guest post by Rick Lenz
Not having been exactly a megastar actor, I knew my memoir North of Hollywood would have to be different—unstereotypical. I share with you some of the guidelines that came to me in a scalding blast of inspiration as I considered this.
Okay. First of all, make sure you have nothing to say. If you have something to say, it means you’ve already begun organizing it, which—if you’ve done that before you begin writing—is death. Un-stereotypical writing has to be completely fresh.
Two: you can’t be unorganized either. Once you’re sure you have nothing to say and have said it inventively, make sure you then put it all in a sensible order. Just because you’re capable of covering a canvas with a coat of red paint doesn’t make you Rothko. Unconventional writing—just like anything else in the creative arts—had better have a lot of structure if it's going to be accessible unconventional writing.
Three: Make sure you’re at peace with yourself. Chaos never creates anything but a mirror image of itself. Don’t commit the day-to-day mess in your mind to paper. If you do, people will have firm evidence that that’s what’s in your head and they will not pay you for it.
Four: Make sure your writing is crystal-clear and avoid clichés like the plague.
The fifth, and perhaps most important, rule of unconventional writing is never to forget that everyone else is trying to be unconventional. We live in a time in which it seems as if we’ve watched too many absurdist comedies in a row. Our frames of reference have gotten bent around to the point that everything seems preposterous and nothing provokes surprise.
Ergo, at this very moment a million authors are thinking, “How can I shock the pants off them?”
Well, most readers’ pants are already down around their ankles.
To illustrate: an increasingly large proportion of writing in the 21st Century is for the Internet and television. If my late mother were to watch network TV today, she’d faint within a minute. The next night, she’d faint again.
But eventually, after some nasty falls and a few bruises, she’d make sure she was sitting in an easy chair when she turned on the television.
Then, gradually, her responses would turn into little more than faintly raised eyebrows.
Finally, she’d just stare at it like everyone else.
Meanwhile—and this more of a caveat than a rule—never forget we live on a continent that was only recently (in the big scheme of things) populated by people who deeply believed that plants, rocks, fire, water, as well as animals and people were imbued with a sacred inner life by the Great Spirit. Compare and contrast that with the man (also on television), warning men to seek medical help if their erections last longer than four hours.
To sum up: In order to write in an unstereotypical way, do not know what you’re talking about, but organize it well. Be peaceful (a lobotomy is permissible). Be lucid and remember that everyone else is trying to break the stereotypes too.
Maybe the best thing to do is simply to write old-fashioned, cleanly- stated prose and not worry about anything beyond that—unless you want to count being interesting and honest.
Rick Lenz has been acting on Broadway, TV and film since 1965. In his memoir, North of Hollywood—on sale today—he talks about a life spent acting alongside the likes of Walter Matthau.