“Everything is Copy”

old book and pencil

This brilliant phrase comes from Nora Ephron (1941-2012), an American writer and film director. It was a something her parents used to say and became a family mantra. In a family full of screenwriters, playwrights and novelists, the mantra was something of a mission statement.

Ephron married Carl Bernstein in 1976 (one of the two journalists who uncovered and wrote about the Watergate scandal in the 70’s). She wrote about Bernstein’s affair with their mutual friend, Margaret Jay, in her novel Heartburn. Bernstein, by then divorced from Ephron, threatened to sue her, but never did.

“Everything is Copy” is like a shot in the arm for a writer. It reminds us that the richest source of material is our own lives. It reminds us that if we’re stuck, we just need to talk to our friends, go on an adventure, take a train ride or go to a café and listen to people’s conversations. (Yes – writers are horrendously nosey).

I once went to a talk by the writer Neil Gaiman. He aptly illustrated the “Everything is Copy” theme by talking about how after a minor car prang, he’s looking at the shards of glass from the wing mirror lying on the road and thinking: “Now how can I use this image in the story I’m writing at the moment?”.

“Writers” said Neil, “are predatory”. And so we are – always on the lookout for the seeds of any story that comes into our life. It’s all copy.

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