Sunday, July 1, 2012

Writing advice from Nora Ephron

Last week, we lost a talented, insightful and hilarious woman: Nora Ephron. From The New York Times:
Nora Ephron, an essayist and humorist in the Dorothy Parker mold (only smarter and funnier, some said) who became one of her era’s most successful screenwriters and filmmakers, making romantic comedy hits like “Sleepless in Seattle” and “When Harry Met Sally...,” died Tuesday night in Manhattan. She was 71.
In a commencement address she delivered in 1996 at Wellesley College, her alma mater, Ms. Ephron recalled that women of her generation weren’t expected to do much of anything. But she wound up having several careers, all of them successfully and many of them simultaneously.
She was a journalist, a blogger, an essayist, a novelist, a playwright, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter and a movie director — a rarity in a film industry whose directorial ranks were and continue to be dominated by men. Her later box-office success included “You’ve Got Mail” and “Julie & Julia.”
While my informal and unscientific Twitter poll revealed that When Harry Met Sally might be Nora's most beloved film, I think Sleepless in Seattle is my favorite. I often think about it as a reminder that we can be creative and clever with structure. Would you ever think that a two-hander romcom could explore a love story between two characters who don't really meet until the very end? Meg and Tom are essentially living in two different movies. Somehow, it works - and it's also impossibly romantic.

If you haven't already, please read Girls creator Lena Dunham's beautiful New Yorker tribute to Nora, whom she was lucky enough to know personally.

I thought I would share some of my favorite bits of Nora's writing and career advice:

On procrastination:
"I have on my computer something called Freedom. You put in however many minutes of freedom you would want, and for that period of time your computer does not allow you to go on the Internet."

On voice, routine, distractions and advice (from a 1974 interview):
"Well, it’s just that my point of view happens to be faintly cynical or humorous—and just the way I see things and that’s how it comes out when I write it."

"You better make them care about what you think. It had better be quirky or perverse or thoughtful enough so that you hit some chord in them. Otherwise it doesn’t work. I mean we’ve all read pieces where we thought, Oh, who gives a damn."

"I don’t have much of a routine. I go through periods where I work a great deal at all hours of the day whenever I am around a typewriter, and then I go through spells where I don’t do anything. I just sort of have lunch—all day. I never have been able to stick to a schedule. I work when there is something due or when I am really excited about a piece."

“Life. I mean the main thing that distracts me is the pressure to go on with one’s life. That you have to stop to have lunch with someone or you have to take the cat to the vet …”

“First of all, whatever you do, work in a field that has something to do with writing or publishing. So you will be exposed to what people are writing about and how they are writing, and as important, so you will be exposed to people in the business who will get to know you and will call on you if they are looking for someone for a job. Secondly, you have to write. And if you don’t have a job doing it, then you have to sit at home doing it.

On entering a male-dominated world:
"Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.”

On turning tragedy into comedy:
"I feel bad for the people who don't at some point understand that there's something funny in even the worst things that can happen to you."

On navigating unfriendly workplaces:
“Women are loyal and true in a way that men aren’t. We have trouble breaking up. On some level, you have to choose to not be victimized by the things you should be calm about and focus on the things that should actually upset you.”

On female characters:
"I try to write parts for women that are as complicated and interesting as women actually are."

No comments: