Monday, 6 July 2015

Matthew Weiner, creator of Mad Men, on writing

There's a lot of good stuff in this interview over at FastCompany. Matthew Weiner lets it all, ahem, hang out, and doesn't pull any punches. The universality of his experience is reassuring, and makes clear that, for most of us, perseverance is key:

Writers were revered in my home and I wanted to be one since I was a kid, but when I went to college, I could not get into a writing class. I went to Wesleyan, a very small liberal arts school. The classes had only 12 to 15 people, and you had to submit writing samples to get in. Mine, apparently, were just not good enough. I was rejected from every writing class. I ended up convincing an English teacher to do a one-on-one independent poetry study with me. When I finished my thesis, I was extremely proud and wanted others to see it. I gave it to a humanities professor and he invited me to his house to read the work out loud. After the first poem, he told me to get out a pen and take notes. He began, "The infantile use of . . . The puerile . . . The childish use of . . . The cliché awkwardness . . . " It was one humiliating cruelty after the next. And I had to write these insults down myself. I literally went through hours of this, poem after poem. He finally leaned over to me and said, "I think you know that you are not a poet." I said, "I was not aware of that."

All I can say is: Illegitimi non carborundum.

Which pedants, and John Cleese's Roman Centurion, will point out is not real Latin.

Notes Wikipedia:

"None of these variants is 'legitimate' Latin any more than the original. Carborundum is a noun and not a gerundive of any verb (although it does look like a gerundive). Also 'bastard' in Latin is spurius (another Latin word for bastard is nothus, but it is very uncommon). The two most common variations translate as follows: illegitimi non carborundum = the unlawful are not silicon carbide, illegitimis non carborundum = the unlawful don't have silicon carbide."

Which just makes it funnier and inclines me to use it more.

Sometimes the gap between success and failure is razor thin.

"The most defeatist thing I hear is, "I’m going to give it a couple of years." You can’t set a clock for yourself. If you do, you are not a writer. You should want it so badly that you don’t have a choice. You have to commit for the long haul. There’s no shame in being a starving artist. Get a day job, but don’t get too good at it. It will take you away from your writing."

Seriously, give the article a read. The whole thing.

Live and die the dream.