I never watched much Saved By The Bell. And I’m reasonably certain it’s not a great show.
But there’s a lot it can tell us about writing.
The show, which ran on NBC from 1989 to 1993 (and in syndication thereafter), documented the dating adventures of a small congress of high school students — sort of like the Archie comics, but less sexually charged, as though each episode were given Tipper Gore’s stamp of approval. During the years it was on TV, I was just old enough that social pressures forced me to think it was stupid, and not watch it. Of course, those social pressures turned out to be correct, and the upshot is that I’ve never really seen a whole episode.
But there is one thing I have noticed about what I have seen of show: The lead character, Zack Morris, has the power to stop space and time. He does this roughly once per episode, mostly so he can talk to the audience. I can’t imagine what this is like from his perspective — how does he perceive the audience when he interacts with it? Does he know it’s out there? Or does he perceive it as some horrific Lovecraftian space-god, hanging massive and aloof at the edge of his consciousness, having granted him this celestial power that he may entertain it before it devours his soul? Is that weird prickly energy we see in Mark-Paul Gosselaar not tenderfoot acting, but barely restrained terror?
Frankly, I don’t care. Whether or not the pitiful vestiges of Zack Morris’s consciousness mourn for the days of summer love and Sadie Hawkins dances as they lazily flap from the muscularis mucosae of Nylarhotep’s oily duodenum is of no matter to me or you.
What does matter is that, whether you’re using Microsoft Word, a pen and paper, or a rusty Smith-Corona with a missing K, you are far more powerful than Zack Morris could ever have hoped.
Most of us tend to forget that when we write, we are the master of all we survey. When faced with rules of grammar and usage, and the panoply of websites telling us how the Really Good Writers do it,Â and the many, many voices out there claiming to be experts, we fail to appreciate the pure power we have when we site with a blank slate before us. And even more, we fail to appreciate the extent to which that power grows once we’ve committed words to that slate. The editorial process is scarier to many of us than Zack Morris’s ancient and polypous captor was to him. So too often, we bloggers dash off a post without drafting, without taking a third look, without an editorial process that goes beyond proofreading.
I do it too. And the reason is because I don’t really absorb the full scope of the power I have as a writer. Like Zack Morris, I can stop time. But I can also change the past. I can travel back in time, to six paragraphs ago, and make a change that reverberates throughout all four dimensions of my essay or short story or blog post. I can create the future before the past has even happened — then create a past to match it. I can make changes whose ripples create other changes, whose results I could never have dreamed of.
Too many of us see the drafting process as something that limits us — a slate-grey mechanical process with no art to it, far removed from the blossoming spring of initial creation. A few weeks ago I met an aspiring screenwriter who boiled all of this thinking down to four simple words: “Write drunk. Edit sober.” Usually, any aphorism that advises heavy drinking is one I endorse. But not here.
Editing is power. Drafting is creativity. And to end the writing process after the initial heady thrill of creation is to rob yourself, and your readers, of all the brightness and Brobdingnagian creativity within you.
You owe that to yourself. You owe it to your readers.
And, god knows, you owe it to Zack Morris’s soul, as it is slowly digested over thousands of millennia.
Popularity: 17% [?]