A view with a room

We’re a week into Alex’s writer’s room, which he has mentioned in his blog. I’m in there. Officially my title is writer assistant and it’s a paying gig. I’ve done some paid research in show biz in the past, but this is my first paid writing-related job.

What’s it like? Gosh….

We we’re working in a borrowed and viciously cold Plateau row house. We share it with some guests of the homeowners, who are off somewhere else.

We start at 10:00 a.m., but I have to get there earlier to warm the place up. That’s not a bother – Elvi does morning carpool and drops me off on her way to work, which half the time is nearby McGill University. I take my laptop and deal with whatever I need to deal with before Alex and the two other writers show up. We work until and sometimes through lunch and finish when we’re mentally exhausted, around 4:00 or 5:00.

It’s a great gig for me. My primary responsibility is taking notes – the journalism experience helps immensely. Although we all have laptops, we tend to work in longhand. It’s each individual’s choice and I am much faster with pen than keyboard. The tapping on keys would drive me nuts anyway.

I’m not only a stenographer; the writers accept and appreciate my story input. I’ve contributed to the solutions of a couple of problems already. In fact, last week each of the four of us took an episode to break as homework and come back with the next day, and I was included in that. My pitching skills need honing, but I think I came up with something presentable. I need to learn to kill my journalism skills. I put in too much backstory and explanation rather than just telling the story.

Our group works well, I think. (How would I know?) What’s fascinating is the interplay between analysis and lack of ego. the writers are willing to stand up for story points, but only to serve their story. It’s not a matter of defending their own ideas.

After the day ends, I come home and spend a few hours with the family or go coach hockey, and then I get to work again. I take my notes and condense them into narrative format. I could take the easy way out and simply transcribe written notes to note format in a text document, but that’s not all that useful. Our discussions in the room wander and we may revisit a particular point several times in a day. What I do is go through the notes, divide them by subject, and produce a narrative of the room’s conclusions. Once we reach agreement on a story point, that conclusion is what the writers need to read. The process we took to get there isn’t as important. That’s where the journalism experience shines. I’m skilled at turning interview notes into narrative and this is the same thing.

Of course, it takes an hour or two more than it would to just transcribe notes, but I think it’s useful to my own story-building skills as well.

On top of this, there’s the assistant part of my job. I take care of expense receipts, go shopping for snacks and other groceries, and pick up inspirational literature at comic book stores. It makes for some long days, 12 hours one day last week, for example (split up by a few hours of family time). Hourly, the pay sucks, but the experience is enriching me.

Now, I have some notes from Friday to take care of….

One thought on “A view with a room

  1. sounds like a great gig you’ve got going. i’m still looking for one over here… but fingers crossed i’ll be getting paid relatively little (if nothing at all) to gain some really great experience. also just wanted to say thanks for teaching me all you did, it’s making a world of difference for my CV over here… hottest thing in london is online journalism… who’da thunk it? 😉

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