Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Authorly wisdom

Last Friday I went to see Tom Stoppard and Neil Gaiman speak at the Athenaeum Theatre in Melbourne. It was packed, for both speakers, and I love that in my city there are enough people interested in such things to fill a large theatre like that. Melbourne rocks!

A few different people have blogged about the experience. Anne Gracie wrote a great overview of the night and The Wheeler Centre (organisers of the night) have posted two other links to blogs with interesting reviews of what was said, here and here. There were cameras there, but so far I don't think any video of the night has been posted.
Photo courtesy of my friend Troy (I took a picture too,
but of the empty chairs before they came on stage. Good one.)

I didn't take notes or obsessively tweet -- a considered decision. I decided I just wanted to be 'in the moment' and soak up what I heard. I knew there'd be others out there recording things for posterity, so I just wanted to sit back and let their words wash over and see what stuck.

Here's the two things that stuck for me.

One - Tom Stoppard talked about the magic of being 'the first reader' of your story. I'd never thought about it that way, but that's exactly how I feel about my writing. I'm not much of a plotter (although it does start to happen organically as the story grows). The main reason I don't plot is that I'm writing the story to find out what happens. I know that sounds weird, perhaps even vain, but it's true. Once I know what happens in the story -- how it all turns out -- I tend to lose interest a little. Of course, there are always revisions (don't I know it!) and refinements, but if I started the book knowing exactly where I was headed, I don't think it would have the same kind of magic for me.

Two - Neil Gaiman was asked a question along the lines of "Do you enjoy writing?". His response was "I love writing... (pause) ...the first draft."

As I had just spent the preceding hours boring my companion to tears complaining about the agony of revising, I couldn't help but laugh. Oh, the pain of revising! It was so nice to find I share something in common with a writer like Neil Gaiman. Hearing about his eleven versions of his script for "The Doctor's Wife" including the fact that it had all taken so long the characters in the show had changed and he had to fit in an entirely new one (Rory) and the pain he felt doing it was, well, somehow cathartic.

So, now, back to revising for me...


  1. Emmie, I love that line from Tom Stoppard. Would you believe a participant in a workshop said exactly the same thing to me at the Brisbane Writers Festival this year? I'd never thought of my writing that way but it's true. If I know too much about the story, I'm bored. I want to find out what happens as much as any other reader. Lucky you, getting to hear these two. I've long admired TS (don't know as much about NG). Think Arcadia is an absolute masterpiece.

  2. Must admit I haven't read a lot of Tom Stoppard, but have seen a few of his movies (but not plays). I loved Rosencranz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Love Neil Gaiman's work. I just recently read American Gods, and it's amazing.