Now that I have your attention…
Last week, a friend of mine caught me on Facebook with an invitation I couldn’t refuse. She had an extra seat at a breast cancer fundraiser luncheon where the guest speaker was Nora Ephron.
I am not a particularly girly or ladylike woman. I tend to enjoy boyish interests: comic books, video games, building ready-to-assemble furniture…
One unapologetically girly interest I have is that I love a good romantic comedy with sharp, funny dialogue. (Case in point: my obsession with Castle for the last year.)
You’ve Got Mail is probably my favorite movie of all time. So I couldn’t resist the prospect of getting to hear the writer.
She was wonderful. Funny, smart, a little neurotic, and laser-sharp–just like the characters she writes. Before she came out, they played a video of the infamous (and hilarious) restaurant scene from When Harry Met Sally. The one where Meg Ryan’s character fakes an orgasm in the middle of a New York deli, much to the chagrin of Billy Crystal.
During her speech, she talked about that scene and how it actually came together. It turns out, she didn’t really write that scene. The scene sprang from a conversation with Rob Reiner about women faking it. When they had Meg and Billy cold read the script, it was Meg who suggested that the scene would be funnier in a public place like a restaurant, and that she should fake it right there. Billy was the one who suggested that a woman in the deli say “I’ll have what she’s having.” And Rob knew just the woman to play that older lady: his mom.
The creation of that scene changed her perception of her role as a screenwriter. She realized that she wasn’t just a writer who sits alone at a typewriter or computer and creates the Words That Must Not Be Changed. The best writing is a collaborative process that comes out of conversation and interaction between smart, creative people.
It immediately reminded me of my work as a web copywriter. The best website copy I’ve written has been a collaborative effort between me and the other creative people involved in the project. I’m a sharp wordsmith, but I’m not as funny or smart as a whole group of people, feeding off each other’s energy and enthusiasm.
I have struggled with feeling like a “real writer.” For over 20 years, I’ve pretty much always gotten paid to write. It’s just rarely been part of my official job title till the last five years or so.
It used to make me feel like a less of a real writer that some of my best ideas or turns of phrase came from other people. But a real writer gets her ego out of the way of the work. She takes inspiration and assistance wherever she finds it to make the work better. A professional writer is confident enough to invite others into her process.
Besides, all ideas come to a writer externally. None of our words are truly original. We don’t invent anything; we recycle everything. Another wise tidbit that Nora shared was that her mom, a screenwriter, had responded to all her problems as a kid by saying “Everything is copy.” Which was her way of saying “Someday, you’ll find this funny.”
When you think of it that way, insisting that you never borrow or steal ideas from other people and experiences is as silly as faking an orgasm in a deli. 🙂
If you’re a writer, where’s your best source of inspiration? If you don’t write, what’s something you do where you feel like a fake?