Balance July 2018 - 78

Mas

clas
s

ter

How to Paint Outside The Lines
with Ben Elton

ABOUT ME
I'm a comedy writer, first and
foremost, and I've just directed a film
set in Australia about a folk festival
called Three Summers, that has been
going down a storm with audiences.
Because I've worked across a lot of
genres down the years, I'll be talking
about painting outside the lines -
being unconventional and breaking
the rules.

TIPS FOR
WRITING

TAKE A BREAK
Don't read back over
your stuff until you've
written too much
so you can throw
stuff away

EXPRESS YOURSELF
It's not arrogance to say, "Oh, only my
stuff is good enough!", but I'm only any
good with my own stuff, because that's
what interests me. No matter what I do
- directing a film, writing a musical - it
all starts with the written word. People
don't have to listen, but I'll always carry
on expressing myself. It's an ongoing
compulsion. It all goes back to being a
comic writer and stems from there.

LET IT FLOW
The curse of writing
is to write the best
first line. Forget
the first line! Write
anything initially
and keep going until
you get on a roll

IMPROVISE

ALWAYS RE-INVENT
There's an obsession in Hollywood
about sequels and remaking last year's
hit again. It's a law of diminishing
returns with rare and honourable
exceptions, such as The Godfather.
Sometimes my publisher says, "Why
can't you write a novel that's a bit
like the previous one, rather than a
complete reinvention? If you write
another thriller, you could build an

78

TURN ON
audience that likes a thriller." It's true,
but I couldn't write a novel that I was
trying to write, before I discovered
what it is. As EM Forster said: "How
can I tell you what I think until I see
what I say?" My work emerges by
instinct, not planning.

GO WITH THE FLOW
I don't know what's coming next.
Sometimes I'll get a hint and might
get nudged towards something. For
instance, Queen approached me about
doing something with their songbook
for the stage. At the time I said I didn't
have an idea, but it gestated and a
year later, the idea dropped in my
head. Fortunately, rock stars move at a
more stately pace and they didn't have
anyone else. I had an idea with Queen
as a sort of Arthurian legend, which
became a very big hit. Had I initially
said yes, it wouldn't have worked. B

BA LA N CE July 2018

Read for pleasure
and stimulation,
not inspiration

Ben Elton's Three
Summers received
its International
Premiere at this year's
Edinburgh International
Film Festival

The outcome

You've got to want to do something; you can't make
yourself do it. The next thing I do will be the next thing
I feel like doing. There's nothing wrong with "working to
order", but follow your instincts more. Ask yourself what
it is you want to do - not how successful do I want to be.

IMAGE: GETTY IMAGES

Everything about my profession
and creative life has been an
improvisation. The only way I can
work is to follow my heart and follow
what I feel like doing. I certainly
didn't think, "Well, I'll sit down and
write a novel - that's what's needed
next!" Or, "The best move for me
would be..." I do what I feel like
doing, and that always comes down to
writing. It might take place as a play,
a novel or stand-up routine, but it's all
part of the same process. Doing what
you feel like doing is the only way to
create anything halfway decent.



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Balance July 2018

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