by Meryl Neiman
Wednesday night I went to hear Nora Ephron speak. Nora is a journalist, novelist, screenplay writer and director (it's annoying that someone's so talented -- but that's another post). She told great stories, including the inside scoop on how the famous orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally came about, but she focused her talk on the ephiphanies that have shaped her life as a writer.
Her first lesson was an early one, taught by a rather unsympathetic mother. When she or one of her sisters complained about a horrific life experience, her mom's response would be: "makes great copy." Everything was fodder for the pen.
Although I wouldn't recommend this parenting style, I do think the lesson is an uplifting one for writers. We are uniquely positioned to make lemonade out of every lemon thrown our way. We can take any life event and use it in our work. If the plot doesn't serve our purposes, we can also look to the emotion the event inspired.
No other profession can make this claim.
I have to say I felt empowered by this revelation. Life does make great copy. I just found out tonight that a parent at my school has a rare form of eye cancer and will be off to Philadelphia for several weeks for treatment unavailable in Pittsburgh. I don't know details about the cancer, but it's possible that it is an ocular melanoma. This woman's parent died of a melanoma. For that reason, she and her children wear silly looking hats and long sleeves and are never without protection from the sun. If she now faces a rare form of skin cancer, what could be more tragic. But the irony does make great copy.
Aren't we blessed as writers that we can fashion art out of pain?