Writing: 3 Essential Tricks to Get Started
Writing is hard. It doesn’t matter if you are writing a commercial script, documentary outline, blog or an original film. Writing is hard. It’s a solitary and lonely process that can be discouraging at the best of times. You will fight constant self doubt and the strong urge to give up. It’s also likely that the first few things you write will be bad. Still want to be a writer? If so I have good news. If you dedicate the kind of time you did to learning filmmaking, you will do fine.
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” - Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
1. Putting in the Time
If you are writing a script you need to treat it with the same importance you give to shooting or post production. Stephen King, George R.R. Martin, J.K. Rowling did not become masters overnight. There is no secret recipe to becoming a better writer than practice. It isn’t a mystical art that you tune into. It’s a craft and like other crafts the only way to get better at is to work at it.
- Read books on writing like Robert Mckee’s Story or Stephen King’s On Writing
- Read great scripts and compare the elements and devices that they share.
- Watch ads or commercial story films you like and break them down
You don’t have to be an accomplished writer to create a good script, but if you treat it as second rate it will be second rate.
2. Avoid the Blank Page
There is nothing more intimidating than staring at a blank page. If you go in with no plan you will most likely end up floundering. In fact, many of the hurdles you will come across have nothing to do with your ability as a writer and are much more to do with simple mental blocks. I can’t begin to tell you the amount of time I’ve wasted in my life staring at a blinking cursor waiting for the next great idea to strike. I have come to realize that waiting for the perfect idea is a sure fire way to end up with no ideas. Over the years I’ve picked up a few habits that have helped me get over the blank page.
- Outlining your objectives. Think of it as a GPS for your script. Knowing where you are going can help fill in the steps along the way.
- Jot down notes and ideas you have in a notebook or on scrap paper. Having these little bits can help with getting words on a page.
- Don’t worry about starting from the beginning. Maybe you have a great idea for the middle of your script. Start there and work your way back.
3. Don’t be Afraid to Fail
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.” - Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Writing is about trial and error. It’s about putting in the work to take something lame and make it awesome. Get your ideas down because it’s easier to erase later than create.
I approach writing the same way I approach a new editing session. My ideas are like the raw footage. They are unwieldy and aren’t fit to be shared with others, but slowly I chip away turning them into something I don’t hate. This is the first draft. I then begin the process of rearranging, rethinking and polishing that draft. This leads to more polishing, then more, and then even more. My hope is that at the end of it all I have something I’m proud of. (I will inevitably hate it later, but hey that’s what being a writer is all about)
Do you have any tips for writers? Stories to share about your process? Disagree with things I’ve said? Let me know in the comments below!