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    July 18th, 2010Jane EspensonIn the Writers' Room

    I was told once that there is a formalized way of offering second portions at a Japanese table that goes something like: “Would you like more? It isn’t very good.” Or maybe it was France. Or Apocrypha. But it always struck me as an interesting solution to resolving the conflict between enticement and modesty.

    When you’re in a writers’ room, you’re going to notice almost exactly the same formula used to preface idea pitches. Common phrases — seriously, you hear EXACTLY THESE WORDS all the time — include:

    This isn’t it, but I just want to get it out of my head…
    I don’t think this is right, but in case it prompts someone else…
    Here’s the bad pitch…
    This is terrible, but I’m just going to say it…

    If you spend even half an hour in a writers’ room, I would expect you to hear at least one of these.

    For a long time I attributed this strange counter-salesmanship to some kind of natural self-effacement characteristic of writers. But I realize now that these disclaimers are actually serving a really valuable self-preserving function.

    The room is a very fluid place. Ideas are adopted and discarded very quickly. If you wed yourself too enthusiastically to any one idea, then it becomes harder to gracefully execute the turn when that idea is dropped in favor of a different one. Even if you agree that the newer idea is better, all that passion you put into the previous pitch can make it hard to suddenly run full tilt in the opposite direction.

    Obviously, this sort of pitching style can become ridiculous and self-defeating. You don’t want to run down your own ideas with any kind of serious vigor. And there’s nothing wrong with suddenly sitting up straight and exclaiming “I think I’ve got it!”, if and when you think you’ve got it. But there are few things more awkward than watching a writer return to a sitting position after an over-caffeinated but ultimately rejected pitch brought her to her feet.

    This is all about developing your own style, of course. You’ll figure out what kind of pitching style fits you best. You may be able to gracefully make the turn even after the most passionate advocating of another road. Or you may find your own happy medium. It’s just worth being aware that your colleagues aren’t being self-hating writers when they hedge and excuse.

    Lunch: meat and cheese board and chilaquiles at Westside Tavern. Very nice.