The Privilege Of Receipt
15 Feb 2023

Books aren’t written in open plan offices. Nothing is more destructive to the process of book writing than the yapping of other people. That’s just the truth. You can be a nice writer; a family man writer; a friendly writer; a kind, caring, humane and humanist writer; but you can’t be a social writer – not while writing, not while trying to get anything done.

Book writing is a solitary pursuit. You may meet with others for research. You may get feedback from an agent, editor or publisher. But those changes are always yours to make – and you correct your mistakes the same way you make them in the first place: alone, behind a keyboard, shutting out everyone and everything except for the magic being born on the screen.

It’s all up to you. It’s all in your head. You know what no one else does, you know things others will never know. About your characters and your plot and your world – there are no other experts. You and you alone are the teller of the tale, and you may struggle to bring it up from the dark recesses of your soul on to the eventual page, but there is no other way, and no other place it might come from.

Non-fiction – to me personally – is more forgiving. A short story might only take one or a few sessions. A novel is a marriage – a long term commitment with a lot of joy and pain and happiness and fear – some days you can’t wait to rush home to be with the book, other days you wish you never met the bitch.

It’s all very intense in my language – and what I’ve said so far is true. Writing is also more prosaic. A job like any other, you learn to do what works best for you. You learn what you need to do to get the job done and you then get it done. You don’t get ‘artistic’ about it. You just chip away at it gradually, do what needs being done, and accept the fact that as the writer of books – the work itself is solitary.

You write screenplays pretty much the same way – using a few different tools or tricks, depending on what works best.

Actually making a movie – on the other hand – is an entirely different, even contradictory – process.

No one makes a movie in solitude.

From the moment even the planning of production begins, other people become involved. The writer is a god propagating on behalf of his created world – the filmmaker, even the writer director – is merely one cog in a very complex engine.

It’s a complete 180 reverse of what writing is. Where writing involves closing the door to intrusive people, making a movie means throwing the doors as wide open as you can. A novel is a finished product, a script is less than a beginning. To come alive, the screenplay needs to undergo several concurrent and collaborative processes. Crew, cast, locations.

And for me – at least – there is something magical about it.

I enjoy writing books, or I wouldn’t be doing it. Its pleasures are masochistic but manifold, and I’ve made peace with the strange habit.

But I will always and ever only be a producer when it comes to writing fiction – I can never experience my own story first hand.

As a writer-director on films, now, I get to enjoy the privilege of receipt. I may have written the story and I may be conducting the orchestra – but every single person involved brings something different, and each contribution so radically changes, enhances or develops the work that – even as the teller of the tale – you get to enjoy the story as if you’re an audience member.

That is a remarkable joy: being able to experience your own story for the first time. It’s the closest thing to magic, bending space time, breaking the rules of physics – that I’ve yet discovered.

Most folks either tell stories or listen to them, some get to alternate. Only moviemakers get to be both at once. It is a special experience, one that teaches a great deal of humility.

It is instructive – it informs future writing – because you gain a respect for just how active a role people actually take when they engage with material.

I look forward to continuing both types of work – I think they complement each other perfectly. And I feel happy that I get to experience the happy differences between the two modes.

Best of all – for someone who’s been locked away behind empty pages perhaps a little too long – the vibrancy, energy and talent of other people are energising and very, very entertaining.