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Posts Tagged ‘Henry Miller’

“Our stories, our books, our films are how we cope with the random trauma-inducing chaos of life as it plays out.”
—Musician Bruce Springsteen

“I wrote to explain my own life to myself, stories are the vessels I use to interpret the world to myself.”
—Novelist Pat Conroy (Prince of Tides)

I’ll continue my run of James Bond posts, but thought I’d take a break to show a stack of notes I recently went through. It’s what my posts look like before they hit this blog. Just note after note scribbled here and there when I’m listening to a podcast in the car or on a walk.

About the only thing I can make out from my scrawl is this David Mamet quote, “There is no such thing as character. Character doesn’t exist.” (Somehow notes like these have fueled over 3,000 posts in the past 13 years.)

On top of hundreds of handwritten notes there are thousands of similar notes in my Notes app on my cell phone. Today I heard writer/director Paul Greengrass talking on the radio about his new film News of the World and when asked if his creative process is a common method said, “I don’t know how other filmmakers do it.” So I just voice recorded that sentence into Notes. It was the only direct quote that I captured from the interview.

One of the things I’ve tried to do over the years is to show how a diverse group of people work in different ways to accomplish the same goal. When I last counted I’d quoted over 700 writers, filmmakers, and film industry leaders. I’ve consumed plenty of interviews, books, and podcast featuring writers who explain their process. It’s what works for them, but may not be helpful for you.

For instance, more than one writer has said it’s a mistake to start writing from theme. Yet, would they change their mind if they knew that was exactly how Rod Serling wrote? That may not be how they work, but it worked out okay for the prolific Twilight Zone creator.

“In my case, first I think of a theme and then chose a story line or a plot to go with it. Once this is chosen, the characters fall into place.”
—Rod Serling

Anyway, I’m always on the hunt for a fresh perspective to the creative process. I think all writing is organized chaos, and playwright and screenwriter Arthur Miller (Death of a Salesman) said something to that effect.

“The very impulse to write springs from an inner chaos, a crying for order, for meaning and that meaning must be discovered in the process of writing or the work lies dead as it is finished.”
—Arthur Miller interview with Chrisitan-Albrecht Gollub
Conversations with Arthur Miller, Page 287

“I begin in absolute chaos and darkness, in a bog or swamp of ideas and experiences. Even now I do not consider myself a writer, in the ordinary sense of the word.
—Novelist Henry Miller
 Reflections on Writing

There’s no shortage of chaos in the world right now. But as I think back on history—and the history of movies—chaos is having a long run. And the best writers help us make sense of the world we live in. When you organize the right words in the right order (as Tom Stoppard wrote) “you might nudge the world a little.”

Here’s the trailer from News of the World (screenplay by Greengrass and Luke Davies, from the novel by Paulette Jiles) where Tom Hanks’ character appears to seek to bring order out of chaos.

P.S. I’ve yet to read Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, but now may be a good time. Bill Gates said the 2011 book was “the most inspiring book I’ve ever read.”

P.P.S. The first 30 seconds of this clip is kinda what my wife looks like when she walks into my home office—not that I have A Beautiful Mind.


Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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When Henry Miller died in 1980 at the age of 88 he had over 40 books published. On Wikipedia it was written that Miller “was known for breaking with existing literary forms and developing a new sort of ‘novel’ that is a mixture of novel, autobiography, social criticism, philosophical reflection, surrealist free association, and mysticism, one that is distinctly always about and expressive of the real-life Henry Miller and yet is also fictional.”

His work was praised by George Orwell and an inspiration to Jack Kerouac. He is the Harry in the 1990 movie Henry & June. Like many artists he was a controversial character who in his youth was active in the Socialist Party and whose book Tropic of Cancer when published in the US in 1961 lead to obscenity trials. But it is not his politics or his writings that I want you to look at today, but the process in which he became a writer of influence.

“I begin in absolute chaos and darkness, in a bog or swamp of ideas and experiences. Even now I do not consider myself a writer, in the ordinary sense of the word. I am a man telling the story of his life, a process which appears more and more inexhaustible as I go on….

I began assiduously examining the style and technique of those whom I once admired and worshiped: Nietzsche, Dostoievski, Hamsun, even Thomas Mann…I imitated every style in hope of finding the clue to the gnawing secret of how to write. Finally I came to a dead end, to a despair and desperation which few men have known, because there was no divorce between myself as writer and myself as a man: to fail as a writer was to fail as a man. And I failed. I realized that I was nothing—less than nothing—a minus quality. It was at this point, in the midst of the dead Sargasso Sea, so to speak, that I really began to write. I began from scratch, throwing everything overboard, even those things I loved. Immediately, I heard my own voice I was enchanted; the fact that it was a separate, distinct, unique voice sustained me. It didn’t matter to me if what I wrote should be considered bad. Good or bad dropped out of my vocabulary. “
                                          Henry Miller
                                          Reflections on Writing

 

Scott W. Smith

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