Just like Eminem in 8 Mile


Finding the time to write can be difficult. If you’re like me, sometimes it can take a full day or so to get ‘into the zone.’ This means trying to avoid the static of real life, which unfortunately can include interactions with other human beings including husbands and children and relatives and friends, as well as leakage into your brain of other distractions like news, current affairs, THE INTERNET.

If you watch the movie 8 Mile, you’ll see Rabbit (Eminem) holding down a job (only just) but he’s on the bus to and from work,  ‘working on his rhymes’ — he has his headphones in, he’s writing on scraps of paper, writing on his hand. At work, he’s operating the metal-press thingy, but through his headphones thumps the rap and you know, as any creative person knows, that he is still working on his rhymes.

I’m reading Syd Field’s book on screenwriting. It’s a PDF online and I’m up to page 259 of 340. It is repetitive at times but Field is merely emphasising his key messages to make sure they sink in, and a lot of his pointers can be applied to novel writing.

It’s a fascinating glimpse into Hollywood as well, as he references well-known movies and screenwriters/directors. It’s like a present just sitting up there on the Internet for free, waiting for you to read it. So do it! I found it referenced in notes I’d taken a while ago, and while I was going through them to get into my zone to do some more work on my second story project, I came across it. I have been reading through it since Saturday while I’m taking a break from something else. Some people might think this type of detour is avoidance or procrastination or something: it’s not for me. It’s feeding and refilling and recharging and gathering more knowledge. It all helps to move me towards an end result.

Chapter 14 deals with writing a screenplay and I’ve come across some interesting stuff about the writing process. I adore reading about writers’ processes — how they do their thing, when and why. Here are some quotations from Syd Field:

Writing is hard work, a day-by-day job, sitting in front of your computer or notepad day in, day out, getting the words down on paper. You’ve got to put in the time. And some days are better than others.

And this:

Before you begin writing, you’ve got to find the time to write. How many hours a day do you need to spend writing? That depends on you. I work about four hours a day, six days a week. Stuart Beattie writes eight hours a day, from 9 A.M. to 6 P.M. with a one-hour break. Robert Towne writes four to five hours a day, six days a week. Some screenwriters work only one hour a day; some write in the early morning, some in the late afternoon, some at night. Some writers write twelve hours a day. Other writers work on a story in their head for months, telling it over and over again to people until they know it completely; then they “jump in” and write it in about two weeks. After that, they’ll spend weeks polishing and fixing it.

And this:

In many of my screenwriting classes, I tell my students that if they’re working full-time and cannot spend an hour or two a day writing before they go to work, or when they get home, they need to keep the idea current in their minds. They constantly need to think about the story line, the characters, and “what happens next.” Sometimes I tell them to carry the cards with them, so they can go over the material when they’re standing in line or riding on the subway, bus, or train. Keeping a tape recorder with you when you’re driving to work, on lunch or coffee break, or on your way home, helps you to focus on your thoughts and ideas so you can remember them. Then, before you fall asleep at night, listen to your ideas or lines of dialogue and you’ll be able to keep the material fresh in your memory. When the weekend rolls around, you can spend around two or three quality hours on Saturday and/or Sunday working on the script.

Now most of this is logical and obvious but to me, there is comfort in knowing that different people do things differently and that when it comes to time spent, when and where, there are no rules. It’s comforting too, to see that my style of working is represented too. The only rule seems to be: WRITE. Or as the Nike people say, JUST DO IT.* And if you can’t physically write, be thinking about the damned thing every free moment you have.

I have been composting and note taking and thinking about Damned Things for thirty years or longer. I have notes going back that far, ideas jotted in diaries, scraps of paper held together with paper clips, old napkins, etc, the usual cliched items. But it wasn’t until 1999 when I got 60K words down on what I knew would be a sustainable idea (ie a novel) that I started to get actual writing momentum, that is words on pages instead of notes. This was my second phase. The first phase had been that cogitating and ruminating and desiring and while I wasn’t really writing (other than notes and diaries), I was reading constantly, stuffing and feeding my brain in the best way possible. While I juggled relationships and paid work and study and travel, I was gathering material. Once I had a fortune teller say to me: You done very well for yourself. Woman like you does not get married, or have children. In past life, you were high priestess living alone, in cave or monastery. For you to have baby is very big achievement. (This woman had an eastern-European accent hence the lack of articles and subject/verb agreement in the above; more importantly, what she said really resonated. If I had a past life, it would have been in a cave or monastery.)

But now I feel like it’s my time to JUST DO IT. I’m not exactly like Rabbit in the movie. I’m probably not going to be running on stage for a rap battle (I might do an open-mike at the Dog’s Tales salon one time), and I probably won’t have sex with a girl standing up in a factory. I probably won) ‘t wear a beanie very often nor will I write all over my hand (I carry a notebook) in the back of the bus (I drive a RAV-4) but I will keep on working, even when I’m having to do other things.

* When I was in Year 12, I shared a room with my sister. I had the top bunk. Well before I was aware of this Nike slogan, I had written in crayon in large black letters on the ceiling above my head as l lay there: JUST DO IT. I should have been copywriter for an ad agency.

3 thoughts on “Just like Eminem in 8 Mile

  1. Great post, Jenny. I’ve been going through some things that have really upended my writing schedule and along the way have been trying to find my own path with rules that work for me and what my life is right now. I love that your post and the book you’re reading call attention to this reality — and that the method of internal composition is validated. It isn’t all about butt-in-chair, pen-on-paper time. I sustain a certain amount of momentum during these difficult days by thinking about and working on my novel in my head. Virginia Woolf spent a great deal of time in bed being ill and she is a my role model/mentor for the validity of this type of composition. My break-in to working consistently came after reading Barbara DeMarco-Barrett’s Pen On Fire — she said you could write a novel in as little as 15 minutes a day. Seemed reasonable to me and now I’ve got 300 pages and counting towards my first draft. Like any other process the ways in which writing happens are myriad. We need to be told things are possible, not that we have to align with rigid rules that make the work impossible in certain circumstances.

    I’m so happy to have found your blog and look forward to following and reading more. Cheers!

    1. Hi Angela thanks for your comment. I’m glad you found me and I’m glad to find your blog too, I think we have more in common than our choice of the same template! (Great minds, great taste etc etc). I see you write about Flannery O’Connor, a writer whose name I’ve been hearing for years but whose work I’ve never read. We have the Melbourne Writers Festival going on here, and over the weekend I went to a session and afterwards spoke with the writer – Kirsty Gunn, a name I may have seen around but someone whose work I wasn’t familiar with, and *she* spoke about form in a way that really resonated for me. This is a long-winded way of saying that she told me to read Flannery O’Connor to learn about form, so I’m excited to do that.

      The 8 Mile post gets more hits than any other but I always thought it was the ‘Eminem’ mention, and it probably still is, but having your comment here somehow validates the post.

      I will certainly look up Pen on Fire, thanks for sharing that.

      I’ll look forward to exploring your blog too.

      1. Something tells me you’ll quite like Flannery, and I agree that she is perfect to mentor you on form. She isn’t like any other writer I’ve ever read and I’ve learned more about living a writing life from her than anybody else. She was a generous soul, in every way.

        I love how you roost shared Eminem’s tricks for working his rhymes even when he didn’t seem to be working them. I love 8 Mile — used that reference myself on my blog — and have a lot of respect for his talent, initiative, and perseverance. I suspect a great many other writers can relate to your post, whether or not they feel inspired to share their own experiences. For me, I have had to struggle against my own preconceptions and a lot of voices proscribing certain writing practices, to learn to keep going when it all got messy and less than presentable. Your post is like a beacon for others who may be struggling with similar challenges to re-examine their practice and find what truly works for them, in their respective situations, rather than tying themselves into unrealistic practices that just don’t fit.

        Do check out Pen on Fire — the author is a great friend of mine and the book is phenomenal. She’s working on a sequel now.

        Thanks so much for your generous response. 🙂

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