Saturday, November 13, 2010

Crumpled Pages

A few weeks ago, I caught an interview with writer/screenwriter Aaron Sorkin on The View. He said something about his writing process that I’ve been mulling over ever since.

He told Barbara Walters that “because he can no longer rip a piece of paper out of his typewriter and crumple it up, he uses the shower as a way to jump start his mental reset button.” In fact, he went on to state that he often takes six to eight showers a day while he’s writing. Watch the entire interview here

This is striking to me for many reasons. The first is that I’d listen to any advice from Sorkin because he is arguably one of the most gifted screen-writers working today. Is his shower jump-start process a good idea? Maybe so. The proof is in the writing and his success. (I would love to conduct a non-scientific experiment on writing and showering - though as the mom of two young children, I'm not guaranteed even ONE shower per day.) I do give myself the luxury of vacuuming after I've finished a scene. Yes, I said vacuuming. I like to do it and it's one of those things that is good for stretching out the body after you've been in the writing position for an hour.

But the second point about his statement speaks to the modern writer's lack of type-rip-crumple-toss ritual. Fifty-plus years ago, writers expressed a physical act between their fingers and the page. You could send a bad page to a trash bin, giving it a defiant “take that you lousy prose. You are not even worthy of remaining on my desk!!”

But with our slim little computers, are we modern writers handicapped by this lack of physical exchange with our bad pages? 

Think of that Seinfeldian scene where Jerry tries to angrily hang up on someone, only to be defeated by the meek gesture of pressing a button. It didn't really send the person on the other end a signal, did it? The same is true for writing on a computer. If you're like me, it's not satisfying to drag a piece of work into your the trash icon on your desktop. It is a very gentile act and you only hear a simulated paper crumpling sound. 

So I ask - what do we do with our bad pages? Where do they go? How do we trash them – even figuratively? Do we still have a ritual for angrily deleting our lesser words? 

When I recognize something isn’t working, I have no problem deleting it, though it has taken me years to get to this point. I cut-paste chunks of writing to another file called “Cuts: Title of Project.” That way, if there was something in it I want to return to, I can search that file. I finally have the courage to prune the work, knowing the branches will grow back if they are needed. For years, I was scared of deleting whole sections. Now, I see it for what it is – making the work healthier by generous use of the delete key. When I get really frustrated with a scene, I have been known to highlight the entire thing and hit delete and yell at my keyboard. 

Still, I haven’t experienced the rip-crumple-toss and can’t help but wonder  - would it make any difference to the quality of writing?

What about you? Do you have a ritual for deleting bad pages? Do you have your own “jump-start” ritual like that of Aaron Sorkin? 

Happy Trails!

karen harrington
author, Janeology 
Nature or nurture? What REALLY drives our impulses?
Read an excerpt of Janeology at 

1 comment:

Marian Allen said...

I have a "Bits" folder, too! It's come in very handy, at times. :)

I don't have a ritual for deleting bad pages. Not that I don't write any! I would just prefer that nobody, including myself, notice it. I prefer that the bad writing just quietly fade away and let's all pretend it didn't happen.

Marian Allen