Emmy-winning writer Jeffrey Scott gives some insight into how the creative mind of a screenwriter works (and doesn’t).
Have you ever been writing and felt like your story is shit? If you haven’t you must not be an experienced writer. If you have, don’t worry, shit has some useful nutrients in it!
When things seem like they’re going horribly with your writing don’t think you are failing or that it’s not working—it IS working—you are just going through the dark clouds and brambles of your mind to get to the sunshine. It may take an hour or a week, but it always comes. So never give up!
What many writers think is writer’s block is actually the slow churn of the creative mind. Not all minds work as fast. Not all story problems are resolved as fast. Some take nanoseconds, some take days or weeks.
Never give up while the creative mind is doing its work.
Think of it like Michelangelo’s block of marble. When he first looks at it all he sees is a formless blank piece of stone. He envisions what he wants and then he starts chipping away at it. Writing scripts is similar. You know you want that great screenplay hidden in those blank pages. You start shaping your words. You chip some of the blank pages away. But you still only have “jagged stone”. Not a pretty sight. You chip more. You polish. Eventually it starts to take shape and looks a lot better. More work and soon you find what you’re looking for—a work of art.
Writing isn’t always a smooth road. It’s trial and error.
I have a basic rule that I always follow.
RULE: ALL STORY PROBLEMS ARE SOLVABLE.
COROLLARY: THE HARDER THE PROBLEM THE BETTER THE SOLUTION.
That’s not to say you might not occasionally pose the wrong problem. But if so, when you try to solve it you will discover the correct problem and it’s solution.
Solving story problems is the most enjoyable and rewarding part of writing for me. I love the challenge. When I have a really juicy problem I do one of three things:
I take a bike ride...
I take a walk...
...or I take a shower
Why? First, there are no distractions. But most importantly, when I am doing something totally routine like biking, walking or standing under a stream of hot water, my body shifts into auto mode, the physical world vanishes, and my creative universe is wide open.
It never fails for me. I hop on my bike and ride. By the time I return my story problem is solved. I don’t even have to have a problem, per se. I might just have the next scene to write. While I’m riding I visualize it all, my characters speak and the scene unfolds. So that I don’t forget anything I occasionally stop and dictate into my cell phone.
RULE: YOU WILL ALWAYS AND OFTEN DOUBT YOUR STORY WHILE WRITING IT.
COROLLARY: THERE IS ALWAYS A GOOD RESULT TO BE HAD IF YOU KEEP AT IT.
All of this presupposes that you know how to write, that you know screenplay structure, character development and good dialog. But even if you are the best at all three you will still run into walls. Academy Award-winning writers run into walls.
Writing is often hard work. It is often not fun—especially when you doubt yourself.
Doubting yourself just programs your mind to worry, to stop and question itself. Don’t doubt yourself. Validate yourself. Know that the doubts will come and when you spot yourself doubting just kill that thought. Know that it is part of the process. You can even smile when you feel the doubt and KNOW that it’s just that little demon again trying to tell you that this barrier is different. It’s not. It’s just part of the process.
So the next time you’re sure your story or scene or dialog is shit, remember that shit is great fertilizer.
©Jeffrey Scott, All Rights Reserved
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