On the writing journey, there is at least one thing a writer can do to improve their work. It is to look closer at how they are putting something. Instinct to write is compelling, and then excitedly submit the work. The piece sounds okay or good, but look closer. Thinking twice can improve the piece no ends. Looking for ways to make the piece more interesting and compelling.
A few months ago I wrote several devotions. They were intended for a publication I had in mind. After I wrote them, I waited. One may wait. How the writing sounds one moment may sound completely different two months later. Which means in two or three months (or a matter of weeks in other cases) that writing may be taken to the cleaners or it’s perfect as it is.
A good thing about waiting is that one can see the writing with fresh eyes later on. I hadn’t rushed ahead and submitted the writing straight away. And I realized, after letting the writing “marinate” for months later, that these devotions should be cast aside, put almost in the recycle bin, but not quite, because that would be disrespectful. So, I placed the devotions in another folder, to never see the light of day again.
Thematically, Out of Africa (1985) has got some interesting points, of one’s place and connection in the world in spite of the transient nature of life, seeing the life God intended although the world is imperfect, and the small details of life carrying some significance for good or ill. A bit of a smorgasbord of ideas, a bit of a mix and pick, but the ideas connect to the central story.
Out of Africa is based on real people and fictionalized for dramatic effect, Danish baroness Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep) moves to colonial Kenya and marries her best friend there, Bror (Klaus Maria Brandauer). There is a strain in her marriage as Bror has infidelities coming left, right and centre despite them trying to make a go of a coffee plantation in the African country.
Enter big game hunter Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford). Ever so gently a romance develops after Blixen’s divorce from Bror.
The spectrum of events like these can make one question one’s place in the world, question if the events are ominous or good, and somehow get back to the life God intended. Ambiguous and lucid but getting through the fog to find a meaningful life.
Meryl Streep had two acting Oscars already on her mantelpiece before she filmed Out of Africa. When the Oscar nominations came out in 1986, she was nominated for her role as Karen Blixen. She didn’t win and didn’t win again for another 26 years when she got another one for The Iron Lady in 2012. But some may say that the field was so good in 1986 that they all deserved the Oscar.
The beauty of Meryl Streep’s performance as Karen Blixen is that she consumes her role as if disappearing in it, which many say is what Meryl Streep tends to do. Streep may be the best thing in Out of Africa but there are other reasons to admire it as a movie.
Streep consumes her role as Blixen, but when she’s with Redford and he’s putting on the charisma, you start to think, oh, he’s a star and so is she. Redford has that effect on occasion, but mostly you wouldn’t notice.
There’s a slow burning romance between the main characters. Finch Hatton takes Karen Blixen on his plane–some magnificent aerial photography showcases the romance of the African landscape. By then it’s more than a date, not that dates figure in this film’s world.
I’m not commending the moral flaws in this film, such as the infidelities, the divorce, and the romance with another man, but Streep’s wonderful performance, and Brandauer’s too, the production’s handsomeness, the literate sweep from a screenplay by Kurt Luedtke (based on the writings of Karen Blixen), the detail and well-developed characters, are all on the flip side. There are few lulls. I was taken into this movie’s cocoon. A tremendous effort, a film that’s focused and follows through on what’s been established, and a film of poetry, nuance and detail, delivered with a return on the viewer.
Out of Africa (1985) ****½ Starring: Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Klaus Maria Brandauer. Director: Sydney Pollock.
I have never been a follower of New Zealand singer Stan Walker, but his most personal album to date is worth a listen. Walker has released a short album, an EP, a nice collection of six songs, coming after his ill health. The songs strike a different tempo than what he’s done before. It sounds like a lite version of Justin Bieber’s Purpose, with that kind of ambiance and echo, but mixes this sound around quite a bit. There’s variety, with songs about struggle and real life, relationship and loved ones, one in the Maori language, and a heartfelt spiritual song about his relationship with the Lord that’s breathtaking (‘I Surrender’). One can’t help but think that the subjects of his songs have something to do with his personal experiences, but I don’t know. Whatever the reason for the songs, Stan Walker is telling it from the heart. “Stan” is simple but not simplistic and layered in something deep that resonates through his vocals. A quiet pop album, but reaching greater heights than your average. It’s a breath of fresh air.
It is not an easy road getting published, but I had some good news about a month ago that a meditation I submitted to a journal is being seriously considered. It has passed the “first round” or phase one and is on the short list as it was. The outcome, I’ve been told, will take quite a while, which goes to show how rigorous getting selected for publication can be. Not easy. Many other devotional pieces are in the same boat, but only a few survive.
Little things I pick up along the way…as I was reading a book, I stumbled onto a nugget of wisdom. The book appraised films for this or that reason and a reason a critic gave was personally illuminating. The critic said a certain director wasn’t prepared to go the places a subject or premise would naturally go. It clicked. If I am to write stories, write stories I am prepared to deliver on. Go to the places the subject demands. If I can’t go there, don’t write it.
While on the road of writing, if it’s full-time, part-time, casual, or as one can write in-between the necessities of life, sometimes there’s the urge to reach beyond the boundaries of one’s normal genres of writing. I’ve desired it and tried it, but tended to fall back on the predictable or the road well-travelled.
I call this writing experimentation “writing exercises”, like we did at school. A writing exercise has a time-frame to complete, a certain amount of words to finish, and is a certain genre. At the end one discovers if one is going to realistically be a writer in that genre. I’m not quite there yet at discovering it. It takes time.
One try at writing in a new genre may not be enough unless you’re a natural and can get published with a lot of luck or predestination. Keep on doing writing exercises until your are reasonably sure that it may work or that it does not look like working. Get a neutral person to read it and get feedback, someone who can be objective.
Of course, one may do writing exercises after a certain setback in the genre of writing you’re exploring. A piece was rejected, say, and one mustn’t be rejected again, so has got to get it right. Or one is ambitious and uncertain how a piece will be received.
As long as one does the best one can do at the new genre, if one has the time and commitment to do so. At some stage one will see where one’s writing in a new genre will lead.
Maybe the difference in getting published or not in a new genre is not the quality of work itself, but the gaining of an opportunity or not. So, know yourself if a piece of writing in a new genre you’re exploring is good or not.
You can only know you did your upmost best, published or unpublished.
As the photo in this post explains in pictures: writing can be pain whichever stage you are at, be that practising writing or getting rejected. But with a long awaited opportunity comes joy. Without an opportunity is pain, but although it’s easy for me to say, one must bear it and come to terms with it. There is another plan or road to travel.
As I was talking to someone about a Star Wars book I had ordered, which, by the way is a ” special” Star Wars book, the momentum of the conversation made me think about the Star Wars: Aftermath books I haven’t finished reading. So, I felt like reading them.
I was inspired, as per usual, but my rationale for wanting to was that I don’t like to waste and I like to finish the job, in this case not a real job, but finish the job metaphorically speaking. I had to finish the book. This despite the book losing its luster for me about a month or so ago. The lesson: when one has hit the wall with a book, give it some time, and then the wall may come crumbling down, somehow.
I was reading a book about screenwriting by Oscar winning screenwriters and in that book there’s one bit of content I remember well. American Beauty Alan Ball said he put off his writing project by cleaning his fridge. I know the feeling. One would sooner delay instead of dealing with the hard stuff.
Once one gets into the project and distraction becomes energy and activity, the challenge is getting it sounding right. There may be no right and wrong ways, but turning distraction into something which produces writing that’s at least readable are steps in the right direction.
Why watch Darkest Hour (2017)? Gary Oldman is the appeal of watching Darkest Hour. In the uncertain days of the Second World War, Winston Churchill (Oldman) became Prime Minister of England, replacing the statistically and politically unpopular Neville Chamberlin.
Chamberlin couldn’t lead during wartime according to one observer, but perhaps equally unpopular was Churchill, after a series of misfires as diplomat. But he had the backing of the opposition in Parliament so was the obvious choice.
Churchill struggles under the pressure of leading Britain during wartime, but his stubbornness and resolve to pursue his policies against Nazi Germany rather than sign a peace treaty with them is his great strength. Churchill did the right thing at the right time, despite the surrounding pressures inside and outside Parliament.
Churchill is played as a charmless, but genuine and kind person, whose charm-lessness has the opposite effect of being charming in its odd way, and his humour sharp and biting.
Oldman conveys the flaws and strengths of his character with masterfulness. Otherwise, Darkest Hour is a bit of an uninteresting, even boring war-time drama, replete with grey suited English politicians in stuffy stodgy environs of the parliamentary corridor, and very little production colour to brighten things up. It is efficiently bland with an even more pedantic sense of precision than Darkest Hour director Joe Wright’s Atonement.
Oldman doesn’t hold the movie together alone as it is rather grey and uneventful despite Oldman’s bursts of splendid outrageous colour. Still, worth a look for Oldman, made up unmistakably as Churchill, if one is curious enough.
Darkest Hour (2017) ***½ Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ronald Pickup, Lilly James, Ben Mendelsohn. Director: Joe Wright.