21 August 2009

Married To It

“Dear Princess Scribe:
Once upon a time, I had an idea for a story. It was a tantalizing tale, and I quickly found myself courting it; I’d take it out in public, introduce it to people. Soon, I realized that what I had was a most perfect story. It was time for me to take the plunge, and commit myself wholly and completely.

But now, three years and six drafts later, I fear that the magic is gone. I no longer wake with this story on my mind. Instead, I find myself thinking about other stories. Taking them out. Talking about them. Working out the beats; massaging the B-story. Do I move on, and embrace these new delicious loglines? Or do I remain faithful to the old ball and chain? What do I do to fall in love with my story again?

Disloyal Servant”

Dear Disloyal:

Ah, the capricious nature of the adulterous scribe.

Writing is more than a craft. Writing is a commitment. Not unlike a marriage.

I repeat ~ writing is a commitment.

There are the obvious commitments, of course: time, money, energy, creation of your space. Then there is the single most important commitment – to STORY. Three years and six drafts?

Let’s take a gander at these numbers:

• LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE spent five years and close to a hundred drafts by different writers before production began
• CAPOTE took over seven years to go from conception to completion
• INSIDE MAN, also close to seven years, according to Gerwitz’s post-screening Q&A hosted by Creative Screenwriting

Tell me, my fickle friend, where would any of these stories be if their scribes were two-timing them? Chances are, they’d never see completion.

A conversation I recently had, with a writer, to whom I was giving counsel:

See, I’m a little ADD. I mean, I have to have a bunch
of projects going on. I write a little on this one for
awhile, then I move to that one, and then I have...

He gestures to his Board

this over here...

How is that working for you?

Great! Just great! I mean, I’ve got four projects going.

How many have you completed?

Of these? Well, none, yet.

Have you written other scripts?

Yeah, sure. Six scripts, maybe seven.

And how many of those have you completed?

A pause.

(blank stare)

Good lords and ladies of the court, I rest my case.

A story is like a marriage. You must commit to it, each and every day. Writers write. Each and every day.

There are days, of course, when you don’t feel the magic. Welcome to the world. Guess what? You still have to commit to it. Each and every day. Like a marriage, writing takes work. And you will find that, some days, you just have to do the work.

So, you’ve lost the spark? Instead of blaming your partner – your story – you might take a look inward and determine why that spark isn’t there. Self-sabotage? Fear of failure? Perhaps something as simple as structure gone bad – scenes in need of reorder, a misidentified protagonist, two stories competing in one script. Your ennui may be screaming to you, to wake up, open your eyes, take a step back and explore every nook and cranny of your story. Go back to the beginning. Meet your characters for the first time, all over again. Get to know your story’s world. Try dating your story; I assure you that spark is still there. It’s your job to find it.

You will not find the spark if you abandon your story.

The above being said, Princess Scribe does concede the necessity of managing multiple projects as a challenge in the life of the scribe. Princess finds herself doing the same; she writes spec scripts as she prefers to write her own lies. However, as Los Angeles is a far more costly kingdom than say, Madison, Wisconsin, HRH finds herself working for hire while working on her own material. This arrangement is not an adulterous one. Think of it, instead, as polygamy.
You are Bill Henrickson, and your stories are his wives. Simple time management:

HRH’s Ye Olde Calendar

Princess Scribe rises at 5:30. 7 to 8:30 am is devoted to physical and mental transformation through physical exertion. At 9 am, her workday begins with spec writes/rewrites. 11 am heralds time for other business, face time with clients, phone calls, coffee dates. 2 – 4 pm is devoted to work for hire or consultations.

So, my dear Disloyal Subject, Princess suggests that you resist the temptation to play the field. Instead, she would prefer that you step back, take a deep breath and assess your commitment to your craft – and to your story. Divorce is simple. Writing is not. If it was, everyone could do it.

~The Princess Scribe

TODAY’S ASSIGNMENT: Write a one page article on your story, and why you are not at completion. Take responsibility for your actions, and create a game plan to drive you to the finish line.

Recommended reads: “101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters” by Karl Iglesias; “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield; recommended site: The Business of Show Business Institute


Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

whoa... Little Miss Sunshine took 5 years and hundreds of drafts? No wonder the movie is PERFECT. I LOVE that movie to death.

Yeah, I feel ya. I'm amazed that some screenwriters have actualy never complete a script. I don't have the PERFECT screenplay yet but I can proudly say that I have written 4 complete screenplays.

mikeymoviemadness said...

Princess...as before, you write of something every writer needs to reflect upon.

If I may, on my blog I'm going to piggy back a bit on what you have to say and add my two cents in re: committment...

I do this purely out of respect for you and this very heated topic you brought up.

Visit me: http://mikeymoviemadness.blogspot.com/

jim said...

Divorce is easy, marriage is... worth it - and essential if you're ever really going to intimately know your "lover" - or story.

Delays, rejections, complications, spats, frustrations aren't things that drive you away from closer intimacy. They are what - if overcome - unify, intensify, synergize - your work.

Commitment is the key. The first bit of advise I ever received in this biz was from USC prof Richard Walters who told me that your greatest asset must be resiliency - not even talent. That's the only way you reach the finish line. Everything else falls in place in time.

I would also add that it is only in the umpteenth draft of your story where you really discover the "magic" and find the story that even you did not know you had.

princess scribe said...

Good Sir Mikey, please feel free to riff on this and any subject. And, while you are in your blog generator, my dear good man, please consider adding Princess Scribe to your recommended blog sites.

HRH, The Princess Scribe

princess scribe said...

Kind, Lord Jim ~

Precisely. One cannot obtain the elusive Golden Fleece if one gives up during the journey. Fortitude!

HRH, The Princess Scribe

princess scribe said...

My dearest Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist ~

The Princess is a great fan of your work; she waits for the day when she sees your stories papering every nook and cranny; she doubts not that your screenplays are fecund stories.

mikeymoviemadness said...

Duly noted and added, My Princess...