I was at a dinner party last week with some friends of ours, and they were asking me about my book. I often get asked about my book, and usually I’m a little embarrassed about responding because I don’t honestly think they’re interested in hearing about me sitting down to write everyday. I also generally think they have to ask because I don’t have much else going on besides running and there’s only so much you can ask about that.
That’s when I realized – it is actually the most interesting thing I have ever had to talk about – my book, that is…not running (no offense Charlie and Eileen). It is interesting not only because I find it interesting (although I do), but because I finally found a way to relate it to business, to people, and I think, to truly understand the process I am going through, and a rational explanation of it.
It goes back to my high school. Most days in acting class, I would struggle. It was the one thing in my life that I had a natural talent for, but in order to be truly gifted, I had to work really hard at it. Working really hard at acting is unlike anything else I’ve had to work hard at – until writing, that is. And, my teachers consistently told me one thing over and over again – “Meagan, you are always trying to get to the end result. You must remember that it is a journey finding the moments in the scene and you can’t jump ahead to the next step before you have finished the one before. It is all a process.”
In business, as discussed with our friends and with Jock, you always have the end goal in mind. You focus on where you want to see the business or the task ahead of you; always looking ahead, always wanting to be three steps forward. It makes sense. You have to know what your competitors are doing, how what you’re doing now will affect the end goal, and being wary of the time constraints put on you by yourself or your company. You must have projections, and constantly be reminding your employees where they are headed…amongst other reasons.
We, as actors and writers, are programmed differently, or are taught to be programmed differently – as in my case.
In order for an actor to be truly truly believable and talented, they need to be completely and utterly in the moment. They need to be consumed by whom they are talking to, the cup of coffee they are drinking or the feelings they have for their lover. If, at the end of the scene, their lover gets run over by a truck, they CANNOT acknowledge to the audience that they are at all aware of what is about to happen. If the actor even has it in his thoughts, the scene doesn’t work and the moment of surprise is lost and unbelievable.
However, there is a catch 22 with this, and this is why we rehearse. Because, even though the actor must be entranced by the moment happening in front of them, (i.e. the lover) they must also know where he is going to walk (i.e. out of the way of the truck) in order to get in the right position to see the accident occur – the blocking. We rehearse to the point where it becomes mechanical – like a dance – our subconscious begins to know where we must stand and where the scene is going, but our conscious stays right there and now.
And, six months into writing my first novel, I realize that writing is the exact same thing for me. Of course, I know how I think I want my novel to end. Of course, I know what happens because it is loosely based on real life, and of course, all of that could change as the characters continue to unfold. But what I’m so passionate about is the fact that each word I am writing in the novel I must be writing it as if I were in that room, smelling that wine and feeling those butterflies (or frogs at times – has anyone else ever felt frogs?) in my stomach. I am finding that my writing doesn’t work if I am thinking about what lies ahead.
This is what is so beautiful and infuriating about the process, and it now explains why I was in such a bad mood all the time when I spent a month writing about a particularly upsetting event.
Maybe I am actually more wired to be a business person because I am constantly fighting this desire to get published, to research agents and to think about what I want my book cover to look like; rather than the pure and distinct action of writing – or maybe this is just human nature and the burden of being born as an American.
I don’t know how to write and not be consumed by it while I am writing. I don’t know how to write with the television or radio on. Then again, I don’t know how to watch television and hold a conversation at the same time either. I am just not that talented.
I’m not saying that there aren’t other techniques that other writers use. This works for me right now, in this moment, during the process. It could all change, and probably will. That is the joy of it all.
Thank you to A Literal Girl for reminding me of these thoughts I had a few weeks ago, and for inspiring this post.