Time magazine recently ran an article called “Sting’s Shipyard Serenade”* that I thought had an interesting line. Here’s the set-up:
As the superstar front man of the Police, Sting wrote nearly every song on the band’s five hit albums from 1978 to 1983. For the next two decades, as a solo artist, he issued seven more albums, scored 11 hit singles and won 10 Grammys. Then the songs stopped.
So many years had passed since he’d written his last notes that Sting began to wonder if his muse was gone for good. But rather than hang up his pen, he took on a new challenge in the face of writer’s block: creating a Broadway musical. “I had no interest in tailoring songs for Top 40 radio, for 14-year-old girls or boys,” he tells TIME. “I’m a 62-year-old man. Where is the arena to present my work? It’s not radio anymore.”
So, the article goes on, he met with some Broadway folks, including a producer who put together a creative team to help Sting master the form.
Sting, who admits he was used to being “more of a dictator in a band,” says the musical is the most collaborative thing he has ever attempted. And his creative partners found him open to their suggestions. “He liked being challenged,” Mantello says. “I said to him, ‘Every line has to argue for its existence,’ and he became a theatrical assassin.”
That’s interesting, don’t you think? I saw many parallels to what we’re doing here.
First, just because you know how to write a business letter or a legal brief or a personal essay doesn’t mean you are automatically equipped to write a novel. You have to master the form, learn the craft.
You can do that by surrounding yourself with a good creative team—people who can teach you what they know. Writing partners, critique groups, agents, editors. And though your writing may be done in solitude, editing is most definitely a collaborative effort.
Most importantly, I loved this: Every line has to argue for its existence. Yes, yes it does! (Every scene too.) We’ve talked a lot here about making every word count. I think in art—whether music, painting, theater, writing—you must distill the idea you are trying to convey. Take out the extraneous, leave the essence. Every line has to argue for its existence.
* I subscribe to Time, but you may not be able to see this article if you don’t, and I apologize for that.
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