Today in brief: American Psycho goes YA, Photo album from Open Day, Max Barry on writer's block and writing through bad ideas, What are your favourite quotes of the 2010 election campaign? and Screenwriters, directors and producers tell all
If the Melbourne International Film Festival has got you inspired to write a screenplay or direct a short then this Reading on Vocation is for you. Our panel of filmmakers discussed the books that help them make their craft from Robert McKee’s Story to The Penguin Leunig. Claymator Adam Elliott, director Sue Maslin and Camille Chen give their advice to screenwriters.
Yesterday Tony Abbott delivered his campaign launch address with the opening quip “Isn’t it great to lead a united political party with a deputy I can trust, a predecessor who’s a friend and a former prime minister who’s a hero!”
Over at Get Up! they’re having some fun with Abbott’s words. The online activist site has taken a greatest hits approach to Abbott’s speeches and given them to women to read lines which he’s said in his parliamentary career including “Abortion is the easy way out” and “I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas.” Abbott’s history of talking about issues may haunt him at the ballot box.
And what did the expert commentators make of it? Michelle Grattan at the Age thought “Abbott convinces as PM” and his action plan was “a strong organising idea”. Annabel Crabb at The Drum couldn’t see saying “the closest thing to new policy it contained was the low-cost, high-moral-fibre promise to ratchet up mandatory prison terms for people smugglers”.
I’ve written more bad fiction than you’ve read. I’m serious. I’ve done a hundred or so drafts of nine or ten manuscripts, and let’s not even start on the shorter stuff. Read one of my books? Think it could have been better? Well that’s what they published. That was polished.
After a decade of wrangling paragraphs for a living, I have decided: it’s always the book’s fault. When your scene won’t quite come together, your novel idea won’t stay interesting, your main character refuses to fill out: it’s not because you lack talent. It’s because your idea is stupid. You’re trying to push shit uphill. And you may be a good shit-pusher, with a range of clever and effective shit-pushing techniques, but still: it’s going to be hard, frustrating, and ultimately you’ll discover you still don’t have your shit together.
I used to believe that an author needed an iron will. Discipline, to forge through the bitter dark and emerge clutching a tattered, tear-stained first draft. Now I think that’s a good way to lose nine months on a bad idea. Because if you have any skill as a word-slinger, you can make a bad idea sound okay. Not brilliant. But mildly interesting, at least for a while. Keep pushing that shit, though, and depression sets in. That’s when you think: I’m not good enough. Or: If I were more disciplined I’d finish this. Or: I can’t write.
Sure you can. You just can’t write this and stay interested, because it’s a stupid idea. It’s predictable. It’s been done. It had one intriguing aspect and you tapped that out within the first three pages. You don’t want to write this because your body is bone-bored of it.
A good idea excites you. It makes each day of writing a little joy. A good idea, when you peel it, has more good ideas inside. It makes you feel clever. It doesn’t need to be articulated. It might sound silly when you try to explain it. (Don’t try to explain it.) But you know there’s something there. It pulls you to the keyboard. It spills words from your fingertips. Some days, you lose your grip; you wander from the path and lose sight of where you were. But a good idea calls out to you.
A while ago I had The Block. The way I got out of it was to write a page of something new every day. The first week, I flushed out a lot of ideas that had been humming around the back of my brain, promising me they were brilliant. They weren’t. I captured them one page at a time and set them aside. The second week I wrote two things that were kind of interesting. Not very interesting. But not abominations, either. It was possible to imagine that in some alternate universe of very low standards, they could become novels. Not popular novels. But still.
The third week, I wrote something interesting. And I discovered I could write. That the reason I’d been stuck wasn’t because I’d forgotten where the keys were. It was because the story I was trying to make work sucked.
So that’s my advice to anyone mired in a story. Don’t blame yourself. You’re great. It’s just that stupid idea.
This is a cross post from Max Barry’s blog, where he’s written his online novel, Machine Man.
If you missed our Open Day then here’s a few snaps to see what you missed. Our resident organisations were on hand to chat with aspiring authors, readers and people who just wanted to see what the building looked like.
Bret Easton Ellis has made a foray into young adult fiction if you’re to believe this post on Crushable. The author known for American Psycho, has written his own take on the Baby-sitter’s Club franchise with a sample first chapter posted on the site.
It’s a characteristically Easton Ellis take on the genre. One of his cheesy characters reflects “Like, sorry that you have diabetes Stacey, but do we have to spend half the afternoon discussing it? And yeah, it really bums me out to watch Claudia just snort up half those Pixie Stixs when she is so blatantly trying to get attention to her sugar problem.”
The piece closes with “I was totally dizzy from relief and relished the idea of drifting into a semi-conscious state of Ritalin withdrawal so Mary-Anne could bitch about her boyfriend.” Only Bret Easton Ellis could bring drugs and hipster slang to the wholesome YA genre.
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