Thursday, 2 February 2012

The write stuff

I may not have mentioned this before, but I'm a fan of the US TV series The West Wing. And when I say 'fan' I really mean it. I liked this show a lot when it was on. In fact, it's fair to say I loved it. I mean, really loved it. I would quite happily have married this show and had lots of little West Wing babies with it.

I think I've made my position relatively clear.

One of my favourite characters was Sam Seaborn, Deputy Communications Director for the White House. He was great with words - as you'd expect from someone in that position - and was passionate about getting them right. In one episode, he'd been given the ostensibly simple task of writing a birthday message from the President to some middle-ranking government figure - a Deputy Transportation Secretary or some such. It was by all accounts a quick message, but he just couldn't get it right. Over the course of the episode we saw Seaborn - a man used to writing the State of the Nation Address - descending ever further into frustration as he struggles to find the right words for a slightly-glorified birthday card note.

I loved that portrayal because I know exactly how that feels.

The other day I spent best part of an hour struggling over the creation of a 70-word section of text at work. It was a little more important than someone's birthday message, but nevertheless I was having no luck. I had it at 120 words. It said everything that it needed to say. No important points were missed. But it needed to be shorter - the page for which it was intended was tight on space as it was. But I was struggling. I couldn't edit it down without missing some of the piece's vital meaning. I re-read it. I got up and paced around. It just wouldn't work.

Eventually I got it right. But it was painful. It said everything that needed to be said, and I didn't have to reduce it to stupid point size in order to get it to fit. Because that would have been cheating.

But when I sat back and looked at the words, I remembered that it was this part of my job that I enjoyed. I still consider myself lucky that a large part of my paid employment involves writing. No-one - least of all me - is going to claim that the stuff I produce between 9 and 5 is going to change the course of human history. But I like to think of writing as crystallised thoughts. What goes on in your head is put down in words and sentences, preserved for posterity and communicated far and wide. Or, in my case, sent to people who sell mortgages for a living. Look, it pays the bills, OK?

The other thing it reminded me was that I have a manuscript of a novel that I need to dust off and edit so I can show it to other people without dying of embarrassment.

It's like the whole 'tree falling in a forest with no-one to hear it' thing. If a book gets written, but is never read by anyone, does it actually exist?

Time to get the red pen out.



Tom said...

Did you, at any point, snatch the sheet from the tablet, crumple it up, pound on the desk, and toss it in the trash bin?

I loved The West Wing, particularly Sam and Toby.

fatboyfat said...

You've got it Tom, that's the exact scene. I alternate between having Sam or Toby as my favourite characters.

Mind you, I also had a bit of a thing for CJ, too.

Tom said...

I, myself, had a thing for the Republican of the group, Ainsley Hayes. But I loved listening to Sam and Toby's speeches.


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