I thought I knew all about the sort of writing I aspire to. I’ve been aspiring to it for 35 years, after all. Lively, engaging, heartfelt, passionate… you name a positive adjective and I’ll bung it into the list. That’s what I want! Gimmee a list of superlatives… I just wannabe ‘good’. The best.
Simply the best! When I did ‘Desert Island Discs, this is the song that made me cry.
Recently I’ve been wondering where I’m going with writing… if anywhere at all. This has all coincided with mentoring a brand new writer, and I was doodling as I spoke to her on the phone the other day, talking about software, script layout, broadcasters, producers, current trends, what commissioners seem to be looking for, all that stuff….. but this, this is what I doodled:
When I came off the phone, I looked at the scrap of paper and realised….. it’s all about the heart. In that phone call, instead of taking about the nuts and bolts of writing I should have said:
“Write about what grabs your heart and excites you. Grab a story that’s spinning around in your head and tell it with energy and passion.
Don’t write in order to show how clever/gifted you are.
Expect to be challenged about your writing. Be ready to rewrite, to make it better.
Don’t be annoyed when no one else agrees, or when they don’t quite agree enough. Don’t bridle when you are asked to rewrite something. Don’t think that ‘they’ are wrong and you are right.
Thank God for those who see the flaws, who can both encourage and correct.”
I should have said, instead of blethering on about radio vs telly vs theatre, that at the core of good writing there’s a humble heart. That’s an odd thing to say when some of the most arrogant, stubborn, difficult people I have ever known have been writers. Including me. Having worked on two huge soap teams, I know for a fact that writers are horrible. Including me. But whatever the personality or character of the writer, at the core of any good writing is humility. I remember my Canadian/South African pal who would say, when we were hot in some debate, ‘define your terms’. Often we would find, in sharing our definitions, that we were in greater agreement than we realised.
So, I’ll define my terms. For me ‘good writing’ is any writing which explores and tries to understand human nature, revealing and addressing what Bill Shakespeare called ‘The thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.’ When we writers bring the two together, our nature with the nature of the world, exploring the reaction of one to the other, seeking to understand the nature of our existence, this, to me, is good writing. Even when it fails, the attempt is the thing.
For me ‘humility’ is understanding my place in the world, a lowly place but a valid place. Humility is considering the needs and opinions of others as more pressing than my own, but my own as equally valid. It’s understanding my position in the world, my standing with God, my weakness and brokenness and how much I am loved (a lot). It’s a desire to serve without servility.
That’s what I should have told that brand new writer. ‘The essence of good writing is a humble heart’. Write in humility, come to an edit with humility. That doesn’t mean without passion, or drive, joy or bombast. I come to every script meeting with all those things, I know I do. I’m me. But I have learnt over the years to accept that Luce does not, after all, know best. I’ve learned to be grateful for notes, even hard notes, even notes that mean dumping a draft and starting again.
In church we’re looking at ‘Encounters with Christ’ and yesterday evening we heard about the foot-washing encounter between Peter and Jesus, I realised that I have a new and sparkling and shiny definition of good writing. And it’s a good ‘un. Listen. For me, from now on, ‘good writing’ is writing that washes the feet of others, writing that serves to point to an encounter with Jesus, writing that reflects His effect on my life. I can’t portray Him – we have the scriptures, the real living Word for that – but I can write about what He is doing in my life.
I’ve just finished a play about the birth of Jesus and as I listened to the sermon last evening I realised that if this script points to an encounter with Jesus… job done.
And if it doesn’t, I want to be told. However much it might hurt me.
So, there you go. That’s my pearl of wisdom for today. I’ll carry on writing all my usual nonsense, of course I will; I’ll keep calling you bloggies strange made-up names like ‘froodlepip’ just because I hear the rich rollicking rrrrs and lllls as I write the words, and my punctuation will still be all over the place, I’ll wander off down country lanes when I should be on the highway, I’ll misremember and repeat myself, of course I will.
But I hope I never forget that at the end of all the words, the final destination of all the silly jokes and the melange of half-thoughts and nonsense…. there’s truth…. and there’s Jesus. The God who washes feet, who serves and rules. Who would imagine a God like that?
At the end of all the words…
It’s ALL ABOUT JESUS.