Seventeen minutes. That’s what it takes to write something good. The something can always be made better, and it’ll take as much time as a writer is willing to give it, but it takes seventeen minutes at least.
This is not a lot of time. It’s less than the length of one episode of comedic television.
Seventeen minutes is keyboard time though. It’s sitting at the keyboard and typing rather furiously for seventeen minutes. But it’s not seventeen minutes of blathering onto the screen; it’s seventeen minutes of hyperintensity, where your body is almost completely still except for its unconscious twitches and shakes and your mind’s eye is so far inward it’s almost up your asshole, and then, almost like when a fish tries to dart back into the dark waters and you reach out to snatch it by its tail, you discover the phrase, and depending on how fast you are, its yours to catch or release.
It’s the buildup to the keyboard time that can get you. It takes a lot of energy to sit down and write. It’s a lazy man’s game, I know, but there isn’t any laziness to it. Not when it’s done right.
It’s like exercise. You just have to do it. Maybe someday you’ll feel like you’re a real part of “the game,” but for now, it’s just exercise.
I have friends that run in marathons; some are even Ironmen and women. I don’t think one of them has entered a race expecting they would win it. They expect zero accolades for their performance. They wouldn’t mind if they received some, but accolades aren’t for a moment a reason for them to run, or to swim, or to bike.
Before race day, they prepare — some more than others, but all of them prepare.
In writing, though, there is no race day. There is no single day that it’s all leading up to. It’s never “the day.”
When I see my friends at the starting line of their races (which isn’t very often), they often seem serious. Those who can laugh, laugh, but not all of them; some take the time to focus. Sometimes they bounce on their legs to get the energy flowing, or they sway back and forth, trying to stay loose.
There is that in writing too. Some writers are able to roll right out of bed and get going, but I think most of us have to psyche ourselves up a little bit. Some even pop performance enhancing drugs like marijuana or alcohol (Hunter S. Thompson popped a pharmacy). But then, clean or not, feeling the moment, we sit down, place our fingers on the keys, put them in their rested but ready position, and wait, wait…wait…and bang, the phrase hits, and we’re off.
Most people don’t run marathons though. You know what they do? They run 5Ks. A lot of them, sometimes more than once a day.
How long do you think that takes, a 5K?
I don’t know. I’m not a runner. But I think to run a pretty good 5K, seventeen minutes sounds about right to me.
I shit you not. I started this post a little more than twenty minutes ago. I’m sorry it’s taken this long. I’m still a little off my game.
And for the record (just because I finished watching it about twenty minutes ago) tonight’s “Spoils of War” episode has to be in the running not just as the best episode of Game of Thrones, but as possibly the best episode of television ever. It demonstrated the narrative moment that comes just before the apotheosis as well as I’ve ever seen it done. I can’t wait to read George R.R. Martin’s version of it.
And also for the record, it’s taking Mr. Martin longer than seventeen minutes to write A Song of Ice & Fire; in fact, it’s taking him longer than seventeen years.
Name one project you’ve worked on for longer than seventeen years (children don’t count).
Give Mr. Martin a break. He’s creating a true masterpiece.
And for those of you going after David Benioff and D.B. White for their desire to wrangle whatever stories they can out of the notion that the South won the Civil War and slavery still exists the way capitalism still exists, as a bona-fide economic theory — how dare you try to censor an artist before he or she can begin her work?
Game of Thrones has to be ranked as one of the best series of television ever. You can argue the point all you like, but no one would denounce you as crazy for suggesting it at least deserves some kind of honorable mention in the discussion.
The world makes a lot of television. To do it as well as Beniof and White have done it for as long as they’ve done it, and to do it at such a massive scale, with millions of person hours dedicated to its creation, production, and distribution, and done in what seems to be a genuine manner, allowing the dirtiness of Martin’s novels to titillate and shock the viewer while also striving to touch their hearts… Beniof and White have been as successful on screen as Martin has been on the page — differently successful, but successful nonetheless.
Haven’t they shown themselves to be twenty-first century artists of the first stripe, capable of manipulating the capitalist system in such a way as to dedicate millions upon millions of dollars to the creation of quality works of art? You think the Vatican doesn’t benefit from housing such high quality artwork behind its doors?
Yes, there’s money to be made in art. Ask Shakespeare and Michelangelo.
I’m not trying to go out on a limb here. In their official announcement about the series, Benioff and White used the language of art to frame what they’re trying to do, saying, “Our experience on Thrones has convinced us that no one provides a bigger, better storytelling canvas than HBO.” Given any urge to create art, what artist worth her salt would turn down the biggest canvas she could find?
The announced concept behind “Confederacy” is problematic, true, and I applaud those who want to ensure that the artists understand the problems before they try to tackle them, but how dare anyone forbid their attempt of it?
With tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones, which, by the way, they wrote before George R.R. Martin was able to write it, they proved themselves due for so much respect as artists that I’m willing to support whatever endeavor they choose next.
Yes, critique their idea. Yes, call into question the real political and cultural issues that arise from their idea, but for the love of all that is sacred in art, don’t denounce their right to attempt it.
Okay. That was about twenty more minutes. Sorry, but that was a great episode of television and I just needed to say all that.
Forty-five minutes of writing. Thirteen minutes of editing. That’s almost an hour-long drama. That’s not much at all.