Saturday, December 10, 2011

Writing Lessons: The Early Years

By Reece Hirsch

I learned how to write by writing badly and often. Here’s a core sample taken from the early years of my writing life, along with the lessons learned.

  1. The Historian. Around age seven or so, my parents bought me a typewriter and I embarked on my first ambitious writing project. I was fascinated by the early explorers of the Americas, so I began writing a history of adventurers like Cortez, Vasco da Gama and Erik the Red. I was extremely focused in my research, which consisted of combining and rewording entries from the red-bound Junior Encyclopedia Britannica. Lesson learned: the pages just fly by when you’re plagiarizing.

  1. The Middle School Muckraker. In middle school, I was an editor and contributor to a profoundly juvenile, and borderline libelous, underground newspaper. The newspaper came to an end when I was busted by one of the gym coaches for selling it for a nickel a copy on the playground. Lesson learned: the First Amendment does not offer much protection for an obnoxious 11-year-old satirist.

  1. The Journalist. In the Eighties, I was a journalist in Atlanta, including editing and publishing a free arts and entertainment magazine and working as associate editor of a business magazine. Like a lot of journalists, I was dreaming of writing fiction on the side. I was a disciple of the so-called New Journalism of Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese and Hunter Thompson that combined reporting with the writerly flourishes of fiction. Lesson learned: journalism helped teach me to be concise in my writing and to recognize when the writerly flourishes were getting in the way of telling a story.
  1. The Screenwriter. In the early Nineties when I lived in Los Angeles, I tried my hand at screenwriting. I had a couple of scripts optioned, but none produced. Lesson learned: Screenwriting is a collaborative art form, but it is the author of an original screenplay who gets collaborated upon. I resolved that the next time I seriously committed myself to writing, it would be a novel.


Allison Davis said...

Uh, Reece, where did the law school thing/lawyer part come in?

I did all that except the screenwriting (I produced a couple plays I wrote). But the lawyer thing sucked the time I needed. That's the big issue.

Reece said...

Hi Allison -- I did the screenwriting when I was a young lawyer in L.A. But after a few years of fooling around with screenplays, there was a very long gap during which practicing law took all my time. Believe me, I do understand how tough it is to juggle writing and practicing law. The only way that I can manage it is in tiny increments over a long period of time.