Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Neil Simon: writing coach?

In her book, THE CREATIVE HABIT, choreographer Twyla Tharp talks about "reading fat." I've always read fat; I just didn't have a term to describe it. Reading fat is what happens when a book or an author intrigues you enough that you begin to dig deeper in search of -- well, in search of more. More information. More insight. More stories. More connections. More everything. It's a version of Six Degrees from Kevin Bacon but played with books instead.

That's how I ended up with Neil Simon as my writing coach. To be honest I'm not even a big Neil Simon fan. With the exception of THE ODD COUPLE and THE GOODBYE GIRL his work leaves me cold. Yes, I recognize his talent. Yes, I applaud his success. But there's always been an urban chill to his work, a certain Updike/Cheever middle-class bitterness that didn't set well with me.

One of the first books I purchased to read on my Kindle was Marsha Mason's autobiography. It was a little New Age-y, a little gossipy, very sincere, and very entertaining. I'd known some of her history and I guess I was feeling nosy and wanted to learn more. She was Neil Simon's second wife. He married her just a handful of months after his first wife Joan died of cancer. Marsha Mason stepped into an apartment decorated by the first wife, slept in the bed where the first wife slept with their (now shared) husband, used the first wife's plates and cups and glasses and silverware. You get the picture, right? It was doomed to failure and fail it did.

So I wanted to read about it from Mason's perspective. Then I wanted to read about it from Neal Simon's perspective which led me to his memoirs (REWRITES and THE PLAY GOES ON) which didn't so much enlighten me about what in the name of God he'd been thinking when he married so quickly after losing the love of his life but about his writing process.

It's all about focus. He's one of those lucky writers who can turn off the world around him and sink into his subconscious at the drop of a pencil. He finds comfort in writing. Writing soothes his soul. Writing answers his questions. Writing is like food and drink to him. And the ideas never stop. Not even when his wife was dying. Not even right after she died. The ideas, the plots, the plays were always there waiting for him.

It's about rewriting. He never gets it right the first time. He doesn't expect to. The first time is about capturing the story, the characters. The tenth time is about getting it right.

It's about being fearless. He's not afraid to fail. He's not afraid to succeed.

Mostly because, first and foremost, it's about the writing.

Some examples tomorrow.

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Anonymous Leslie said...

"It's about being fearless. He's not afraid to fail. He's not afraid to succeed."

You read this point of encouragement in so many biographies of successful people. I guess I should just apply it to my knitting lately. I must admit to "reading fat" with regard to knitting only for the past few years.

Write (and knit) on!

September 6, 2008 5:44 AM  
Anonymous CurtissAnn said...

I think most men write like this, as they do everything else-- single-minded. Men do not multi-task, nor do they feel the need to do it. They always have a woman behind them supporting them.

September 14, 2008 3:47 PM  

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