ON THE IMPORTANCE OF THE WRITER’S NOTEBOOK…

May 4th, 2017

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The one piece of advice I would offer to any writer would be to record every thought you can in a series of analog notebooks that you will be able to reference throughout your life. In reading Charles Johnson’s The Way of the Writer: Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling I came across similar advice to his students. Johnson commended the notebooks of Nathanial Hawthorne and Albert Camus as examples.

I read Gav’s Akira Kurosawa: The Note Taker back in January and had meant to post this before now (but, well, so many posts, so little time, you know). The message, thankfully, is timeless. Gav writes:

…it was only when Kurosawa was a young Assistant Director, working under his mentor, the director Yamamoto Kajiro, did he approach reading in a new way. Kajiro told him “If you want to become a film director, first write scripts.” Kurosawa agreed, and after he had finished writing his first screenplay showed it to his mentor for feedback. Kajiro proceeded to quickly rewrite a scene in front of Kurosawa’s eyes that was vastly better. The young Kurosawa was “awed”. Inspired by his teacher’s ability, Kurosawa decided to re-educate himself: “From this point on, my approach to literature changed. I made a deliberate effort to change it. I began to read carefully, asking myself what the author was trying to say and how he was trying to express it. I thought while I read, and at the same time I kept notes on the passages that struck some emotional chord in me. When I reread in this new way things I had read in the past, I realised how superficial my initial reading had been.” [Emphasis mine, JH] —From Akira Kurosawa: Something Like An Autobiography.

To be a writer, you must first be a reader who then learns to read as a writer. That is a lesson a lot of writers never learn.

Thanks to Gav’s cartoon I’ve gone back this morning to read part of Kurosawa’s Something Like An Autobiography. While I’ve put the entirety on my list for this weekend, here is the section from which Gav pulled his work:

I can testify to [Yamamoto Kajiro’s] writing abilities because of his precise criticisms and revisions on the scripts I later wrote. Anyone can criticize. But no ordinary talent can justify his criticism with concrete suggestions that really improve something. The first script I wrote under Yama-san’s supervision was based on Fujimori Nariyoshi’s story Mizuno Jurozaemon. In the original there is a scene where the eponymous hero tells his comrades of the Shiratsuka band about an edict he has seen put up on a signboard in front of Edo Castle. I followed the original closely and had Mizuno go back and report to his friends what he had seen. Yama-san read this and said if this were a novel it would be fine, but for a script it was too weak. He quickly dashed off something and showed it to me. Instead I having Mizuno do something dull like talk about the edict after having read it on the signboard, Yama-san had him uproot the sign-board and arrive carrying it over his shoulder. He plants it in front of his comrades and says, “Look at this!” I was awed.

From this point on, my approach to literature changed. I made a liberate effort to change it. I began to read carefully, asking myself what the author was trying to say and how he was trying to express it. I thought while I read, and at the same time I kept notes on the usages that struck some emotional chord in me or that I considered r some reason important. When I reread in this new way things I had read in the past, I realized how superficial my initial reading had been. Not just literature but all the arts, as one matures, become gradually more comprehensible in their depth and subtlety. This is of course very commonplace notion, but for me at that time it was a revelation, and it was Yama-san who led me toward it. Before my very eyes he had taken his pen to my script in the midst of reading it and revised as he went along. I was not only surprised at his ability, and inspired to re-educate myself, but at the same time came to understand, something of the secrets of creation. Yama-san said: “If you want to become a film director, first write scripts,” I felt he was right, so I applied myself wholeheartedly to scriptwriting. Those who say an assistant director’s job doesn’t allow in any free time for writing are just cowards. Perhaps you can write only one page a day, but if you do it every day, at the end of the year you’ll have 365 pages of script. I began in this spirit, with a target of one page a day. There was nothing I could do about the nights I had to work till dawn, but when I had time to sleep, even after crawling into bed I would turn out two or three pages. Oddly enough, when I put my mind to writing, it came more easily than I had thought it would, and I wrote quite a few scripts.

One page, one paragraph, one sentence, one word at a time is all you need to do. All we have is this moment, right now, and all the writer has to do is write in this moment. Time takes care of the rest.

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