Recently I received a very kind email from a kind fellow named Andrei Butyanko about a particular part of my iPad 2 post. After checking out an example I posted from the CeltX app featuring a snippet of my work, Andrei sent me an email inquiring about how I write and how I sift through my ideas. I decided I’d write a proper blog post to share some of the ideas I shared with him and see what works for some of you guys.
I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember. Some of my more grandiose story ideas as a child came from my time sitting in the backseat of my grandmother’s car as her and my mother dragged me from department store to department store. Back then all I had was a composition notebook, a pencil, and my imagination. I didn’t have the technical know how I do now. I couldn’t keep my words firmly between the lines printed on the crisp white pages. I didn’t know what a screenplay was or even what a three act structure was. And you know what? It was better that way.
Writing brings me much joy, but these days I have much trouble disassociating my mechanical sentimentalities from my creative. I edit while I’m writing, a thing a dear mentor of mine taught me not to do. The closer I got to screenwriting, well writing in general, the further I’ve felt from it. I care too much about the art form to create the art. I’m demeaning and abandoning my art before I can finish creating it.
Steven Pressfield speaks a lot about this in his two books: The War of Art and Doing the Work. These two books really have changed my approach to writing and lit a healthy sized spark underneath my ass. Pressfield talks about resistance and it’s scheme to take you away from things that bring you closer to the soul. Anything that brings self growth and further nourishment of our most inner self is always faced with resistance.
What Pressfield’s book taught me is that acknowledgement is the first step to defeating resistance. Once you confront this daily struggle to adhere to the constraints of society you can finally embrace your art.
But back to the actual content. How do I choose what to write? The truth of the matter is, I don’t. My content chooses me. I don’t know where these ideas come from. I can’t explain the gaps between brain activity and fully fledged thought. But when the idea pops into my brain, it is my duty to write it down and share it with the world. As far as knowing what to keep and what to scrap that is simply a matter of discovering what hits closer to home. It’s all about sharing the work that ruminates deeply inside you and is always rising from the surface of your subconscious.
The key when writing this material is to avoid all conventional storytelling notions on the first run. You have to put out this work in it’s rawest form and shape it only after you’ve gotten it all on the page. If you try to do both of them at the same time you’ll never get to the finish line. You must let imagination and impulse run rampant on your first run before shaping your ideas in subsequent drafts. I find that I can never really see what my story is until that first draft, a very rough first draft, is written. I stand back, observe, and then start sculpting my narrative.
The problem with today’s cinema is complex. The narratives seemingly have no authorship; they are designed by committee. A writer comes in, the execs give him notes, and the film becomes more product than art. This happens because the industry is that, an industry. It’s not an art exhibit. It’s always been a miracle that great art manages to emerge out of the filmmaking process. The fact that 2001 can arise out of the studio structure is nothing short of incredible. The audience doesn’t seem to want to demand more of the studio and writers anyway, so of it ain’t broke why fix it?
Last pieces of advice are as followed.
1) Master the fundamentals. I’m still doing this myself. Books such as Stephen King’s On Writing and the universal writer’s handbook The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr, have been absolutely instrumental in my growth as a writer. Buy them both…now.
2) Write daily, trust your instincts.
3) Read daily, study the work of masters.
Finally, believe in yourself and the stories that move you.