Let this be a perfect learning example to any writers out there who don’t do their due-diligence when researching potential agencies/publishers.
Back in 2002, my good friend let me borrow two books that firmly placed the possibilities of true independent (see: no budget) filmmaking in my mind: Robert Rodriguez‘s Rebel Without a Crew, and Bruce Campbell‘s If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor. While Campbell’s autobiography was more about his entire career up to that point, he went into great (and hilarious) detail about the events and struggles involved in getting The Evil Dead made. Combined, these two icons of independent filmmaking not only explained their own experiences in great detail, they also showed how possible it was for a group of dedicated people, with very little or no money, to actually pull off producing a feature-length film.
The problem I had in 2002, though, was that I was only sixteen, and my friends and I (in spite of how talented they were — and, thankfully, still are) had even less money and experience that could go towards such an ambitious project. We tried, mind you, but not very hard. The technology at the time wasn’t anywhere close to where it is today, nor as cheap. Our only real options at the time were to shoot digitally (which we couldn’t afford), shoot on film (which we definitely couldn’t afford), or really go for broke and shoot on Hi-8. While I had very little experience then, even I had good enough sense not to go that route.
So we put those ambitions and ideas on the backburner, telling ourselves that one day we’d come back, though I don’t think most really believed that. Despite what we told ourselves, the entire process seemed too overwhelming that I really didn’t think it was possible for us until the cost and technology changed. Fortunately, however, I took away two very important things from that experience: one, that someday I’d come back and try again, and, two, if I was going to make another attempt, we’d better have something solid to shoot.
After a marathon, caffeine-and-tobacco-fueled writing session yesterday, I finally finished what I am now considering the final draft of The Days Never Know. Down the road, there may be a few changes necessary, but for all intents and purposes, I am considering it finished. Once I was done, and after finally eating, I began thinking about just how much the story grew and changed in only six months, so I went back to the old drafts to see those changes first-hand.
Those early drafts were exceptionally long-winded, and had far too many characters. So one of the first changes I made was dropping nearly every character, and starting from scratch. I either combined multiple aspects of characters into one, or just removed them altogether. As I began working on a new draft back in November, I noticed a major shift in the overall mood of the story. The earlier drafts were more about the events these characters shared, but this new version was focused more on the aftermath; on how each were was affected by this one event.
However, another important aspect of the story began taking shape as well. I had unintentionally started basing these characters, not on other people as before, but aspects of myself; the certain flaws and defects that I see. That’s not say each character is a thinly-veiled version of me, but that I infused one defining characteristic of myself into each character. As soon as I realized I was doing this, I had to stop and ask myself if this was the way to go; doing so could easily result in cut-and-paste characters that lack any kind of depth or personality. However, I decided to let this new development ride for the time being; I could change it in later drafts if need be.
This is just as much a message to me as it is to other writers out there. I spend a lot of time reading over comments, blog entries, and just about anything else on the subject or writing that I come across online. I’ve been noticing something lately that’s bothered me a bit, and this somewhat relates to my last entry: “I want to write X, but how do I do it?”
This is a seemingly innocent question, and, really, asking the question isn’t what bothers me. What bothers me is that people tend to get so caught up on the idea of “how” they’re supposed to write, that they completely ignore what should be obvious from the start: if you want to write this story of yours, then write it!
“But I’m not very good!” So? Do you think any writer was blasted from the womb with the ability to write a Pulitzer-worthy work? There are very few prodigies in the world, regardless of the field. Your first piece of work isn’t going to be good. And let me save you the anticipation and say that your second won’t be either. As Hemingway said, “The first draft of everything is shit.” Get out of your head and just write the damn thing.
“But I don’t know how to properly [insert verb]!” This is one of the biggest offenders I see, especially when it comes to screenwriting. Some newcomer who really wants to write the next great American film stops himself from doing so because he’s so caught up on ensuring every little formatting detail is absolutely correct that he gets about two pages in before calling it quits. Stop it. You’ll have plenty of time to edit it later.
“But I don’t have the time.” Yes you do. Even if you only write a page a day, there is always time. This is more an excuse writers tell themselves when they feel guilty for not having done any work that day, but I see it with newcomers as well. You don’t need to — and shouldn’t — quit your job to dedicate your time on writing. There’s always time to write.
I cannot stress just how thankful I am that I didn’t have internet access when I first started writing. I was good enough at convincing myself I sucked, that coming across such varied (and often contradictory) advice on the subject would have done me in. What’s difficult, though, is that even after all these years, I still struggle with these thoughts. I have told myself all three of those phrases above so many times I’ve lost count.
But if I’ve only learned one thing over the past decade, it’s that the experience I gain from just ignoring all of those thoughts and actually writing is unbelievably valuable. It’s important to remember just to shut up, sit down, and write. You can spend all your time wondering how things turn out when you eventually write that next great piece of fiction, or you could just write it and find out sooner than later.
People, me included, need to stop worrying about such details so early on in the development stage, because while they may be important down the line, the most important thing to do at this moment is actually write it. Until that happens, nothing else matters.
Every writer has their own process for taking their idea and putting it on paper, and you will often come across some writers who are damned determined to tell you that their process, and theirs alone, is the correct process.
First, there is no such thing as one correct writing process, no matter the medium. I often view the varied ways a writer prepares their project in the same way athletes psych themselves up prior to a game, each with their own, sometimes strange, “good luck” rituals.
The truth is, the only correct writing process is the one that works best for the individual. In the end, no one will care how you got the words down; a studio isn’t going to drop an option because the writer failed to follow a specific outlining process. Any time you come across a writer who insists that “such-and-such” is the correct way to plan and outline a script, you can be sure it’s because that process works best for them, but that doesn’t mean it will work best for you.
So, I thought I would take a bit of time to explain my own writing process, as I have been asked a few times recently what that exactly entails. While this applies mostly to screenwriting, I have followed something very similar when I was working on my novel, so some of the ideas can be crossed over.