-wiser-ism."