Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Do the Write Thing

“Dear Mr. Vernon: We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it is we did wrong, but we think you're crazy for making us write an essay telling you who we think we are.” – The Breakfast Club

The other day an old friend of mine asked me how many times I’d been to the cinema that week.
“Four. But that’s an aberration. Usually I try and go once a week. Why?”
“And how many films did you watch at home?”
“One. I usually watch one or two over a weekend. Why are you asking me these questions?”
“I just wanted to know what qualifies you to be a film journalist.”

As someone rarely short of words, that shut me up. In over four years of writing about movies, no one has ever asked me that question. I didn’t have an answer. But here’s what I tried to say to him then. (It’s worth noting that at the time, I’d already had two pints of cheap beer on an empty stomach, so I’m doing this without the benefit of muddy thinking and a thick tongue).

I have absolutely no professional writing qualifications. And, personally, that works for me. You might be able to teach people the craft or discipline of writing, you might be able to inspire them to want to write, but you either fill pages with words, or you don’t.

“Nobody teaches a writer anything. You tell them what you know. You tell them to find their voice and stick with it, because that's all you have in the end. You tell the ones who have it to keep at it and you tell the ones who don't to keep at it, too. Because that's the only way to get where you're going.” – Wonder Boys

Now, on to specifics. Why film journalism? (I refuse to use the designation “film critic” here. I don’t critique films, although I sometimes criticise them. I’m only interested in writing intelligently, educationally and, on my good days, entertainingly, about cinema.) The film journalism thing was a fluke. I was someone who wrote aimlessly. Scribbled stray thoughts in notebooks. Stole snatches of overheard conversations to use at a later date. Had great ideas for stories, which never went beyond the idea phase.

And then I had the opportunity to write something professionally about movies. So, given this chance to force myself to complete something, something with a deadline and a publication date, that people other than myself would read, I forced myself, with much anxiety and insecurity, to do it. Best thing I ever did.

But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself…my misadventures in the Screen Trade began long before that day. To be continued.

No comments: