Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Throwing First Drafts at the Wall

Like a lot of writers, I'm cursed with perfectionism. It's hard for me to just leave something be. If a scene's not as sharp as it looks in my head, I'll sit with it all day. A few nights ago I woke up at 4 AM with the solution to a problem in a script I finished two years ago. I couldn't sleep until I wrote it down. I revise my loglines and synopses daily. Perfectionism has a good side, obviously. But perfection is overrated.

Perfectionism also has a price. It's why a lot of people either don't write, or never finish anything. It's why they never show their work around, and get good advice or new solutions. My first draft of my first script took well over a year to finish. I thought it was Shakespeare. I knew nuthin'.

I got around a lot of my perfectionism issues with the synopsis tool, which I've talked about before and may again. It's a heck of a lot easier to work out your ideas on a single page than in 120. Since it's easier, you might as well try new ideas out to see how they fly. You can afford to spend the day throwing mud at the wall.

Writing is circular and squirrel-ish and difficult, and just as you think you've nailed something down, the same problem will pop up elsewhere. It's like Elmer Fudd chasing Bugs Bunny around the rabbit holes. And this is why first drafts are so important.

In a first draft, you're still throwing mud at the wall. And you need to allow yourself to get a little messy and unpresentable if you're going to get anything to stick. There's going to be some atrocious dialogue. There's going to be jokes that you like, but that don't fit. You'll realize that, for gangsters, your characters spend an awful lot of time talking about their relationships and staring at the sea. For some reason it takes thirty pages to get two characters into a room together with their clothes off.

That's frequently what a first draft looks like. And it's a good thing, because all of those problems are actually answers if you look at them from the other way round. Nothing will make you think about easier ways than plodding through those thirty pages. You'll zap those pages, and suddenly she'll step off the bus and into his life. You'll look at your gangsters and realize what kind of script you want to write. That good joke that doesn't fit tells you where it might fit. The atrocious dialogue leads you straight to some really strong action.

And if you listen to what your first draft is telling you, you will probably end up changing most of it.

Embrace that. Throwing mud at the wall is more fun than the perfectionist in you ever had.

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