Punchy movie montage… for writing

Writers don’t get movie montages. It doesn’t work on film. Why not? Because the main action in the solitary process of writing a book – apart from ten thousand trips to get caffeine and loo breaks and other procrastination events – involves fingers jabbing at keys. It’s just not Hollywood, baby.

Well, let me show you what a book writing montage would look like. Let’s trace it over Rocky Balboa’s evolution from out-of-shape human punchbag to world title contender.

Risin’ up, back on the street
Did my time, took my chances

Rocky 1Just like Rocky leaving his apartment at some unearthly hour to go for run, the writer begins work in the dark, unsocial hours; time trimmed from the edges of the day – before the rest of humanity has woken, or long after it has gone to bed. Rocky’s early runs were slow, wheezy, not very long. The writer’s first steps along the road to a first draft are also slow, stop-start affairs. Rocky knew where he wanted to go; the writer has little clue where these dark streets lead.

Went the distance
Now I’m back on my feet
Just a man and his will to survive

Simple determination would never be enough for Rocky and it’s not enough for the writer either. Each step Rocky took made him fitter; each word, each sentence, each paragraph makes the writer better. Pounding the pavement; pounding the keyboard. Rocky’s muscles had to be stretched, clenched, torn, mended, enlarged; the writer must train just as much. The mental muscle must be stretched to allow at least 50 words, 500 words, 1,000 words – useable words! – to result from each writing session. The slap-slap-slap of Rocky’s trainers; the clack-clack-clack of the writer’s typing. The time between those slaps/clacks get shorter; the sound of those slaps/clacks goes on for longer.

So many times, it happens too fast
You trade your passion for glory

Punch those carcasses till your hands are bloodied, Rocky! Yes, the writer writes wherever they can – maybe not in a sub-zero environment, but strange environs nonetheless. Not everyone has an office with desk and computer, photo of mum and a little handmade card saying ‘You can do it!’ Writing is done on the sofa, at the kitchen table, on holidays, in bus stations, in hotel foyers. Words are punched out, each one taking the story towards that magical 100,000-word mark; 100,000 steps took Rocky to the top of the steps outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past
You must fight just to keep them alive

Soon enough, the story gains a momentum of its own. It takes hold of the author, demanding it be worked on during the day, pulling them through those metaphorical streets. It becomes addictive. It becomes less like work and more like a passion. The streets are awash with daylight, every turn can be seen. Then those steps rise up before the writer, into the sky. The finish is in sight. But the first time the writer ascends, the wind is knocked out of them, legs turn to jelly. The writer gets to the top and collapses. The first draft is done. The hard work is not.

It’s the eye of the tiger
It’s the thrill of the fight
Risin’ up to the challenge
Of our rival

If Rocky faced Apollo Creed after climbing to the top of those steps just once, how do you think he would have fared? Let’s put it this way: the crowd would have demanded their money back. Apollo wouldn’t even have needed to take a shower. So, sending a first draft into the ring would be utter folly. It’s time for – yep, you guessed it – more training, otherwise known as rewriting. This is where the story’s muscles are toned, where the characters bulk up, where the dialogue gets… punchier!

And the last known survivor
Stalks his prey in the night
And he’s watching us all with the
Eye of the tiger

Now, Rocky can run all the way from his apartment to the top of the steps. Now, the writer works through the manuscript, adding to chapters, moving them around, perhaps introducing new characters, changing tense; getting to the end, going home, taking a shower and heading out again. Each run is quicker, with fewer stops; each time the steps are scaled the writer is less out of breath.

Face to face, out in the heat
Hangin’ tough, stayin’ hungry
They stack the odds
Still we take to the street
For the kill with the skill to survive

The writer gets recognised on the streets. People call out encouragement. A few kids run alongside for a bit before returning to their play. It’s worth acknowledging those on the pavement. Tell them you’re hoping for a tilt at the title, a chance for glory. You need these people to care; they’re the ones who will pay to watch the fight.

Risin’ up straight to the top
Had the guts, got the glory
Went the distance
Now I’m not gonna stop
Just a man and his will to survive

RockyIt’s the scene where an ultra-fit, lean, mean, fighting machine Rocky bounds through the streets, calling out to smiling, waving pedestrians. He runs along the road. Children follow him. Adults join in. Rocky begins to sprint, leaving them all behind. He hurdles a park bench as those museum steps rise up before him. Without slowing Rocky takes those steps two, three at a time, racing to the top. He gets to the peak and leaps around, holding his clenched fists aloft. His followers join him, surround him, sharing in his achievement, what he has done and what he is about to do.

The writer goes through something similar, though not as physical. The book is in fine shape; it’s also lean and mean. The people running alongside, then behind, are those that the writer has told about the book; they all want to share in the journey. With a final burst of energy, the writer leaps any final hurdles and races to the top of the steps – the end of the book.

The eye of the tiger
The eye of the tiger
The eye of the tiger
The eye of the tiger

Rocky is ready to step into the ring. The writer is ready to launch the book.

Mrs God is out now.

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4 comments

  1. Yep I’m definitely still the wheezing, struggling Rocky. Perhaps I need to find some carcasses to bloody…

    1. Wrap those fists and start pummeling, Aussa!

  2. This was a witty post, I really enjoyed it! I have to go listen to the Eye of the Tiger now, find my sweatband and exercise some BIC HOK!

    1. Now you’re talking! Leggings are go for launch 😉
      Thanks, Laura

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