unexpectedly, on writing

Sara Israel, July 8, 2010

Okay.  I’m going to admit it.  I’m really not into books on writing.

There.  I said it.

Goodness knows there are plenty of well-written, valuable books on the subject, books others writers swear by.  But for me they are too pragmatic or too mystical, too humble or too prideful, too technically written or too artistically rendered.  Bottom line:  I tune out.

But several weeks ago I wanted to buy a meaningful gift for May Treuhaft-Ali, the glorious 14 year-old author of the play May, which I just had the privilege to direct in The Blank Theatre Company’s Young Playwrights Festival.

I confidently speak for my cast as well— the terrific trio of Will Barker, Heather Morris, and Michael Welch— when I say that exploring the world of May’s writing was a singularly amazing and altering experience.  And so on the occasion of our opening night, I wanted to give May something that she could draw upon as an artist in return for this gift she had given us.

Because she is a writer, I first thought to buy her a book on writing.  And then I remembered, well, everything I’ve declared above.  But it struck me:  although I avoid books “on writing,” there are surely books I’ve read that nonetheless have made an enormous impact on my work as a writer.

At the top of that list is No Tricks In My Pocket: Paul Newman Directs, by Stewart Stern.  I first discovered this book for a college acting class.  I have read it no less than 10 times since.  It’s technically about this guy, Stewart Stern, who happens to be an old friend of Paul Newman, and happens to follow him around as he directs the 1987 film version of The Glass Menagerie.  But of course it’s not really about that.  It’s about discovery— the ways Tennessee Williams’ characters discover themselves, the ways the actors discover those characters, the way Paul Newman discovers the connections between the two, and the way Stewart Stern discovers his old friend in a new light.

And discovery— the art of it, the wonderment of it, and the mechanisms of it— are the basis for lots of good writing.

So I bought No Tricks In My Pocket for our sweet 14 year-old May.  She has reported to me that she’s already read it— though she’s never read nor seen The Glass Menagerie.  I see nothing wrong with this, because maybe it means that, like me, she’ll keep on re-discovering the book over and over again, an unexpected writing friend.

5 thoughts on “unexpectedly, on writing

  1. Discovery, that is where I am with my new piece. I had pulled out my copy of The Glass Menagerie, not knowing why. I’m buying the book. Thank you.

  2. I’ve never read that one and will definitely put it on my list. For years I’ve been touting the wonders of Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird, but after reading Operating Instructions (which I didn’t love) I’m thinking of finding a new writing reference. Thanks for the suggestion, and so glad to see you blogging again!

Leave a Reply