I didn’t plan this

I appear to be changing, please stop me.

Previously on William Gallagher, I was opposed to planning or outlining stories and scripts. It was better to dive in, start writing, see where you got, and accept or even relish how you had to be willing to throw away a lot of writing.

Only this week, I told someone that if I write 100,000 words and 90,000 of them are rubbish, that’s a bargain. I’ve got 10,000 words I like, and all it cost me was a hell of a lot of time.

I said that in a workshop and even as I said it, since this topic has come up before, I felt my polite brain prodding me to say one thing more. Which was was this: “Of course, everybody’s different, and whatever it takes to get you to the end result is fine.”

Not only did I also say this, I have also said it before, and not one single time have I convinced anyone that I mean it. I do, but I don’t. Not for me, anyway.


About 15 years ago now, I was in Hollywood – get me – interviewing a producer for Radio Times. On the wall behind him was a breakdown, a kind of basic outline, for the episode of Battlestar Galactica that he was then working on.

And he told me the one thing, the first thing, that made me think outlines and plans have a point. He said you can’t have a blank screen on Tuesday night’s TV, or whichever day it was. Writing to see where you go is fine, but it goes wrong and you have no possible way to guarantee that it will work at all, let alone in time. Outlining, planning, story breakdowns, they get you to the goal in the most reliable way.

Curiously, though, that producer/writer was Ronald D Moore and I can’t remember now whether he told me or I just read it somewhere else, but he had done exactly this thing of just writing to see what happened. But it was under one very specific and unusual circumstance.

Battlestar ran as a two-part miniseries in something like 2003 or 2004, I forget which, and it was an enormous success. Deservedly so: that show is remarkable. But even though its ratings success was so good –– uniquely, the second part’s ratings were higher than the first because everyone was talking about how great it was –– the decision to go to series hadn’t happened yet.

It was going to, there was no doubt, but it hadn’t happened yet. So he couldn’t hire staff, he couldn’t set anything up, and there was Christmas in the way.

So over that Christmas, Moore just wrote an episode by himself, start to finish, no outlining. When the show went to series, that script became the first episode. It’s called “33” and I’m sure you can watch it on some streaming service or other, but you can also read the script right here.

It is a superb piece of work. I remember, so vividly clearly, sitting in a corner of the Radio Times office with a VHS tape – VHS? then? – starting the episode on this tiny CRT television –– CRT? no flat screen? then? –– and wondering if it could possibly be any good. The mini-series was two feature-length episodes and it was all so rich and filmic that it was easy to imagine squeezing it down into a 42-minute episode would lose a lot.

Except it didn’t. I wish I’d written “33” and I’ve rewatched it, I’ve re-read it, many times.

You can tell that in my heart, I still believe in the writing to see where it goes. And you can tell that in my brain, I accept that there are circumstances where you can’t do it.

Only, about six weeks ago now, I finally outlined a radio play script that I’ve been piddling about with since at least 2017, and I did so because writer Alex Townley nudged me into it. And four weeks ago now, I finished the whole play. I don’t mean the outline, I mean the play.

And one week ago, I was struggling with a novel that I’ve been working on for at least a year, and this time it was me who said to writer Alex Townley that maybe I should outline it.

I don’t wanna.

But it’s a story that on the one hand is bleedin’ complicated, and which on the other hand needs the most enormous, huge, gigantic finish. Which I didn’t have. I was writing all this ominous stuff with no idea what I could ever do to pay it off. Until I was piddling about with the outline and I realised what this big ending could be.

Everybody’s different, and whatever it takes to get you to the end result is fine.

Nope, I’m still not convincing.

Slow punctures

I don’t think that it’s very often the case that we stop writing something because of a big situation that defeats us. It’s much more often that something small gets in the way and we’re deflated.

It’s just been a week of slow punctures, for some reason. There was a problem at a venue, for instance, but not only did it work out fine, I didn’t have to do one single bit of the working out. It was all done for me, to the extent that if I hadn’t arrived just when it was going down, there’d have been no way for me to even know there had been a problem.

And it’s not as if it really threw me. By the time the event started, I was Performance William, and the only difference was that climbing up to that was a fraction harder than normal. Even then, it was such a small fraction harder that I’d not have noticed, except that the entire week has been a list of these.

Projects going wrong because I made mistakes, projects going wrong because someone else did. The misunderstood email, the notification on your phone at 3am that you shouldn’t have read and can’t do anything about except worry.

I am really tired this week, and multiple bad nights in a row are not helping. But lying there, thinking about how you and I would be getting to chat now, I did realise a couple of things.

One is that this is a pretty normal week.

But the other is that I’ve noticed it, that I’m embarrassed to say I’ve been grumpy about it, at least in part because I haven’t been writing.

Well, I mean, I have. I’ve written thousands of words, but they’ve all been published. (Around 2,000 is being translated into Dutch even as we speak. That’s new.)

But for about a month up until actually just about the time we spoke last week, I’ve also been writing a play. There is some interest in it, but not much and it’s really just for me. So I hope it will get produced, but right now it was not written on a deadline, it was not published and perhaps this particular one never will be.

I have just been substantially more grumpy since I finished it and have nothing to write except for all these things I have to write. Since I finished it and am not writing anything except for all these things I’m writing.

There’s a bit of an obvious solution though, isn’t there? Screw the overnight Facebook messages, sod all the slow punctures, I need to get the next thing written.

Thanks. That helped.

He said, She said, It growled

Maybe it’s fashion, maybe it’s just right, but at the moment the general consensus is that in good writing, people say things. Say or said. Not enunciated, pontificated, bellowed, whimpered. Just said.

As a scriptwriter, I like that because I think the bellowing and the pontificating and all that should be in the dialogue itself. Let the character speak that way, don’t point at their lines and tell me how I should hear it.

But when pressed on this point in workshops or wherever, I cannot help myself. I always – I’m irritated at me even writing this – I always say that you’re only allowed to use “he said, she said, it growled”.

Now, for one thing, I loathe that I say all that because as you know, there are no rules in writing. Although if you break them…

I also loathe it because it’s a joke based on something so few people can know that it’s impossible to really call it a joke.

You have to know the Target novelisations of Doctor Who.

The thing is, even if there aren’t really that many of us who do, if you’re one of us, you know those books extraordinarily well.

The most prolific writer of the range, Terrance Dicks, died this week and it came as a huge jolt to me. He was 84, I’ve never met him, and yet my head jerked back when I read the news.

And then this happened. Since he wrote something like 60 of these novelisations of old Doctor Who stories, naturally a lot of the covers were being shown on Twitter and Facebook and the rest.

It didn’t happen with all of them, but there are certain covers of his books where I would see the image on screen but I would feel the book in my hand. The weight, the heft, the shape, the texture. I’d feel the book and I’d even feel just an echo of the excitement.

Truly, this little book range had electricity in it. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, you never knew which Doctor Who story was going to be novelised and you didn’t know when. I remember so clearly being on holiday with my family and phoning a friend to ask if a new one was out and, if so, what it was.

It was Death to the Daleks, by Terrence Dicks. Published 20 July 1978.Cover of Death to the Daleks

That’s the thing with Doctor Who, if you can remember even a scintilla about anything to do with it, you can find the full details online. So I didn’t remember the date, didn’t even remember the year, but I remember the sunshine and the phone call and the book when I got home.

I also remember thinking that Doctor Who books, at the time, and in so many cases, were the scripts to the TV show with he said, she said, it growled added in. And that was unfair. It wasn’t always unreasonable –– there’s a ten-part, roughly five-hour Doctor Who story called The War Games whose novelisation is a pamphlet –– but it was unfair.

I know this because since Dicks died, I’ve re-read three of his Doctor Who novels. They’re not exactly long, they’re not exactly hard reading, but I started from nostalgia and I carried on because I was enjoying them.

This would be a good point to say, as so very many other people can and have, that it was these Doctor Who novels that made me a writer. It wasn’t. I’m a writer because of Lou Grant. But there’s no question that they helped.

There’s also no question that they belong to a long ago era. Target Doctor Who books were published when there was no possible way to see a Doctor Who story that aired last week, let alone across the show’s 50-odd years. They were Doctor Who for us, and there is an innocence to that whose loss is hanging a little heavier this week since Terrence Dicks died.

Muse bouche

I’ve got to tell you this today because next week I will ridicule myself for it. Next week I will be telling you that I wrote a script that was dreadful – but today, I’m going to tell you that this script is the best thing I’ve ever written.

We can analyse this predictable forthcoming about-face in some detail at any time or in any psychiatrist’s office of your choosing, but let me instead focus on the one thing that is undeniably good about this script.

It’s done.

Most of the time I’m a rather practical, even pragmatic, writer, in that if I have an idea then I also know that I will finish it. There aren’t a lot of opening scenes or chapters here. I’ll abandon, certainly, but usually the thing I like as much about getting an idea is seeing it through to the end. That applies as much to events as it does writing, but invariably it’s applied to everything I write.

Except I need a word that’s somewhere between invariably and variably.

Because every now and again, there is something that I think is good, that I think I may even be able to do well, but I keep not doing it.

Recently I’ve been talking with a writer who keeps not writing her book, and the discussion becomes one about the business of writing as much as the art. She needs to be in the right place, so to speak, to write this novel, and I absolutely see that – but not if it means it never gets done.

I didn’t believe in the muse and if I now wonder about it, I don’t think muses are on our side.

But there are people who are. I hope that in talking with me, this friend will write more of her novel, not least because I want to read it.

And in talking with people in a particular writer development programme I’ve been on – Room 204 from Writing West Midlands – I’ve written more of this script. So much more that yesterday on a train, I finished it.

I can see me there, stopped at Northampton again, looking at the screen and thinking, really? It’s called Sequences Shortened and the idea came from another friend, radio presenter and poet Charlie Jordan, who mentioned something about her work to me around 2017. It happens to be something I used to do too, back when I was working for the BBC, and it is the tiniest thing, yet it started something that finished yesterday.

You can’t wait for the muse. I don’t know what in the world you can wait for, I just know that on occasion, there are projects that take a long time. Projects that are sweet stones in your stomach, pressing away at you, somehow keeping you in them and yet away from the keyboard.

Writing that scares you, really. And for all that this is a job, I make my living entirely through writing, there have to be things you write that scare you.

I think this one has worked out. If only there wasn’t a book that I was afraid to finish too.

But they tried so hard

There's a quite serious and, I think, important debate about how writers should treat other writers. It's an easy kind of debate, in that the answer is we need to support each other. But, somehow, alongside this necessary point, a question keeps coming up about whether writers should judge each other's work.


Everybody else judges everything, and we are all inescapably the subject of reviews whether you've just had a book published, or you've just stepped away from the restaurant table to go to the loo.

You can at least hope that a writer would understand another writer's reasons for doing something, whether they agreed and whether this something was ultimately done well or not. I think the crucial part, though, is that what we must judge is the work.

Not the person.

It is difficult to separate yourself from your work, but everybody else should be able to do it easily. If your opinion is that my last book was dreadful, that does not make me a bad person. It makes me sad, but I'm not going to take it personally – unless you make it personal.

That's a problem. Reviewers and judges can get deeply personal and call into doubt the parentage of a writer. I'd like to think that it is because reviewing is no longer done by a handful of journalists and instead is done by absolutely everyone on everything from blogs to Amazon. But it isn't. It was always like this, we just see it so very much more now because there are so very, very many more reviews.

All you can do, if you're a writer, is ignore it. All you can do, if you're a reviewer or a judge, is stop doing that.

Yet if poorly-written, personally-insulting reviews are a problem, they've led to a solution that is at least as bad. Over the last couple of weeks I've been in conversations with writers who are intractable about how you should review poor books or scripts or films. A recurring adamant point was that you simply shouldn't write bad reviews. If you can't say something nice, don't review it at all.

And there's an idea I keep hearing that you should be nice about a piece of writing because the writer worked really hard on it and it's only fair to remember that.

Oh, bollocks.

What are we, children? Writing is not about two seconds of crayon and a fridge magnet. Writing is hard work, harder than it looks, and if you didn't put any effort into your piece, you shouldn't expect an audience to do so either.

Writing isn't fair and I cannot see a reason why it should be. You don't give someone a good review because it's their turn to have one. And the amount of effort matters only to the person who put that effort in.

This is a side point, but writing this to you, I'm suddenly minded of Carrie Fisher. I remember her saying something on Twitter, complaining really, about how long it would take her to write a sentence. You understood her, you got the point, but still, I'd spend a week per sentence if it meant my sentences were as good as hers.

It's my opinion, of course, that her sentences were a marvel and you might disagree entirely, with no ill feeling between us, just a moment's effort as I delete you from my Christmas card list.

That's the thing about reviews. We treat them as fact, and reviewers often think they are, but they cannot be.

Reviews have to be opinion, it's not physically possible for them to be anything else, but they're also unique, I think, in how the opinion in them works.

Any review of anything at all is automatically going to be coloured by who is writing it. I can't conceive of any way that I would be able to write a useful review of a football match, for instance, because I wouldn't know one end of a football from the other.

Even if that weren't inevitable, though, I would still want it because what I'm looking for in a review is help.

Help me decide whether to read the book, watch the movie, or whatever. There is so much competing for my attention, a review is not some academic formal analysis, it is a service – or rather, it is part of one.

What's unique, I think, is that reviews have to have an opinion, they have to be your own genuine reaction to the thing you're reviewing, but you don't matter. Nobody does or should give a damn what William Gallagher thinks of their work, yet any review that I do has to be my perspective.

If you read me a lot, then, okay, over time you'll come to know how often my opinion matches up with yours, and then you could use me as a quick guide to whether you'd enjoy that football match or not.

Usually, though, we all take a sample. From the myriad reviews, we gather whether something is worth our attention. That isn't fair, we should gather this from watching or reading absolutely everything ourselves, but if there is now a cacophony of reviewers in the world, it's still less than the amount of books and films that there are.

If you put something out there, it will be judged. And so it should. If you got no reaction, if you made no connection with your audience, it's tricky to see why you bothered.

Even if you worked really, really hard.

Miss-market paperback

So I was with about 300 writers at this year’s Swanwick Writers’ Summer School for one day this week, meeting them, gassing with them, and running a workshop about blogging with something like 60 people. Name a writing topic, and it came up in the dozens of huge conversations we all go into. But oddly, there was also something that slipped into most of the topics, most of the discussions.

Not true. It wasn’t mentioned at all in any of the conversations I had about how remarkably, I mean remarkably, well organised this event was. I felt privileged to be part of it.

Still, wherever two, three or several hundred writers shalt be gathered, so shalt there be talk about money.

Of course there is, and if people are making a living through writing, it’s far from a surprise when they think about aiming for certain markets, for doing certain things that appeal to readers. Having the hero in the first chapter of a novel, for instance. Having a happy ending, you know the kind of thing.

Against all these reasonable points and to all of these reasonable and talented people, I say bollocks.

Now, it’s easy to say bollocks over here where it’s just you and me talking. I promise you that I said it while I was there, but I grant you that conversation had a lot more context.

So let me summarise the context for you. Sod the mass market, I argued, and screw happy endings.

I am a full-time freelance writer and at this very moment I should be writing a non-fiction piece I’ve been commissioned to do. It comes with quite a specific brief, a word count, and while it’s not been stated for this piece, the fully sensible expectation is that I will again write in this publication’s style. Or near enough, anyway.

Not only have I no problem with this, I’m enjoying writing it. We’re talking now because I’m taking a tea break on the train I’m on. I need a minute or two to get some slices of tea from the buffet. Do you take sugar?

It’s just this. I think you can go native. You can assume that an editor is not only right in the sense that he or she knows what they want, but that what they say goes for everything. I think you can assume that what the market likes is what is right.

I doubt anyone at Swanwick would believe that there are rules to writing, but they know there are things that tend to work and things that tend to fail.

And I also doubt that any writer anywhere would agree with me about ignoring the market when times are really tight. When you don’t know how you’ll get through the end of the month, it’s impossible to be arty. To write something just because you fancy doing it is just impossible, you’ve got to write things that you know will sell.

Except you never know what will.

When things are that pressured, when you are truly under the cosh and you actually do have a strong clue that something will sell – because you’ve been commissioned to do it, because you’ve sold four books in the same vein before – then do what you have to do.

But also do something that you don’t.

Spend at least a little time writing something that doesn’t work, that doesn’t follow some formatted rules and isn’t going to appeal to anyone other than you.

The worst that can happen is that it will be rubbish, but it’ll be your rubbish, maybe you’ll enjoy it, probably it’ll show you what you’re good at in writing, and definitely it will stop you becoming a typist instead of a writer.

And the best that can happen is that it works.

The trouble with rules and formats is that they are a list of what’s worked before and if there’s anyone who should be breaking new ground, it’s writers.

Prat-time writer

I actually have a rule on social media. If I write a tweet or a status update that makes someone sound like an prat, I don’t post it.

And if it makes me sound like one, I do.

I see no reason I shouldn’t do the same here. It’s you. You already know me.

So let me confess upfront that I come out of this like a prat. But only a small one. And the reason to talk to you about this is not me, it’s how startling writing and the business of it can have changed since I started.

On Tuesday evening, I had been due to have a meeting with a friend about a project and then that project changed. We met anyway, just for the fun of the chat, just because why not?

As I got to her place, though, I did feel a little peculiar. Because I wasn’t carrying anything. Usually I have a bag, usually it has an iPad in it, usually I’m working.

"You’re not carrying a bag," she said at the door.

That’s how peculiar and rare and odd and weird it is that I could be walking around without equipment.

"Unless you’re going to tell me it’s all hidden in your pockets," she almost said. It was something like that, this was the meaning, I’m paraphrasing and now I’m discussing that paraphrasing with you in order to put off saying the next bit.

I took a folding keyboard out of my jeans pocket.

And a battery charger. Lightning cable. AirPods headphones.

From my jacket I took out my large-screen iPhone, an old second iPhone I’ve been using for audio recording, and a Lavalier or lapel microphone.

I had them because I’d been using them, but the thing of it is that I had my entire office in my pockets and neither you nor I could notice until I got it all out like this.

I mean, this is more than an office. That equipment can be used – and I am using it – as a film studio. I shot some footage for a different project on my way over to her.

It’s incredible what we can do now, what a writer can do anywhere. We used to be pretty portable because we just carried a HB pencil and hoped someone had paper. But now you can script and produce videos using what’s in your pockets.

Only a week ago, I actually hurt my ribs from all the bags of equipment I had to carry for a day-and-evening job. This Tuesday was relaxation and yet while it was different equipment, while it was for different things, the reason I was carrying it was that I forgot it was all there.

I think that’s marvellous and it makes me want to go work away from my office more.

If only I hadn’t taken it all out of my pocket and placed each part on her coffee table. It looked like I was trying flog stolen goods.

AG is gold, not silver

Last week I wanted you to hold my hand through obsessing over a plot point in a sitcom from about 12 years ago. This week, I don’t. Please don’t help me with this one, please don’t answer the key question at the heart of something I’ve now been trying to find out for 25 years.

Actually, it’s 25 years tomorrow.

And what I don’t want to know, but I do, and I don’t, but I do, is about Quincy, M.E. Specifically, what happened at the end of season 2, episode 10, An Unfriendly Radiance, by Rudolph Borchert.

I can tell you, because I have back issues of Radio Times, that this aired on BBC1 at 11:05 on Wednesday 4 August, 1994, and that I was watching it while dressed in the best suit I have ever owned.

Tell me you don’t get dressed up for Quincy and then leave before the end.

Looking at that Radio Times listing, I’m struck by how The Rockford Files was on later (BBC1, 14:15-15:05, Find Me If You Can, season 1, episode 9, teleplay by Juanita Bartlett, story by Roy Huggins using his pen name of John Thomas James.)

The Rockford Files is much better than Quincy, but 14:15 on Wednesday 4 August, 1994, would be too late.

I’d be married by then.

I didn’t mention that the best suit I’ve ever owned had a flower in it. Or that I was sitting really carefully and resisting tea because I was being practical about not risking any spills, and because I was being really shaky.

No question, I’d have watched whatever was on, it just happened to be Quincy, and it just happened that Quincy was a moment of stillness on my wedding day. It was also Angela Gallagher’s wedding day, but I don’t think she got to have any stillness, and if she watched Quincy that morning, she’s never admitted it.

Also no question, even as ready as I was, even though it was impossible to leave until the car came, impossible as it was to think about anything else, I did get into that Quincy episode. And then I did get out of it again, no more than 25 minutes in.

So for all these years, there has been a bit of me that really wants to know if Quincy saved the day, and there’s more of me that likes not knowing.


I wanted to credit the writer, so I looked up the episode online –– and I’ve found the episode. It shouldn’t be there, it’s been illegally uploaded to YouTube, but it’s there.

It’s still not going to be the video I’m likely to watch this weekend.

And if I’m not kidding about how I think of this episode often, it’s really because I think of that moment and I think a lot of that day twenty five years ago. So long ago, so far away, and yet Angela Gallagher is still with me.

She might not be after she sees this image. It’s irresistible, it’s a Before and After image from the day. The alternative is that I show you how we looked then and now, but that won’t happen because while Angela would look wonderful in both, I wouldn’t in either. Even with that suit.

The Quincy title sequence on left and mine and Angela's wedding on right

Before and After

Wait and Wait for It

I want us to fix a problem I missed back in 2007. I was going to say that it’s a drama problem, and I still think it is, but it’s to do with an episode of the comedy How I Met Your Mother, a series I think should be legen –

hang on, no, let me get specific. I’m talking about season 3, episode 1, Wait for It, by series creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, which first aired on 24 September 2007, and which I just watched again – after seeing the preceding 44 episodes over the past few weeks.

I bought the whole series on iTunes and then discovered that it’s also on Netflix. Anyway.

When you binge-watch something, it changes. I think overall comedies, at least the best ones, tend to blur into dramas because after a few episodes back to back, you’re not as receptive to surprise as you are when watching it weekly. How I Met Your Mother, I think, certainly works as drama, and actually after a few years into its run, that was chiefly why I continued watching.

It would still always be sporadically funny, but I was just into the characters. And watching the first few seasons again now, it is a joy to find how continually very funny it originally was.

HIMYM features some really smart writing: there are episodes where I’m totally into the story and yet the writer in me pops up to applaud something particularly well done.

I should say that it never occurred to me that the show would ever actually reveal the mother of the title. I simply unconsciously thought that it was a great title, a smart framing device for the stories with a father narrating tales to his bored kids, and not at all that it was a deliberate plan they hoped to play out over nine years.

I should’ve realised, not only because when they finally did the reveal at the end of the eighth season, they did it superbly. I should also have realised because How I Met Your Mother is one of those extraordinarily rare series, a successful romantic comedy.

And, grief, it was fantastic on romance.

There was a particular recurring motif that they played for every ounce of romance, and that was a yellow umbrella. When you heard that mentioned by a character or you just glimpsed it in the back of a scene, it was electric.

And the problem is that I now think it was set up very poorly.

Maybe I didn’t follow every episode on its first run, certainly there were things I just assumed I’d missed, but now I’ve been watching the whole run again in rapid sequence, I’ve seen one key point about the yellow umbrella that I failed to spot before.

“Kids,” begins the narrator at the start of Wait for It. “There’s more than one story of how I met your mother. You know the short version, the thing with your mom’s yellow umbrella.”


Maybe as written that line could be meant to say that the children have previously been told about the umbrella, maybe it’s meant to be that since they are the kids of this mother and father, they know the story as family lore.

But it sounds, it plays, as if we viewers have heard about this and we haven’t. This is the first mention of something crucial to the run of the series and, trust me, it ain’t mentioned once before this 45th episode.

Now, it’s easy to criticise an episode 12 years after it was made, especially a US TV sitcom episode where they were making 20 episodes one after the other, bang, bang, bang.

And clearly there were plans for this umbrella, plans that became scenes and whole episodes that I think are both marvellous and far better than I could ever write.


Given that I’ve had either a dozen years or about a week, depending on how you count, I do have a way they could’ve launched the whole yellow umbrella story without clunking into it like this.

Within this one episode, the yellow umbrella makes two appearances. Once is during that wobbly start as the kids are reminded that they know about it. The other, gorgeously effective, catch-in-your-throat great, is the penultimate scene, really the last before an unrelated tag. The narrator is talking about everything is leading inexorably to how he met the mother, and how close that was.

And during those words, we see someone holding the yellow umbrella as she walks by McLaren’s Bar, the show’s regular pub setting.

It is that proximity that gives the episode a last little spark before the end titles. I just think now that it doesn’t need the opening reference. It’s tempting to set up something you’re going to pay off, it’s even automatic, but in this case, less is more.

All week I’ve been thinking that this is a dialogue problem. That rather than the narrator telling us about the yellow umbrella at the start, he could tell us at the end. Tell us about it over that last shot of one yellow umbrella in the crowd.

But talking to you about it, replaying the episode in my head, I think I’m wrong.

It’s a yellow umbrella. It stands out. And just as you always know who is the important character in a story without being actually told, so this time you would get that the yellow umbrella was important.

I offer that you would inescapably know that it was the mother who was carrying it.

Part of the satisfaction of writing, to me anyway, is in taking an audience to a certain point. Knowing where you’re going to take them, and then getting them there. How I Met Your Mother was first class at bringing you to a point –– and then throwing you with the smallest extra instant.

This was one of those. I just think, some 4,322 days after it aired, that this one could’ve punched even better.

What do you mean, I’m currently trying to write a romance and find it damn hard? There’s a word for anyone who can pull that off and it’s the same word for writers who can create a catchphrase I’m still quoting a dozen years later.

It’s dary. Legendary.

And do the other things

You can obsess over a few words. And you can think about them for decades. No, I mean, you can. Go ahead. It’s not writer insanity, it isn’t.

In this case, the words I think about and have thought about since I was old enough to say "eh?" are in that moon speech of John F Kennedy’s.

The speech, written by Ted Sorensen, is surely the most remembered political speech of Kennedy’s time, maybe of anyone’s time. If you’ve heard others, you haven’t heard them as often as you have this one.

It was a speech born of much the same political crap we still go through, but it’s a speech that has a decent chance of being remembered for a thousand years. We’ve fumbled a bit, but still there was a time before we had reached the moon and there’s now, when we have.

For at least seven million years, we’ve looked up at the moon. And now in our lifetime, we’ve got there. It makes me gasp.

I don’t care that Kennedy’s motivation was base politics. I care a bit that when the US President phoned the astronauts on the moon, the President was Nixon.

The thing I care about far too much is a line in that speech. While we’re enjoying all this anniversary coverage of the moon landing, listen out for how many times you hear this speech – and how often it is carefully edited.

Of course we only see and hear a tiny fragment of what was in reality a full half an hour long speech. But I mean even the key line is often edited, often obscured.

It’s the line that goes: "We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."

That’s not even the whole sentence, but as well as no newsroom bothering to go beyond that point, they also twitch over "and do the other things".

They twitch over that and they distract us with a cutaway to b-roll footage and I think about it too much because it’s rubbish.

You’ve no idea now what these other things were, but nobody really did then, either. Sorenson fudged the best sentence in political history.

The whole speech is rubbish. It careers from the inspirational that we remember to the defensive that we don’t. It has over the top rhetoric about how "we set sail on this new sea". And it has moments of admin tedium when it says going to the moon will help us organise ourselves and, I may be exaggerating here, presumably invent Post-It notes.

You can forget all of the contemporary politics because everyone skips everything except the moon line. You can ignore how the speech was aimed at persuading the recalcitrant American public that going to the moon was a good thing, because it worked and they went.

The ‘we choose to go to the moon’ speech is dreadful, but that line isn’t. That line soars.

Except for the clang about ‘and do the other things’ right in the middle of it. Maybe that line as a whole is the most inspirational by a US President, but it clangs in the middle.

Sorensen blew it there. He couldn’t have imagined how the line would be repeated, how it would resonate, but still he blew it.

Don’t listen to the whole speech, either, because it’s full of blown moments. And Kennedy didn’t help. He hand-wrote some gags into it to do with the weather and sports.

According to Wikipedia, it’s his gags that are most remembered by sports fans. This is the speech that got the human race to the moon and what some people remember from it is a fucking football match.

At least Kennedy didn’t wear a cap with Make The Moon Great Again.