Ian Drury - Sheil Land Associates Ltd. - 52 Doughty Street - London WC1N 2LS

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Round the Block

All last week, I was thinking "I'll write a blog about writer's block!"

How's that for irony - meaning to write about writer's block but just never quite managing to do it.

But I was going to. Because I don't believe in it. Or, rather, I know it happens, but I don't think of it as 'writer's block' at all. Whenever it happens to me (yep - guess what last week was like) I know it's because mentally I'm trying to take a short-cut.

When you write something, you shouldn't imagine that it's set in stone. The first draft will have garlic and sapphires in it, and the second draft should restructure it and give it a better shape, and the third draft (really) should round it off with a final polish and that little extra zing.

The first draft ought to be just a determined effort at getting everything down on paper in some form or other. We can worry about how good it is, how well it's working, later.

But so-called writer's block happens (I believe) when you're working on the first draft but you want it to be as good as the third draft.

Working in TV, there'd be the occasional nightmare when a script editor would phone, just days before deadline, and ask you to change all the locations, or alter the ages of the characters, or something equally dumb. Which meant that, in just two or three days, you had completely to rewrite the script. That's when I began to learn about writer's block. There was a dreadful panic when it came to putting any word on the page - a vertiginous sense that 'This is it' and that it had to be right, first time, every time.

Great way to panic yourself into writer's paralysis, folks.

Anyway, so, having figured that out, it's easy to know how to deal with writer's block. Just write. Write whatever. And then come back later and clean it up.


But I didn't write that last week because I'd had a couple of trips to my nearby town of Stratford, and I'd watched Shakespeare in Love, and I was wondering - why do so many actors read Shakespeare all wrong.

Take that famous balcony speech:

O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name,
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I'll no longer be a Capulet.

How often have you heard the first line spoken as if it read: 'O Romeo, Romeo, where are you Romeo?'

Is that what it says? No. What it says (or means) is: 'O Romeo, Romeo, why are you Romeo?'

It's all about his name. And at a time when the State was trying to impose a Protestant form of religion on a rather conservative country, a name like "Rome-o" would surely stand out as a declaration of tribal Catholicism.

So Juliet asks, "Why are you 'Romey-o'?" Why can't Romeo change his name (his surname, Montagu, was shared by one of the most Catholic families in England, and Shakespeare's then patron, the Earl of Southampton, was related to them: Southampton's mother had been born a Montagu) and therefore deny his faith?

Or, failing that, Juliet will renounce hers. The Protestants wore little woollen skull caps in church. Juliet is a Capulet.

So it should be read with something like the former Troubles in Northern Ireland in mind. This is a life-and-death situation.

But I didn't blog about that, either.

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