Friday, August 15, 2008

Why I Write: To impress

Regular readers of this blog won’t be surprised to hear that one of the main reasons I got into writing was to impress other people.

At first it was very difficult showing my work to anyone. What if they told me that it wasn’t very good? That just seemed too hard to bear.

But my need to impress managed to win out over this fear.

So I did show my work to people. And often impressed them. Particularly if they were my age or younger, and were often just impressed by the fact I was writing at all.

Except my work in and of itself wasn’t that good yet. When I started showing my work to more independent readers, I was forced to realise that I still had a long way to go.

What I started to cling to as a defence for my ego was to embrace the gap between ‘professional’ writers and me as a beginning writer. I didn’t need to be a good writer yet because I was just a beginner.

Around this time I was mostly writing short stories, at a pace that amazes me now. I would always work to finish a story in one day – that way I didn’t spend too much time on anything (and I could always use that lack of effort as an excuse if someone didn’t like it).

The main defence was that I was always on to the next idea. My ego was protected by being a moving target. And I got to be a better writer quickly because I was writing so much.

I kept on applying this technique while working on my first film scripts and into the TV series Love Bites, where I think it started to become a problem. My unwillingness to revise an idea led to many different versions of the first episode, in an effort to continue to impress through new ideas.

After Love Bites I moved into a different space, which wasn’t necessarily better in hindsight – though it was a growth for me.

In this phase of my writing career, I wanted to get something ‘right’ before I showed it to anyone. I wanted to impress through depth and power rather than new ideas and the weight of fresh material.

One problem here was that I gave full vent to my perfectionist streak. When I actually had to stand beside a project and not just abandon it, it had to be pretty damn good to protect my ego.

And it was slow. I was afraid to put pen to paper, so I didn’t do anywhere near as much writing. As a result, I don’t think I’ve improved enough as a writer given the amount of time – roughly seven years since the end of the TV series.

So now I’m looking for a third way. Neither phase works for me now.

I want to move to a place where I can show others my work as it progresses, continue to work on stuff, and see an evolution in my writing. Getting drafts finished and getting them out there to be read is now a key goal for me.

And self-reflection is important too in helping me develop by looking back at my writing career. I can look at my strengths and weaknesses, and to see how I want to behave in the future. This blog is an important element in that self-reflection.


Benedict Reid said...

On one level I never feel my work is good enough. So projects are abandoned rather than finished... but I do have a rule to always finish drafts (a rule I broke twice last year, much to my disappointment).
Something I find is that it's sort of easy to rewrite someone else, and it's fun to write a first draft. The really hard work is rewriting your own material. You no longer have the distance on it to be sure of what's working and what isn't. Would I be correct in saying that you have the same experience? Or have I misunderstood the last few paragraphs of this blog entry?

the daily screenwriter said...

I'm at the point where I'm looking forward to showing people an imperfect first draft. Rather than fixing it up myself so it'll be less bruising for my ego, I'd rather not waste that time and energy and just cut to the chase, get the feedback I need and press on. Don't wanna spend any more time mucking about!

Sean said...

Hi Ben,

I certainly have problems with distance when rewriting, and consequently not being sure what's working anymore. This has been my experience on some of the multiple draft projects I've worked on - particularly the Katherine Mansfield project.

But it doesn't always happen quite like that. I can usually get some distance - it often takes time.

Actually, in the second phase I was talking about, I haven't found writing the first draft fun. I've had real trouble even getting down to a first draft. It's all ideas... And safe because it's not committed to the outside world to really be tested. To be a screenwriter, I need to move on from there.

Another problem for me is I follow the flash new idea that's popped into my head, instead of following something through to the end. Which is a sure recipe for never getting anything done at all.

So persistence, in terms of following a project through the different stages needed to complete it, and sticking with a project until I feel I'm done with it, is key for me now.

maureen said...

jumped here from Tims Blog.
I've recently come across a good idea for the draft/revise agony.
If you print out your MS in another font and style it looks like someones elses...and if you give yourself couple of weeks before you look at it...It looks and feels like someone elses so you can rip into it to great effect...
Try it it might work for you...
(I wish I could say it was my great ideas but alas it's the great Paula Yee's - US children's writer)

Sean said...

Thanks Maureen. I'll give it a go next time I need to get that distance.