Could you write a story on demand? In a store window? With a first draft that is error free?
Harlan Ellison writing in a bookstore window. Source
Apparently that is what award winning sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison did. And he didn’t do it once. He did it several times over the years.
Ellison would sit with a typewriter. A TYPEWRITER—not a laptop. You see you little whippersnappers you couldn’t always go back and remove a letter or a word.
Ellison says that he did this because:
“I do it because I think particularly in this country people are so distanced from literature, the way it’s taught in schools, that they think that people who write are magicians on a mountaintop somewhere,” he told NBC after one such performance in 1981. “And I think that’s one of the reasons why there’s so much illiteracy in this country. So by doing it in public, I show people it’s a job … like being a plumber or an electrician.”
After doing this several times people began to question if he already had the stories in his head. So, he started taking prompts from people. One came from none other than Christ Carter, the creator of the X-Files. His prompt: There was a 102 year old corpse. Harlin would hand the pages as they finished and a clerk would post them in the window. The pages were immaculate, double spaced, and error free.
I would love to be at this level.
But as I think about this, I contemplate how many myths of writing Ellison takes down here.
Outlining--He doesn’t outline here. He writes. He stops to read and research, but there is no outline here to his process.
No rewriting—Have you ever heard of such a thing! No rewrites! Try telling that to your English teacher.
Writing taking a longtime—These are short stories, but he didn’t slave over these stories for years on end.
Ellison shows that writing doesn’t have to be a big esoteric exercise.
Solid creative writing is work—just like a plumber.