Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Grand Unlearning of Everything I Ever Knew

I read an article recently about Terry Gilliam, the director who was making a film with Heath Ledger when the actor died last January. Quoting directly from an article on

He was directing Heath Ledger in "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus," when the actor died—and it's not the first time he has lost a leading man.

Is there a filmmaker in the world with worse luck than Terry Gilliam?

Jean Rochefort didn't die eight years ago, but Gilliam had to abandon "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" after a few days when 70-year-old star Rochefort became seriously ill and a flash flood washed away the entire set. The whole fiasco is captured in the documentary "Lost in La Mancha." But the animator-turned-director who made his name with the surreal opening sequences of "Monty Python" is also known for never giving up. He saved "Parnassus" by enlisting the help of Ledger's friends, among them Johnny Depp. He has even resurrected "Don Quixote," which will start shooting next year.

Two questions asked by The Screening Room really struck me as interesting and applicable to the writer's life:

TSR: What have you learned over the 30-plus years you have been making films?
TG: There is no one thing -- it's just going through life. I don't think you ever learn just one thing. At some point you start unlearning things. I have been working hard to unlearn everything I know.

I love that line: "working hard to unlearn everything I know." What a great statement. As I head this week to the Romance Writers of America's annual conference in Washington, D.C., I do so with the same wariness I always feel as I approach writing-related training events. While I believe there's always room to grow and learn new things, I'm extremely protective of my writing process and tend to be reluctant to let too much in that could possibly undermine my confidence in my own abilities. It's a fine line we walk between keeping it real and fresh and unique while taking the time to learn new techniques. A few times I've wanted to put my hands over my ears and cry LALALALALALA when someone was preaching to me about plotting or the need for character sheets or all the other tools I refuse to use. Don't. Want. To. Know.

So at the conference this year, I'll focus on sessions on promotion, business, career, and of course the chat with Nora Roberts, which I wouldn't miss.

Gilliam's second interesting comment came in response to this question:
TSR: What advice would you offer to aspiring filmmakers?
TG: Talent is less important in filmmaking than patience. If you really want your films to say something that you hope is unique, then patience and stamina, thick skin and a kind of stupidity, a mule-like stupidity, is what you really need.

Couldn't those same characteristics be applied to surviving a writing career? While patience and stamina and a thick skin are critical, the mule-like stupidity is essential. For without it, you run the risk of becoming run of the mill. And for a writer, that's a fate worse than writer's block!


Cheryl Brooks said...

I read that article, too, and I have to agree with him. I've learned so many new things lately that I MUST be unlearning old stuff, I just don't realize it!
It's true in nursing, as well as writing. The things that were cutting edge thirty years ago have been abandoned or reinvented. Nothing stays the same and we have to keep adjusting to it or withdraw--and I'm not ready to do that just yet!

Marie Force said...

You are so right, Cheryl. The more you know the more you NEED to know. I find that true in the day job as well.

diva donna said...

You ladies don't need to CHANGE the way you write. You're both writng great books in your styles. So Please just stay UNIQUE!!! You have natural TALENT That can't be taught.
Have fun at National.
Marie, I think you need to keep Cheryl and Kendra out of trouble. OK?

Marie Force said...

Thanks, Donna. You're a doll!