“To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme.”
– Herman Melville
SOME people have jobs they hate. They struggle to rouse themselves when the alarm goes off, they drag themselves to the shower, force down some breakfast (after the shower, hopefully, otherwise it could get horribly messy) and trudge unwillingly to work. Others tolerate their job on the basis that it pays the rent, gives them something to do between family time or soap episodes, and someone’s got to keep the economy going, right?
Then there are writers.
I’ve never met a writer yet who didn’t love getting out of bed to work on their latest project. No matter whether it’s splurging a first draft or handling some particularly tricky development notes from a spotty teenage executive with no more idea of how a script works than his Hornby train set, the true writer simply loves it. Every glorious, hard-fought, embattled, problematic, hair-tearing moment of it.
I have been that office worker. I was one for 20-odd years. And I enjoyed my job, as far as it went. But my willingness to get out of bed for The Man was as nothing compared to the eagerness with which I leap up these days to face the morning.
Why am I telling you this? For one simple reason, which I have learned over the course of the past few un-officebound years: when you’re writing something – anything – you’ve got to love what you’re doing. A project without passion is doomed to failure, even if it makes it into production. It’s always palpable, that sense of drive behind a passion project, and always noticeable when it’s absent.
I won’t name names, but we’ve all seen those TV shows or rapidly-produced sequels that just don’t quite cut it – and nine times out of ten it’ll be because they’re born out of expediency or sheer, unadulterated commerciality.
Don’t get me wrong: commerciality is vitally important if you want your project to get made, but if it’s there on its own, with no real passion behind it, it’ll stand out as clearly as a pimple on prom night.
Which brings me to my point. Lesson Two in How Not to Write a Musical: choosing your subject. My writing partner and I debated long and hard about this because if we get it wrong, the whole project’s stuffed before we write a note or a word. We toyed with creating an original story but vetoed it on precisely those grounds of commerciality (i.e. no one would have any idea what it was, and without at least one of us being famous, that would be a tough sell). We contemplated adapting a well-known film or play but vetoed that for a simple pragmatic reason – acquiring the rights could be both tricky and expensive.
In the end, we found ourselves a ‘property’, as these things are known in the trade, which fulfilled all our criteria: it’s an iconic novel, has an inherent appeal for our target audience, is in the public domain (i.e. out of copyright and available) and – perhaps most important of all – we both love it.
We checked it hadn’t already been done, which it hasn’t – at least, not in the way we’re planning – and started our writing process by not writing at all. We read it again.
Oh, but how silly of me. You’ll want to know what it is, won’t you? Well, allow me. Our source material is...
Next time... Letting the cat out of the bag – is there a ‘right’ time to do it?