Recently I was watching a documentary on screenwriting comprised of a compilation of interviews with a lot of the top writers working in Hollywood. At one point the interviewees discussed rewriting, especially just how much of it is required to produce a finished product. Several of the writers pointed out that Chinatown and Amadeus each took over 50 rewrites. A few went on to note, “None of us are as good as Robert Towne (Chinatown) or Peter Shaffer (Amadeus), so you know it’s going to take us at least this many rewrites to get our screenplays where they need to be.”
I reject this line of thinking categorically. Not the rewriting part. Whatever you must tell yourself so you don’t feel bad that it took you fifty or sixty or seventy drafts to finally get the story where it needs to be—fine. No, the part I reject is the “none of us are as good as (insert famous writer here).” I’m all for humility, but this is pointless. If you say you are not as good as Robert Towne, then you will never write anything as good (whatever exactly that is) as Robert Towne.
One of the reasons I started Author was that I spent lots of time writing but very little time meeting actual writers. However, as a life-long reader, I had quietly but steadily developed an unhealthy opinion of writers—namely that they behaved differently than everyone else, that all their failings were charming, and that they were always interesting and entertaining.
Author put an end to this illusion, an illusion I would have denied ever harboring, by the way. Don’t get me wrong—I love the writers I have met. I count myself as very lucky that I don’t read a book anymore unless I am going to meet or at least talk on the phone with its author. I have made friends with many of the writers, and not one enemy. That said, all these writers are people. People who love to write, but people nonetheless. Putting Toni Morrison or Jonathan Franzen or even William Shakespeare above you, somehow, does nothing for anyone—not you, nor these other writers. No one benefits by making life a competition; eventually, everyone loses.
So forget where you or anyone else ranks. How will it help you write your next story? How will it help you say what you most want to say? If other people want to play the game of the top 100 writers or books or screenplays, let them play. You’ve got stories to tell.
If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.