Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Rewriting: Growing From Writing and Writing From Growing

A Tale Of Writing Draft Two After You Really Liked Draft One

Here I am at the beginning of version two of my spec.  And already I look back at the first draft and think "How could I have ever thought that was the one?" 

And I was convinced.  Believe me.  Just look back a few posts on this blog.  I had given it my all and it was the best I could ever do.  If they wanted more from me than that - well, there was nothing more to give.

This is how you should feel at the end of a draft.  You've left it all on the page.  You couldn't possibly make it any better.

Then time passes.  You get notes.  Hopefully they speak to you.  Through the denial, through the pain,  through the anger, disappointment, insecurity and fear, hopefully there's something about these notes that make the smallest little voice inside say,  "I recognize that..."

You go far away and hopefully work on other things for a while until it's time to start again. 

And then you do.  And it's painful at first.  It's slow and you think, "I'm not smart enough.  I don't know how.  This is impossible.  It cannot be done." 

Until one little idea worms its way through all those roadblocks and embeds itself in your brain.  And you think, "Ooooooh.  What's that?  Interesting."  You follow this lead.  Maybe it's a scene or a fragment of  a scene.  Sometimes it can be as small as seeing how a character turns her head.  Perhaps it's a line of dialogue that sticks with you because you know the subtext and why it was said and what came just before.  These kernels span themselves out and gather other thoughts like an infectious web.

And the next thing you know you are asking yourself, "How could I have ever thought that first draft was the best draft of this story?"

Were you delusional?  (I often am - but that's beside the point.)  Were you wrong when you felt certain that you could do no better than the last draft?

The answer is no.  You did give it your all but  now you have more to give.  You can't get to the end journey without first walking down the path.  You've learned something in the process of the first draft and now you've grown as a writer and your writing has grown.   So get to it.

In the spec I started in July (yes July people - I've written two other projects in the meantime), I am delving much deeper than I ever have before.  I'm exposing more of my own fears and shadows.  It's exhilarating and terrifying.  My screenwriting craft is pretty darn sound at this point - but what needed to catch up to tell this particular story was my personal emotional growth and my ability to write about it. 

Go deeper is what the universe (well, my agent and managers - almost the same thing) were telling me.

I'm in so deep now I feel like I'm sucking quicksand through my nose.  But, one step at a time.  I'm excited to see where I come out.  But I can pretty much bet I'll be saying, "This is the one.  I couldn't possibly give it anymore.  I've left it all on the page this time."

Happy Writing.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How To Get Unstuck In Your Writing And Clean At the Same Time

For those of you smirking or grimacing after yesterday's post:   Throwing Out The Kitchen Sink.   Yes - there are infinite possibilities and it would be impossible to plow through them all.  I'm not just blowing Polly-Annic smoke in your direction.

I promise you won't need to test out every wrong possiblility before you can find a path to charge down.  You have a trick up your sleeve - actually you have a trick in your gut.   We all know what it feels like to be writing hot, filled with inspiration - and we know when something isn't right and we're forcing it.  We know.  So gravitate to what your gut tells you is interesting.

Since this part of the blog is about the "emotional journey" here's an example of how I got in tune with my gut just yesterday and how it led me to inspired writing today.

I'm loving my new set up, my new version of my main character (same character only more fleshed out, issues and conflicts closer to my own and therefore infinitely easier to crawl inside of), but I get half way through my new outline and I am utterly lost.

Being utterly lost in your script, especially one that you love so much in the first act, is a tortuous event.  I try very very very hard to force what I think should happen to happen - but it's all wrong.  First it doesn't feel right, next the structure is off, finally I check my guide-post movies and nope - my character is zigging when every other film is zagging at this spot.  Seriously?!  Will this ever get any easier? 

And the internal monologue goes:  I have no idea how to fix this.   I can't do this.  Think.  Think.  Maybe?  No.  What if?  Lame! But- Cliche, bad cliche, false, wrong.  Think harder.  Maybe it can't be done.  Maybe this story hasn't been told because it can't be told.  I'm too stupid.  I'm limited.  I'm fat. 

Okay - so we've been there right?   When I get really frustrated or insecure or frinsecure (which is usually the case) I take a hot bath.  It's hard to get distracted from thinking in the bathtub.  I'm too paranoid of dropping my iPhone in the water to bring Words With Friends with me - so I'm trapped in a warm, soothing environment with my thoughts.  (Also a baby-free, husband free, dog free zone - bonus.)

Worse case scenario I emerge clean and refreshed, drain the tub and go to bed.  Most times however - I get inspired, leap from the tub, bubbles sliding down my leg, carpet be damned, I slosh into my office chair with an inspiration that gets me over the current, miserable hump of stuckness.

Most times it can be something really small.  Last night, it was a scene that brought tears to my eyes.  I had to get out of that tub and write it down.  Fast.  And that little scene made me realize that the problem wasn't that I didn't know how to fill up the second half of my script  - it was that I was trying to skip steps again.

And I'm sorry - you just can't do that.  Not even after twenty-one scripts.  I needed to go back and put my 40 cards on the wall.  Once I did that, I realized that the reason why I was feeling like every idea I had for her to fill up the second half of the script was irrelevant, boring and cliched, the reason why I felt that my main character was doing the right thing way too early in the story (and therefore boring the shit out of me) was....wait for it....

What I thought was my mid-point was actually closer to the end of my second act.  She isn't making the right choice too early.  No, she's doing it right on time; near the end of the script where it should be.  It was the stupid writer who was in the wrong place.

So what happened here?  A) I thought since I was performing a rewrite (even though it was a page one rewrite) I could just jump into the writing part.  WRONG  B) I was telling the story - but not beating it out, so I didn't realize that I was already 30 beats in.  MISTAKE  C) My gut didn't let me down.  I knew something was jenky - which helped me find the fix. GREAT!

Okay - now I will enjoy a day, an hour, ten minutes of happy writing before hitting the next bump.  But that's just the way this shit works.  Get used to it and don't try to cut corners....

Monday, February 14, 2011

Throwing Out the Kitchen Sink

Okay, I'm one of those writers who consults psychics. I do. And Astrologers and anyone else who will share a glimmer of hope that the choices I'm making will pay off.

Because it's a crap shoot. There are no guarantees.

Writing comes down to choices and one false turn at the beginning can lead you down the entire wrong story. That's where I'm at with my spec.

But wait there's hope (the psychic said so)... But even if my psychic didn't predict tremendous success, there still would be hope. There's always hope.

Because even if you really, really, really screw everything up - guess what? You're that much closer to getting it right. You've learned a lot by taking that wrong path. You've learned what doesn't work. So, obviously you are narrowing down what will work.

So personally, I can say with certainty - it's time to throw out the kitchen sink, the baby and the bath water, everything must go.

I went through my draft, highlighter and Post-Its in hand, to mark all things that I could transition into the next draft. Three pages in I realized I could put my fun little tools away. I was back at the drawing board. There might be one or two moments I can save - but these are moments - moments don't need Post-Its or even highlighters.

But, it's okay. It is. Because I already know what I'm writing so well that I know what will not work. So what if that happens to be nearly everything. I'm not afraid. I've got a psychic, and an astrologer, a friend who gives super tarot readings, a Magic 8 Ball in my left hand desk drawer and last week, I got a very positive fortune cookie from Panda Express.

No worries. Happy Writing.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Don't Forget to Have Fun

Maybe it's the subtle mix of coffee and Lo-Carb Monster Energy drink I've been living on for a week - but today I'm inspired to write about how fun the process can be.

You are writing a movie. You are either being paid to do so or hope to be paid to do so or even better you're just doing it because you have an idea that you love, full stop. Regardless - you've dreamed up an idea that got you excited. And now you're starting to figure out how to tell it.

Writing comes down to choices - there are infinite ways to tell the story you are telling. You are now in the very fun process of dreaming out one way of telling it. Why not start with the way that is the most fun?

A very successful producer I am working with (and when I say successful I mean with a capital "S" from box office to Oscar nods) told me that he starts a project by asking himself: "What would I be interested in seeing?"

It is just as simple as that. It really is. Because what interests you is what plugs in to the common human thread - it's what people can relate to, it's what we all want to see.

I think it's a great way to brain storm the storyline of your script. First you come up with "what interests you" in a macro way - the idea. Then you have to do some nuts and bolts and figure out your character arc and major structural beats. But then to connect those beats - asking yourself "what would be fun to see" or "what interests me" is a great way to get there.

On Version Two of my spec - I'm at that point in the process now. I have my characters (for the most part), I know where they start and what they learn and where they end. I know my big structural moments - and now there's this huge path that could go in any direction in order to connect those anchors together.

And so today I've got my index cards and my fat marker and I'm writing down experiences that would interest me.

A good exercise is to think of a film that reminds you of the film you're writing - either in tone or setting or style - and think of one of two memorable moments. Those are the moments that pulled you in - and those are the kinds of moments we are hunting for now.

Sometimes, you'll think of great scenes that end up not fitting. But don't let that concern you know. Just brainstorm. Have fun! There is nothing more exciting than coming up with a great idea for a scene. The kind you can't wait to write.

Not all ideas are going to be right or even good - but just churn them out. We'll prune later. Today is for having fun.

Next step is cobbling together - and our tether for that? Yes - you guessed it - the character's arc.... It's really so simple, isn't?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Fresh Start... Again

The reality of writing is that you are constantly going back to the drawing board. And the drawing board can suck. It can drive you to eat, drink and be mean to your significant other. But one thing it won't do is go away.

So I've snarled at my "drawing board" for months now (while writing three other projects including one entire draft of a new writing assignment) and it's time to jump back in. No matter how beautifully I want to perform this dive, it's going to end up like a belly flop, complete with belly burn. But here I go.

My agent wants me to pretty much take my script in a different direction after the act break. And scenes are starting to bubble. As they do I write them on cards and stick them on my giant corkboard. Let's check - there's two. There's only two?! UGH!

Here's what's blocking me - trying to envision the entire thing instead of just taking it one step at a time.

Here's what I'm going to do to get over myself (again). I'm going to daydream about my character - I'm going to think about what kind of person he/she is and what he/she can possibly learn. I'm going to doodle and make lists and explore. If a scene hits me that's a keeper - it goes up on the board.

I'm also going to give myself a deadline. I want to come up with a new short treatment of the story by this time next week. That should be ample time to reel in my wandering mind and make some choices. Not set in stone choices - but choices that I can then ask people about - pitch the story to and see if people are like - oh - yeah - I want to see that...

I hope that if you are stuck - you'll remember not to think about the finished movie - you're a hundred steps away from that (at least)... Just put one foot in front of the other and we'll both be there before we know it.