Sunday, August 22, 2010

the Writer's Tale

I just got a book that's been on my Amazon wishlist for awhile: Russell T Davies' (and Benjamin Cook's) Dr. Who: The Writer's Tale.

I've been an admirer of his work, and I'm becoming even more admiring of his honesty about his writing process. Some great stuff so far:

When asked if he's ever gone into some tricky situation in order to gather material, he says no, but then says, "Is that true, though? Did I just lie my way out of that? Okay, so I've never sought out an experience just so that I can use it in a script, but every experience, every single one, I'm thinking, this is interesting. And they do find their way into a script in the end. So which comes first? Blimey, that'll keep me awake." (Italics mine.)

On the so-called writer's block: "I never call it writer's block, though. I don't know why, but I sort of react with revulsion to that phrase. I imagine it to mean sitting there with No Ideas At All. For me, it feels more like the ideas just won't take the right shape or form. Do writers ever run out of ideas? Doesn't the block say that something else is wrong? Something bigger? I don't know."

I think he's right. It's always something bigger. (Often, in my experience, acedia.)

And then, when asked if you have to have suffered, in order to write, he answers no. But then says this: "I can't imagine writing and thinking, this is easy. I'm marvelling at those words. This. Is. Easy. They're impossible. I might as well say, 'I'm a Martian.'

        "There I go again, saying that you don't have to suffer, while admitting that the process is an act of suffering. Still. No one said that this had to be logical."

His observation about how, even in the midst of a troubling situation, the author part of him is detached and observing and thinking "how interesting!" - oh dear, so familiar. It never turns off, and it does make you feel a little inhuman at times. But only because you're so deeply interested in the human. So weird.

Anyway, fascinating book. You probably want to have watched Dr. Who before reading it, as the book discusses his writing process in putting together series 4 of that show. But this guy is a master storyteller, and it's fascinating to see behind the scenes, into the work of putting that story together.

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

p.s. I should add, I suppose, so no one picking up this book on my recommendation is surprised, that Mr. Davies is a gay atheist, and that shows a lot in his writing. Which makes sense, your worldview always does (and should). And I think this particular worldview makes this an often depressing read, because it's a bleak worldview. But, if you are an artist, I think there is enough here well-worth reading that it is worth slogging through the hard stuff. Much, I hope, as any Christian writer could get an honest read from a honest atheist, though he'd find some of the Christian's thoughts hard going. 

I guess that's as much as to say (though it probably doesn't need to be said), that though I do think there are some things bad enough not to read, I think that we should be as charitable reading people that we disagree with as we would be listening to someone we disagree with, and listen and read the way we'd want to be listened to and read. I guess it's a kind of literary Golden Rule.*

Sorry for the digression. I do think it's worth thinking about though: how can we read with both discernment and charity? Some of it, I think, is also to be reading books where we can expect to do nothing but learn and soak in truth, books like de Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life, or Willard's The Divine Conspiracy, to balance out the books where we are learning some things and thinking through others and disagreeing with yet others.

*btw, I also think there are some things that are not worth reading, most of the time, much as there are some people who are not worth having a conversation with, most of the time. Think pornographic books and abusive people. But I think most civilized people who disagree with each other can profitably converse, just as most civilized people who disagree with a nonetheless worthwhile author can profitably read his book. If that's not true, how could any Christian read Plato or Aristotle? And think what we'd miss if we couldn't!

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