Tuesday, March 13, 2007
What I've Learned from Writing Scripts
After ten years of seriously writing plays and screenplays, I've not only learned some lessons from the activity, I've also internalized some aspects of the profession and turned them into ways of progressing through life. A number of these lessons came together in my head over the past few days, and I took the time to write them down:
1. Chronic passivity gets you only so far. One of the biggest things I had to get past when I started is a problem many writers face - that of the passive main character. A character that watches, while everybody else goes around doing things. Once I started making my main characters not only do things but take chances, things took off. And I did too.
2. Creation happens at the cellular level. That means you don't have to write the script all at once. You don't even have to write a scene all at once. Sondheim, in Sunday in the Park With George, writes "bit by bit, building up the image." And that, for me at least, is the way it happens.
3. It's never going to be perfect. It can't be. Ever. So don't even try... well, you can try, but don't let that mess with the next lesson:
4. Meet your deadlines. And those others set for you - especially directors and theaters. If I know I have to deliver a script to a director by a certain date, I make sure I've set myself up with enough time to get it to the point where I can say "OK, it's as good as it's gonna be, for now," and then hand it off. And when I do, I always:
5. Resist the urge to make excuses for anything I deliver. You know what I'm talking about. Handing over a work and saying "it's just ok, if I had some more time, I was thinking of doing, I'm really just starting out, it's only a fifth draft." Say those in your head, and let them stay there. Then later, when the feedback comes at you:
6. Don't balk at criticism. And don't argue with it either. There have been numerous times I've received criticism from others that go against everything I'm thinking - and then reveal themselves to be fantastic ideas that, once put in place, shoot the work to a much higher level. When that work's at a higher level, though, remember:
7. What you say about someone else's work - might come back and be said about your's. Before I really started writing plays that people took seriously, I ripped movies and shows apart in conversations. Then, when I saw my stuff onstage, I wondered how many people in the audience were going to do the same thing I often did. And once I modulated myself, I experienced something strange:
8. The things I thought were funny sometimes weren't, and the things I thought wouldn't work sometimes did. And it's fun to be surprised that way. Which brings me to my favorite:
9. Sometimes it's not about putting words down, it's about taking them away. AKA editing.
Kind of a long post. Maybe I should follow my advice in #9 and remove some