Monday, 10 September 2012

Can "Writers" write from anywhere but the heart?

I have been a long time believer in the idea that a writer that is worth the words they write does so from a place of passion. A place where they care about the material they are creating and the ideas they are talking about through it. But is that actually true? Do you actually have to write with your heart and soul or do you simply get better at it if you do it often enough? Not long ago I watched a speech given by acclaimed TV writer Matt Nix, creator of such TV shows as Burn Notice. In it he looked at the idea of art and how he went about it. He spoke of some of the most common advice that any writer gets when he or she starts out. Primarily, that you should write what you know. Some of the most fundamental things about ourselves that we know is how we feel, how we think and how we act, even if we can’t quite articulate all those things in the moment itself. But is that the same as writing what you know?
Are writing what you know and writing from the heart the same thing? Is it possible to do one or the other, or do we do both at the same time? Watching the new film Writers from Josh Boone, I had to ask myself that question. The film is based on the personal experience of the writer/director himself and I think it really shows in the story being told. Starring Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Connelly as well as younger actors like Lily Collins and Nat Wolff, it’s the story of a family of writers struggling to express themselves to each other after the parents of the family get divorced and the mother has remarried. Thankfully, each of them has writing as a way of coping with their lives. Three of them have taken to writing to express themselves in some way, perhaps not to each other or about each other directly, but to someone.
Each of them writes about the experience of their lives and the way in which it has shaped them and their ideas about the world. To quote from the film, “Writers are the sum of their experiences, go have some”. When a person writes however, they often aren’t talking about the situations themselves. Personal experiences can be used in and modified to fit for a story, but there is usually a deeper truth in the experiences that is at the core of the story being told. Sometimes the meaning is that there is no meaning, but by and large a combination of such experiences overall is about life or love or culture. Rarely is it the case that these ideas aren’t somewhere in the script or book or film.
This film is very much about coming to terms with those experiences, which is what most writers do through their work. A lot of films focus on the ultra dramatic moments in life. The moments in which someone finds out their spouse has been cheating on them, or the moment two people meet and fall in love. “Writers” is very much about the moments in between such events. It’s about that second when you realize “Oh wait, that’s what I learned from that mistake” or “Now I realize that this is how I dealt with it and moved on”. And aren’t those the moments in which you truly understand what was going on with that experience? Those are the times when you feel comfortable enough to write down what it is that happened and how you feel about it now. That’s the point where what you know and what you feel meet, and I think that’s what “Writers” is in fact about.
Can writers write from anywhere but the heart? I think they can, but the heart always has to enter into it somewhere, and watching a film like “Writers” is one of the best ways to explore that about yourself.

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