Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Practice of Writing—A Creative Process

Like many other writers, my creative screenwriting process begins with an idea, and like other writers, I may be called a procrastinator, but I am also very patient, too, considering patience a virtue.

But, I do not sit around waiting for ideas or inspiration, nor do I seek them out like a detective. Ideas come to me when I’m out living life. And when they do come, they came on their terms, not mine, they can come from anywhere at any time like a message from an angel. Ideas are gifts, and writers, like doctors, are on call for them.

But the important thing to note about ideas is knowing the difference between good ideas—and bad ones, and the difference is a good idea should excite you! And if it does and you execute it correctly chances are it will excite your intended audience.

Another thing to remember about bad ideas is that they may not necessarily be bad ideas, just ideas that someone else has already thought of, but, if you write what you know, stay true to yourself and write in your own unique voice, chances are you will not go wrong.

Once I get a good idea the single-most important thing to do—and my instincts will tell me this—is to write the idea down. Immediately! You must treat the idea as if it is an emergency! You may find yourself scrambling just to find something to write it down on—even if it means writing it down on toilet paper, even if it means asking the person in the bathroom stall next to you if they can “spare a square” as Elaine had to do on an episode of Seinfeld.

For me, the idea can come as an image, a title, or thought; whatever the particular case may be, I write it down! If you don’t, chances are—and I’ve learned this the hard way—you will never get it back.

Once I have gotten a good idea and have written it down, I play around with it in my head. I experiment with it. I ask questions about it until I believe I have an outline I can work with.

I don’t write your typical outline—if fact when I began writing fiction, I didn’t even write outlines, but now that I do they look something like a March Madness bracket. I write the outline out in what I call a paragraphical outline, dividing it, if it is for a script, into Acts I, II, and III, defining—or underling—the inciting incident—and I will never begin a script without knowing its ending first. My outlines look like single-page essays, and they do not exceed one page, which may have something to do with all the query letters I’ve written over the years, knowing that they shouldn’t exceed one page.

Once I have an outline, I go into what I call writer’s hibernation, writing the first draft out with a pen onto a legal pad in single space. My only fear is that because this can be such a dire process, racing to get it all down on paper, the chicken scratch I’m writing it in I won’t be able to read later on, and it does happen, but nothing is worse than having never written anything down at all.

Eleven to fifteen written pages per day is a good day. Five to seven pages is a bad day, but, if I’m having a good day, really rolling, I won’t stop. There are occasions when I had sat down to write around 7 p.m. and didn’t stop writing until 4:30 a.m. the next day. I could barely turn my neck without feeling a pinch in the back of my neck and shoulders, and once I had slowly gotten up, my butt was numb, barely able to feel myself fart, but it was all worth it. Scheherazade was right in A Thousand and One Nights in saying that there’s something about telling stories at night. It seems to set the mood.

Once I have those eleven to fifteen pages written pages, it’s where the actual typing begins,  transferring them from the legal pad into the computer using Final Draft, editing as I go. I simply cannot type and worry about the errors of bad writing later, and I’m not really referring to errors in punctuation as I am in the math of the story.

In just about 2 ½ weeks I have a finished, very rough first draft.

Writing is re-writing. Writers are rewriters. The first draft will never be your best or last draft; rather it’s time to let the nicely typed, neatly stacked pages of your first draft sit overnight or for a minimum of one day or two, and the longer you let it sit the better—well, don’t let it sit too long; otherwise, you never get it done. Writing is like making fine wine—it must age. Even if you think you have gotten your story right the first time, just imagine how much more right it will be after several drafts. The first draft of your script is just the beginning. It’s only your story in theory. It is just a starting point.

Now, it’s time, as cliché goes, to kill your darlings.

Once you begin the re-writing, you’ll be amazed at just how bad your first draft really is. What you didn’t see in bad writing in the first draft jumps right out at you! But, if you are patient, if you listen, if you are open-minded, your story will tell you where it needs to go, not where you want or think it should go, which is a very critical distinction. This means that you might have to sacrifice what you think is some of your best writing, some of your best sentences for the betterment of the story. I guess like your children, you do not own your story. In the prose use I write, I used a lot of alliteration.

Sometimes it’s broken, and if it doesn’t work, I leave it out, since writing prose what I’m aiming for, not verse, but if the alliteration works, I leave it in.

After three to four drafts, after letting your story age three to four times between drafts, the story begins to come together like a puzzle with laser-cut pieces. It goes from a major rewrite to just touching up the story, when putting the last, puzzle piece one thousand in as it falls right into place rather nicely. It might not be the story you started out with, or had intended to write, but, you will admit it is a much better story, and you will be proud of it.

For further reading: Advantages of Outlining—Why Outlining Your Script is Essential

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