I love Aaron Sorkin, so I really enjoyed hearing in this podcast about his writing process, and I’m hoping to hear your reactions to his thoughts. Three of Sorkin’s notes stick out most to me. He talks about the importance of writing something, anything, every day. This is a technique I’ve heard from other people, too, similar to reading. I’m wondering whether you are able to do this. If so, what kinds of topics/styles do you write every day, and do you ever have trouble finding the time to do it? Sorkin talks about how he tries to write every day even when he has time off—I also like how he breaks down his schedule. What is your style like? Do you outline thoroughly before you start, or do you jump in and write a full piece all the way through, or do you start writing and then organize your thoughts for a bit? Along those lines, Sorkin made the comment that it’s much better to be on page 2 then on page 0 (I can’t remember the exact quote). This is something that I identify with, because the toughest part about writing for me is definitely starting. I really struggle to write anything unless I think I have something that will stick, which I know is not usually the right approach. How do you both attack writing when you’re just starting out with something? I’ve been thinking about lots of these subjects over the past few days, so I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of them.
Paralleling the podcast is the idea that season 2 is a re-pilot show that reintroduces characters in an organic way. Both episodes of the podcast work to humanize TV and Hollywood, like West Wing might do with politicians (idk though, I don’t watch it). We listen and learn about how commercials affect viewer perception or hear actors revisit their own learning experiences on set. We’re so often only consuming the finish product. But Sorkin challenges the idea that a finish product even exists. He considers his writing as comprised mostly of first drafts. He insists rewriting is only necessitated by production. However, it can also be rewritten by the interpretation of actors, their body language, their costumes, etc. We understand this more clearly through Emily Procter’s experiences. How may outside factors, besides professor/ peer suggestions, compel us to rewrite? Do you have concrete examples? I think we can also apply revisitation to people and the narratives we tell about ourselves. What have we encountered that compelled us to create a new narrative about ourselves? Where do we encounter these thins? And is that something we can somehow use to inform our writing decisions when we are attempting to be persuasive? Perhaps it’s a deep interrogation of ourselves we experience when we encounter competing arguments that represent generous listening. If we’re not doing that interrogative work, maybe it’s a sign that we’re not witnessing a balanced argument.
In some ways we can interpret “not knowing how it will end” vs. “knowing how it will end but not what’s in the middle” as inductive versus deductive reasoning. A concept in the scientific method has manifested itself in writing and the arts. This may help us think about the interdisciplinary nature of our world, similar to the spirituality Tippet brings into her conversations. We can use this as inspiration for our own projects when we’re seeking to engage in writing in a different way.
Sorkin believes that if an episode ends up being important it just turns out that way. I interpret this as a call to action. It’s an invitation to take risks. When we think about success, we might see it as antithetical to doing something are unfamiliar with. We face what seems like inevitable failure. But failure is what challenged Sorkin.
Sorkin provides us with a blueprint for being brave by encouraging risk and humanizing those we may disagree with. But where do we draw the line between humanizing groups of people/thinking of them as individuals and normalizing something we may think is toxic and oppressive? How do we accomplish this?
There are so many bits of tasty intellect to munch on from these two episodes– but I don’t want to indulge my inner “wing nut.” Instead, I want to keep this prompt more focused and narrow and tightly bound to our theme of “generous listening.” That said, what did you think were some strong or weak questions that Josh and Hrishi had to offer? Or rather, from the angle of “generous listening,” what were some moments (in either episode) that successfully illustrated this practice? In class I shared my criticism of Hrishi in his response to Emily’s thought about the possibility of the West Wing as perhaps, “american fantasy,” rather than “liberal fantasy.” But there were so many other highs and lows for you, Alison and Michael, to share! What jumps out at you?
So far we’ve talked a lot about the term “generous listening” coined by Krista Tippet in “Becoming Wise.” It seems like generous listening can take many forms. It can mean listening to someone intently, asking insightful and detailed follow up questions, or allowing oneself to listen to and truly experience a view different from our own.
The two assigned West Wing Weekly podcasts are excellent examples of generous listening. The hosts, Joshua Malina and Hrishikesh Hirway give their interviewees their full attention and develop interesting and precise questions to provoke great story-telling. In the first episode, they have on Aaron Sorkin, the writer of The West Wing. They question him about his writing process and about his workaholic habits. It is made evident by his responses that Sorkin himself also practices generous listening in order to write his hit TV show. As he experiences the world around him, he is constantly taking notes and developing them into story lines and he incorporates what is going on in the reality into his stories. He also demonstrates generous listening in his ability to represent two sides of an argument in the show. He states that he enjoys the sound of two smart competing arguments and that he fell in love with asking the question “Have you looked at this way?” This requires the ability to listen and develop further inquiries to opposing points of view, rather than simply coming up with counter-arguments to support his own views. Attention to detail is another key factor of generous listening. We hear Malina, Hirway, and Sorkin discuss the evolution of the opening score. They bring up minor changes, like the addition of instruments and better sound quality, as the show got more popular. This certainly is an example of generous listening! With Sorkin’s extreme attention to detail comes the habit, or curse, of infinitely nit-picking minute flaws to making tiny alterations to his work. He admits that he has not completed a single piece of writing that he would want to re-write. However, Sorkin does not have time to do this while juggling multiple TV show scripts. He must “point the camera at his first draft.”
In the second assigned episode, Malina and Hirway interview the actress, Emily Proctor. She demonstrates a similar attentiveness to detail as Sorkin. She admits that as she watched herself in a scene where she delivers an argumentative monologue aimed at tearing down her opponent, played by Rob Lowe, that she felt disappointed. She regrets the tone of voice she used to delivered her final punch line. Malina and Hirway disagree. They believe she delivered it perfectly. Proctor also reveals that she and her co-star John Spencer would practice scenes outside of rehearsals. This also shows just how careful the actors were about how they delivered their lines.
These artists have an ear for generous listening and are able to pick up on subtleties that often go unnoticed by ordinary people. This translates into their inability to be 100% pleased with much of their work. I can strongly relate to this, as I often wish I could go back and re-do most of what I have written in college.
Do you guys think that generous listening is unpractical in the rush of our busy everyday lives? Or can we channel our inner Sorkin and incorporate generous listening into our own writing and into our future projects in this class?