I’m writing this on August 26, 2020— the second anniversary of Neil Simon’s passing. In case you’re unaware, he was one of the most brilliant comedy writers in the theatre. Some directors say, his plays guarantee laughs every two minutes. With the right actors in the cast, I believe the laughs come faster.
Still, I’ve heard some theatre people say, “Oh, it’s just a silly Neil Simon play,” like they’re talking about a B-horror film. I respond to those theatre people in the same way I respond to the readers who roll their eyes at Stephen King. “So, I guess you’ve never really read his work.”
What a shame, what a shame, what a shame.
I read Simon’s memoir Rewrites for the first time, while in the midst of Julia Cameron’s 12-week the Artist’s Way program. In those days, I was writing plays. My youngest son was a toddler, so I wrote while he napped or after I put him to bed at night. I’d read a chapter of the memoir, laugh out loud until my sides ached or I cried, then write my “morning pages” and turn to the play-in-progress. Rewrites inspired me because Simon flat out admitted that he didn’t have a clue about how to write a play, and then he figured it out. And he shared the entire process. Sure, he’d been writing television comedy for years before he launched into playwriting, while I’d written nothing more than self-indulgent-angst poetry and grocery lists. But his honesty stoked my courage to write plays, which led to short stories and novels, and the infamous revision.
Which reminds me of Stephen King who writes daily because if he takes a break his characters begin to feel like characters rather than people. He churns out first drafts in three months— some over a thousand pages long. I’d like to say I can’t imagine it, but I can, since the second draft of my New Orleans novel paged-counted to the sum of 832. It was crap. But it was good enough crap to keep me writing and rewriting and rewriting.
And I’m happy to say, on the anniversary of Neil Simon’s passing, that the end of rewriting on this novel is near. Not too near. I have two more rounds of revision after this one ends, followed by the edit from the publishing company once the book sells— but enough end-gaining.
The reason I’m confident about the New Orleans story coming to an end is thanks to Stephen King’s assistance in my battle against Resistance. Each morning over breakfast, I’ve been listening to his audio version of On Writing. If you haven’t had the pleasure, treat yourself. He’s a marvelous narrator. His comic timing— impeccable, and his characterizations are as captivating as any done by Robin Williams.
But the tidbit that is allowing me to steamroll over the ever-present Resistance to the emotional truth in my story comes from an interview he gave early on.
Interviewer: How do you write?
King: One word at a time.
And so, every day when I sit down and Resistance roars, I chant One word at a time, then let my fingers write the first word and the next and the next. That first sentence usually doesn’t last, but it gets Kaitlyn out of the darkness and into the light and before long she’s bossing me around.
I’ll never match Neil Simon’s comic wit, or Stephen King’s horrific suspense. But I’m ever so grateful they came into my life. They inspire the words write out of me.