Monday, June 6, 2011

What have you learned about screenwriting lately?

So, tomorrow night is the Wellington Writers Group meeting. I've passed on the role of co-ordinator of the group, but I have set the discussion topic for tomorrow night, which is:

“What have you learned about screenwriting lately?"

Short answer: a lot (I think).

I recently submitted an hour-long pilot episode into a NZWG screenwriting contest. For me, the simple act of completing this script in a straightforward manner within the set deadline was an accomplishment and a joy.

What I learnt about screenwriting from completing this:

I went into the writing process with three principles in descending order of importance. These three principles worked very well for me.

Principle #1: Deal with my emotions about writing as I go.

I have issues. Man, do I have issues. And I’ve found that feeling those issues while I’m writing doesn’t really help me write. It’s more likely to make me want to go hide in a dark cupboard.

However, if I face up to my emotions throughout the writing process, I’ve found that I can explore and address the negative feelings as I go. Then, once they’ve died down a bit, I can get on with the actual process of writing.

Principle #2: Feel positive about the direction I’m heading in.

What should I do when I realise I’m not happy with the script I’m working on?

People tell me: you should just keep writing a script to the end – you’ll learn things through the writing. Hmm, well maybe. But should I really spend weeks of my life writing something I don’t believe in when I know I need to rewrite it? Particularly if I have a deadline?

My way through this is to check in with myself about the script as I’m writing it. Outlines and other ‘higher-level’ documents can be great for this. The question is: am I feeling happy with where this is going? If not, what can I adjust about the script from here on in? I can come in and mop up the old stuff later.

Note I do not ask myself: is this script perfect? Because it won’t be. And that question can be a terrible trap of procrastination for us perfectionists.

Principle #3: Keep working solidly within the timeframes I’ve laid out

I stuck to my deadlines on this project. I worked solidly and didn’t procrastinate too much. That way I had time to deal with the problems that inevitably emerged.

Outside of these principles, I also learned how important it is for me to have an outside voice to provide feedback on a project: a reflector. I need someone to provide an independent mirror to my project, to give me that perspective that I just can’t see. I had two reflectors on this project, hix and Lyse. Thanks to them both.

Giving myself a fair bit of time is good. I do work well under pressure; but I work even better under pressure with enough time to turn out something good. And allowing some time to reflect between different iterations of a project; that’s important too.

How about you? What have you learnt about writing recently?