Facing a blank page famously and needlessly terrifies aspiring writers. In fact, writing is a straightforward task, made even simpler with these handy hints by comedian Steve Martin
Writing is the most easy, pain-free and happy way to pass the time of all the arts. As I write this, for example, I am sitting comfortable in my rose garden and typing on my new computer. Each rose represents a story, so I’m never at a loss for what to type. I just look deep into the heart of the rose, read its story, and then write it down. I could be typing kjfiu joew.mv jiw and enjoy it as much as typing words that actually make sense, because I simply relish the movements of my fingers on the keys. It is true that sometimes agony visits the head of a writer. At those moments, I stop writing and relax with a coffee at my favourite restaurant, knowing that words can be changed, rethought, fiddled with and ultimately denied. Painters don’t have that luxury. If they go to a coffee shop, their paint dries into a hard mass.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
I would like to recommend that all writers live in California, because here, in between those moments when one is looking into the heart of a rose, one can look up at the calming blue sky. I feel sorry for writers – and there are some pretty famous ones – who live in places like South America and Czechoslovakia, where I imagine it gets pretty dank. These writers are easy to spot. Their books are often filled with disease and negativity. If you’re going to write about disease, I would say California is the place to do it. Dwarfism is never funny, but look at what happened when it was dealt with in California. Seven happy dwarfs. Can you imagine seven dwarfs in Czechoslovakia? You would get seven melancholic dwarfs at best – seven melancholic dwarfs and no handicap-parking spaces.
LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA: WHY IT’S A BAD TITLE
I admit that“Love in the time of…” is a great title, up to a point. You’re reading along, you’re happy, it’s about love. I like the way the word time comes in – a nice, nice feeling. Then the morbid Cholera appears. I was happy till then. “Love in the Time of the Blue, Blue, Bluebirds”? “Love in the Time of Oozing Sores and Pustules” is probably an earlier title the author used as he was writing in a rat-infested tree house on an old Smith Corona. This writer, whoever he is, could have used a couple of weeks in Pacific Daylight Time.
A LITTLE EXPERIMENT
I took the following passage, which was no doubt written in some depressing place, and attempted to rewrite it under the sunny influence of California:
Most people deceive themselves with a pair of faiths: They believe in eternal memory (of people, things, deeds, nations) and in redressibility (of deeds, mistakes, sins, wrongs). Both are false faiths. In reality the opposite is true: Everything will be forgotten and nothing will be redressed. – Milan Kundera.
Sitting in my garden, watching the bees glide from flower to flower, I let the above paragraph filter through my mind. The following New Paragraph emerged:
I feel pretty,
Oh so pretty,
I feel pretty, and witty, and bright.
Kundera was just too wordy. Sometimes the delete key is your best friend.
WRITER’S BLOCK: A MYTH
Writer’s block is a fancy term made up by whiners so they can have an excuse to drink alcohol. Sure, a writer can get stuck for a while, but when that happens to a real author – say, a Socrates or a Rodman – he goes out and gets an “as told to”. The alternative is to hire your- self out as an “as heard from”, thus taking all the credit. The other trick I use when I have a momentary stoppage is virtually foolproof, and I’m happy to pass it along. Go to an already published novel and find a sentence that you absolutely adore. Copy it down in your manuscript. Usually, that sentence will lead you to another sentence, and pretty soon your own ideas will start to flow. If they don’t, copy down the next sentence in the novel. You can safely use up to three sentences of someone else’s work – unless you’re friends, then two. The odds of being found out are very slim, and even if you are there’s usually no jail time.
A DEMONSTRATION OF ACTUAL WRITING
It’s easy to talk about writing, and even easier to do it. Watch:
Call me Ishmael. It was cold, very cold here in the mountain of Kilimanjaroville.® I could hear a bell. It was tolling.¹ I knew exactly for who it was tolling, too. It was tolling for me, Ishmael Twist.© That’s right, Ishmael Twist.©
This is an example of what I call “pure” Writing, which occurs when there is no possibility of its becoming a screenplay. Pure writing is the most rewarding of all, because it is constantly accompanied by a voice that repeats, “Why am I writing this?” Then, and only then, can the writer hope for his finest achievement: the voice of the reader uttering its complement, “Why am I reading this?”
¹This sentence written by Steve Martin as heard from Cindy Adams
This article is taken from issue 23. To buy the issue or subscribe, click here.