Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time with Scarlett Thomas’s book on writing, Monkeys with Typewriters. I talked about the book more in depth in my review on tumblr, but I’ve been thinking a lot the past few days about one thing in particular that she said about the experience of learning how to write a physical scene when she was first starting out as a writer:
As a teenager, I’d been obsessed with acting…So I soon found myself out in a corridor trying to “block out the scene.” After trying and failing to do this on my own I roped in a friend, staged my fight and wrote down exactly what I learnt about the positioning of limbs and so on. Afterwards I thought to myself, ‘Writing is a big like acting.” Then I thought: “OH MY GOD WRITING IS EXACTLY LIKE ACTING.”

I was obsessed with acting, too, when I was a teenager. Anyone who knows me now knows how ridiculous the idea of me being an actor is, but at the time I was into it enough to travel around New England during the summer putting on musicals with a bunch of other teenagers. I was 100% amateur, but there were a few kids in the group who’d had acting lessons.

Once I was waiting for an audition with another girl who had much more talent than I did and was convinced that she wouldn’t get a part because she had a cold. I thought this was tragic and told her to tell the director that she wasn’t at her best. She gave me a look that was so dramatic I immediately gave up any hope of getting a part, and then she said that her acting coach told her to never explain her work. Her work on the stage had to speak for itself.

Writing is a bit like acting, though writers get to cheat a little. We get introductions, prologues, epilogues, author’s notes, and (if it comes to it) interviews, Twitter, second editions, third editions, and author’s preferred texts. But when you get down to it, all we have is this one stage, this 8.5 x 11 inch blank sheet of paper, and somehow we have to learn how to dance our whole bit on it without tripping over the margins and spilling our guts all over the desk where no one can see them.

And it isn’t easy. Sometimes, I wish I could put my pen down and call up The Reader and explain everything, but this is my medium. Until I pack up my tent and move on, this is it. This white rectangle no bigger than one shoe is my stage to dance on, and there’s nothing to do but dance.

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