“My idea of good company … is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.”
“You are mistaken,’ said he gently, ‘that is not good company, that is the best.”
Jane Austen, Persuasion
We all yearn for connections with interesting and agreeable people. Yes, even we writers — as a rule happy when alone, amongst our books, and wandering barefoot through the Internet — love to laugh and talk. Most writers I’ve met when from time to time I step away from my desk are talented at making and keeping friends, because likeable company makes the world go around. And, happiness helps the work get done.
One of the first things we can do to grow our happiness in our writing careers is to search out a few writers who will be our first strength and we theirs. Someone who is farther along the path than we are, and someone who is perhaps closer to the start. Genre matters little. Personality is all.
I love to watch people who sparkle with happiness as they strike up conversations in queues, on the train, in the park. Some writers are talented in making quick connections at the drop of a hat. Others of us find starting conversations more difficult (although it’s worth practicing—we don’t want to stand tongue tied around strangers at our own book launches) but are brilliant at forging few but excellent friendships that last decades or a lifetime. If we can find a way to cherish both, we’re likely to be happy and productive writers.
I hope it’s another brilliant writing day today.
Whenever I ask myself, “How did the Duke of Marlborough personally lead all those winning battles and then handle the whole country’s international relations across Europe? How did Benjamin Franklin have the time to invent bifocals, write Poor Richard adages, and have French mistresses while being a premier politician? How could Jane Austen ignore all the evening’s family and social doings while she wrote her iconic novels by hand in the evenings?” I always answer, “Because they didn’t have TV.”
Limiting TV and computer time will give many writers all the time they need to write a couple of books a year. That’s a vital consideration when you’re fitting a full-time writing career into your full-time life.
But television gives us a broad access to storytelling, much of it told by gifted storytellers. If you’re trying to integrate a full-time writing career with your full-time life, here are 3 ways to use television watching to strengthen storytelling skills, as you take just 5-10 minutes as you’re watching a show — reality, sitcom, drama — and jot down what these genius writers are doing to keep us coming back week after week, decade after decade to see football players learn to tango, boys lose girls, earthlings resist aliens, mothers misunderstand daughters, and fathers underestimate sons.
- The opening images: What elements establish time, place and especially herald the conflict for this particular story? or
- Write down The big problem, linking by the word “but” to the major obstacles and “so” to the choice he’ll have to make. Jack must save the world from terrorists but his daughter has been kidnapped to keep him out of the action – so can he take on both at once? or
- Write down the big reveal. It didn’t come out of nowhere, so how did the writer(s) set it up?
Luckily for writers, people love and desire story. Across the centuries we’ve gathered round storytellers, bards, and gossips to suck up story in whatever amounts we can squeeze out of them. And, if we care to take the time, to learn from them.