Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The man who wrote in his drawer.

         When I first arrived at Chevrolet's advertising agency in Detroit, there was a blonde fellow in the office next to mine who had an unusual way of writing. He wrote on a yellow legal pad inside his top right-hand desk drawer.

           After a while, I got to know Dutch better and asked him why he always shut the drawer when someone came into his office. He smiled and said it was his own personal writing. Dutch spent a lot of time in the agency library those days. Turned out, he was writing short stories about the West on his pad in the desk drawer. That explained his trips to the library, doing research.

           One of the early stories Dutch wrote became a movie: "Hud", starring Paul Newman. My friend Elmore "Dutch" Leonard was out of advertising and on his way.

           These days Dutch is often acclaimed the greatest crime writer of our time. You've read his books or seen the movies, including "Get Shorty". His new book is called "Raylan". The television show based on Dutch's characters is "Justified", a big hit.

           Just as interesting to me is "Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing", which appeared in the New York Times. One is, "If it sounds like writing, I re-write it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can't allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the negative."

          Another rule is never open a book about the weather. Still another is never say "all hell broke loose."
His book about the rules of writing will be out soon.

           The last time I caught up with Dutch was at a book signing in San Francisco a few years ago. I told him I didn't have a lot of English teachers watching my commercials either.

           In writing anything, you always have to know the rules in order to break them. When Dutch pulled open that right-hand drawer, he certainly knew how to break them.

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