What Writers Always Forget

I've been beating myself up all week, for seemingly being incapable of starting work on the rewrite of a TV series pilot spec script.

It's been at best bemusing, at worst quite distressing.  Why the hell haven't I been able to write a single line of script?  Ridiculous, right?  The script is 80 per cent there.  I've already gone in and stripped out 13 pages of subplot - all I need to do now is write 13 replacement pages to flesh out what's there.  Why, then, in the name of Satan's surprisingly well-groomed beard, can't I do that?  Have I lost faith in the central concept?  In myself?  In life?  Christ - maybe that subplot should stay after all.  Maybe this rewrite is all wrong.  Or maybe a crucial, fleshy valve in my brain has popped and I'll never be the same CREATIVE COLOSSUS again.

The answer is something I already knew, and have known for some time.  I just forget it on a regular basis.  Just as I've known for years that my days are so much more productive when I go for a morning run and get brain and body buzzing. Just as we know that it's best to take regular breaks from typing, before our limbs stop functioning.  And yet we forget.

Here's what I forgot again, in this case: I haven't finished thinking this rewrite through.

Sure, I've 'only' got 13 new pages to write, but if I haven't worked out what will happen in them, and exactly how the retooled story will fit together, then they may as well be 13,000 pages.

The truth is that the new version of the story has been slowly developing in my brain all damn week, partly consciously and partly in my brain's back room while I've been playing angry guitar and baking myself a cake of self-loathing.  I have been working.  Just hasn't felt like it.  And it turns out that my brain hasn't been happy with simply fleshing out the existing story and characters.  No.  It wants to use these new 13 pages as a way to make the ending much more excitingly twisty, to change the point at which one main character dies and, oh, all sorts.  My brain had a masterplan to which I wasn't entirely privy.  Our brains are secretive bastards, but we should place more trust in their ability to deliver the goods.

This post is as much a reminder for me as it is for any writer liable to consider themselves a doofus or a lazy failure, purely because something has been stopping them from sitting down and writing that script.

From now on, every time this happens again, we are going to stop and ask ourselves one simple question.

Have I properly thought this through?

If the answer is no, we will stop giving ourselves such a hard time and focus on the story for a while until we're ready.

That's a pact, yes?

PS None of this gives you carte blanche to never start a script.  There comes a point when beating yourself up is fine.

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Just remember, Hugo Blick spent FOUR MONTHS thinking before he wrote a word of The Shadow Line!

Richard Hurst said...

I had exactly the same experience today while trying to rewrite Act 2. Except instead if playing guitar, I oversaw the rise of the Aztecs in Civilization V.

Keith said...

Wiser words have never been spoken.

( Is angry guitar a punked up version of angry birds ? )

Paul Campbell said...

Too true.

But not always helpful.

Knowing that your brain needs the time to bring the story/character/concept/script to maturity can sometimes be just the excuse you (I) need to be downright lazy.

And, even when it's true, it's no help at all when you're faced with a deadline which refuses to acknowledge the need for more time.

So, right and wrong. Hey ho.

Jason Arnopp said...

Yes indeed, Mr Campbell - taking time to think about a story can absolutely tip over into lazy nonsense. Definitely something for us to watch out for while policing ourselves.

And yes, the situation I was talking about is best applied to spec scriptage. When deadlines loom, it's do or die.

Phill Barron said...

Another option to force yourself to fill in the blanks is to change the way you create a story.

If you normally outline on a laptop, switch to index cards.

If you normally write it all out longhand with pen and paper, go for lunch with someone who's ginger and a bit on the flabby side and talk at them continuously until they've fallen asleep and your story makes sense.