Painters start with a blank canvas, sculptors with a blank block of stone and writers with a blank page. Like a sculptor, a writer starts by chipping away the blank page.
Write like Michelangelo!
What's that you say? He was a sculptor and painter, not a writer.
Actually, from the standpoint of basic technique there isn't that much difference.
Painters start with a blank canvas. Sculptors with a blank block of stone. And writers with a blank page.
Do you think Michelangelo carved David’s hair into a beautiful coiffe and then moved down to his ears? Not unless the archaeologists haven’t dug up his 3D sculpting printer yet.
No, once Michelangelo had his drawings finished (an outline in the case of a screenplay) he took his rough chisels and started cutting away the useless blank marble.
Similarly, a writer does not start by writing great description and dialogue. He starts by cutting away the blank page. He does this with words. Rough words. Words that put the basic form of the outline onto the page. They certainly don't need to be polished yet. In fact, they shouldn't be edited at all.
Have you ever gotten a good case of writer’s block? Pretty nasty stuff. I've written a bit about writer's block, but here's a new definition. Writer's block is when you want to see your 'David' on the page but you haven't even roughed him in yet. It’s impossible. And the desire versus the impossibility is what causes the stress of writer's block. It doesn't work that way. Unless you're a savant you can't write a final draft until you've written the first (and second, third, fourth...).
You don’t know where to start? The answer is simple. You do what Michelangelo did. You just give the block a whack. Or in the writer's case, you whack your keyboard and put some words on the page.
Michelangelo couldn’t do any editing on David until he had roughed out his basic human form. You can't edit rock. You can only edit form.
You’ll find that each new scene you write in a screenplay is a blank page. So you’ll run into this phenomena again and again as you write. The answer is to just give the page a whack. Start chipping away at the blank page by putting more words on it.
Once you've got the script blocked in—and you can start to see your 'David' taking shape as action and dialogue—then you can begin to edit it. But if you start editing too early you'll be wasting your time editing 'rock' instead of art.
Be patient. Rough it in. Take big whacks to start. Let it take shape. Then take smaller whacks. Then chips.
Once you've done the dirty work you can take out your sandpaper and polishing compound and start having some real fun!
©Jeffrey Scott, All Rights Reserved (except the sculpture)
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