Who are you writing for?
Creating a work of art, in whatever form, is hard. It takes sustained effort, self-belief, and craft skill. And then, at the end of that long road, there it is. A thing of beauty and awe. And you, the creator, are the only person who knows anything about it. Whether what comes next is a process to be enjoyed or feared will depend on how you are. There’s no way to change your instinctive reaction. Do you enjoy selling? Or do you hate self-promotion?
Whatever the case, a piece of art is a commodity that has to be brought somehow to the notice of the world – unless the artist is genuinely fulfilled by the act of creation alone.
Which brings me to today’s question: who are you writing for? And I don’t mean the supposed audience for your completed work. That’s a separate issue.
Let’s take a screenplay as an example. A screenplay, however lovingly written and minutely toiled over, is not the Thing itself. The film is the Thing. In writing a screenplay, you’re describing the film you see unspooling in the cinema of your mind. But you’ve also been told not to direct on paper. Directors don’t like being told what shots to shoot by the writer – and I speak as a director. But in order to get to a director, you have to get through the labyrinth of gate-keepers first. And the first person to decide whether to recommend or bin your script, whether they're young, bright, and inexperienced, or whether they've been in the business for a million years, will be reading dozens or hundreds of scripts a year.
A screenplay being more like a blueprint than a work of art in itself, it is often not the easiest to read – just as it’s often hard to see the building in an architect’s plans.
So the question is, how much help do you give? How do you maximise your chances and make it easy for the reader?
Having written your screenplay as a professional writer for a professional director, do you then produce another version which is easier to read, for instance with more explicit description, in order to help it get through the initial selection stages?
And if you’re writing a slow-burn novel, where multiple threads come together on page 300, do you produce a special edition of the first twenty pages, designed to get over the problem that, in the real thing, nothing much happens for the first third of the book?
I haven’t got an answer to this. Speaking for myself, I find it easier with a screenplay, where I try to write a single version which describes what happens without telling actors or director how to get there, but it’s much harder with a novel which doesn’t hit the ground running.
What do you do?