Thursday, February 23, 2012

How To Conquer Writer's Block

First of all, let me tell you I don't believe that writer's actually get stuck.  We just think we do.

We may find ourselves cycling through ideas we don't like, but that is the process of elimination.  It's essential.

Sometimes this can go on for longer than we like and we get frustrated.  We make up labels like "writer's block" and "stuck."

But,  I'm here to tell you:   Just because it isn't coming as easily or as gracefully as it has in the past, you are still moving forward.

Keep going.

On my current project, I am about to start on a rewrite of the first "rough" draft.  I'm not even counting it as a draft - because I had to execute the outline I had worked on in detail for over a year.  But mid-way through the writing I knew it wasn't working, but I had to deliver the execution of the outline anyway.

Thankfully, the brilliant producer I am working with recognized that it wasn't working either.  So, in a way I'm back to the drawing board.  But in a way I'm back for the first time because this time he's letting me run with it.  And the discoveries I made about story and character in the outline and rough draft are informing my new choices.

I realized today that the reason why I ended up with a near miss - that felt D.O.A. and overworked -was because I had skipped a vital step way back at the beginning.

Usually, on assignment or writing a spec the first thing I do is find out what the story is about and what the character arc is.  I have to know these two things before I make choices of how to demonstrate it.

This time around I was given parameters and asked to connect the dots.  I connected the dots again and again and again - but because I didn't do the first most important step, the picture I created by connecting the dots never came out right.  It was totally my fault.

I thought because I was being fed such great concepts that I could just skip that part.  Wrong!  And so for a week or so I've been "stuck."

"Writer's block" is simply a symptom that you need to fix something before you can go forward.

When writers (myself included) get stuck it's because they are insisting on plowing ahead, instead of being willing to let go of what they've already written in search of a better path.

Think of it as a maze.  You start down the wrong chute at the beginning and even though you nearly get to the finish, you hit a wall.  You can either keep going down the same path and come up trapped again and again or you can go back and find where you made the wrong move.

Sometimes going back is the only way to go forward.

Happy Writing.

Friday, February 3, 2012

First Draft - How Long Is Too Long?

So, I'm about to turn in my first draft.  Written in a mere five weeks (okay, I was working from the most detailed outline of my career, but still)...  five weeks is pretty fast, not lightning, but speedy.  Especially when you consider I worked over two legal holidays and through a toddler illness.

So, here's the deal.  It's 132 pages long.  In the genre that I'm working in - maybe 120 is acceptable - maybe.  So, I've got a problem.

But, in this case, I am working with a very hands on (and brilliant) producer who has gone over the outline with me with a very fine-toothed comb.  Extremely fine, like the kind you use to remove lice from school age children.  And I hesitate to cut anything that we have gone over together without giving him a chance to look at it.

This is what's called the "pre-first draft" or "producer's pass."  I'm handing it in, but I'm not counting it as a draft.  I just want to get his opinion on this "rough" assemblage.

But still, come on.  You can't hand in 132 pages!

Okay, so what to do?  A writing professor friend of mine suggested "change the spacing to tight." Another veteren suggested removing the extra space before the slugline.  

What does this tell me?

That I'm not the first scribe to leave in the kitchen sink.  It's so common, we already have tricks to deal with it.

Is being too long really a big deal on a first draft?  Some would say better to have more than less.  Then you can cut what you don't need.

We'll have to see.  My experience tells me two things.

1)  If it's too long - you have a structural problem, you don't know your chararcters well enough and you are therefore overwriting.  You aren't trusting your writing or your audience. You are a control freak.  Fix it.


2)  Producers are way more likely to suggest additions and changes, but rarely cuts.  The BHP I'm working with will probably be the exception to this rule, as he has been an exception to the rule on all other things so far.  But in general, they will add to your page count.

"We've got to cut this down."  Will be their first note, followed by a three page list of what they want added for marketing, the actor they cast and their own story points.  All valid - but not helping the page count.

So, what to do?

I'm going to listen to my friends' advice and tweak the formatting, of course!  Heck, I might even fudge the margins...

And I'm going to celebrate my draft.  There are moments in it that I have never come close to rivaling.

This is a first draft.  I'm going to give it its due and hope that my BHP and some distance from the story will guide me to the next official first draft.

To be continued....

Happy Writing