By Scott Adlerberg
Many years ago, on a TV talk show, I watched an interview with a film director. It's so long ago now (I was in college at the time), that I forget who the director was. But I do remember that the interviewer asked the director something about what he finds most difficult, or challenging, about film-making. After a moment's thought, as I remember it, the director answered by talking about all the distractions one faces as the director of a film, the hundred and one things that come to your attention and take up your time since you are in charge on the set. Actors complain, crew members have technical issues, the producer is calling you about something, the weather is not cooperating for the outdoor scene you need to shoot, and so on. He said that sometimes on the set (and this part of his answer I remember well), he simply stands still and closes his eyes to visualize how he first saw the film. He blocks out everything around him so that within himself he can reconnect with his original conception of the film - the images he had in his mind, the moods he wanted to conjure, the ideas he hoped to evoke. He reminds himself not to be distracted by everything swirling around him and to channel his energy and concentration into getting on film the closest approximation he can to what he first had in his head for the movie. There was a vision he had for this movie, an excitement he felt about doing it, and he uses that moment he's taken for himself to recall what the vision and excitement were before all the distractions began. He tells himself that his goal, no matter what, despite everything, is to create a film as close as possible to that pure idealized version of the film he has in his brain.
Everything he said applies, I think, to writing as well as film-making, and never more so than nowadays. In a sense, the distractions come not only from the constant daily bombardment of images and the surround sound of social media, but the urge that arises to reflect in some way, a direct way, the events and conditions unfolding around us. But this urge can lead to something akin to trying to stick a needle through quicksilver. Of course one wants to be relevant when one writes. And relevance can mean topical. It can mean obviously au courant. Then again, it doesn't have to.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating for living in a precious writerly bubble where what's outside is considered beneath one. It doesn't seem wise that any writer be out of touch with the outside world and social issues. I'd venture to say it would be ridiculous and lead to some embarrassing stories. But chances are that if you are up on things and concerned about things, or upset about things, or amused by things, your stories will reflect what's happening in at least an indirect or elliptical way. Your original conception, if it's strong, will do just fine, and you'll layer in, maybe not even consciously, themes and tidbits that couldn't but be layered in except during this particular time. How writers handle politics and social issues varies among each individual, but I know I've never been one who considers either in the forefront of my mind when developing a story. Yet I'm a political junkie, an avid devourer of news, in my daily life. How to reconcile the two? I don't try. I just know that when I have an idea I love, I work on it and craft it as best I can, and I remain vigilant about not letting the issue of the day, and the next day, and the next day, mess with that idea. I'm pretty confident that my follow the news and media side will infiltrate the idea anyway, but maybe in a way not quite so obvious either to me or the reader.