Notes on the Bleeding Obvious

Those of you who subscribe to this site might have been surprised to receive an email claiming this was a new posting.  Clearly it isn’t – that was a technical glitch to do with the date. but hey, welcome back!  In fact this posting has particular relevance in the light of recent events – more details in the News & Announcements section… when I get round to announcing them. 

This year I took part in NaNoWriMo, a worldwide event where participants spend the month of November writing a short novel (50,000 words, the same length asBrave New World ) in thirty days, at 1,667 words a day.  I’m pleased to say I stayed the course.  In fact as a professional writer I thought I should aim for a total of 60,000 words, and ended up writing 70,000. I don’t know if the finished product is any good or not – it’s too early to say – but the point was not to be brilliant, the point was to have written a novel.

My friends and family will attest that I have been loudly promising a novel for a very long time.  But something would always come up – a TV episode to write, or a series bible to develop – or I’d decide the novel’s idea wasn’t quite focused in my mind, or there were too many narrative problems that needed to be solved before I could begin.

What amazed and appalled me when I started writing was that none of these problems actually existed.  I mean, yes, all stories have problems and holes in the plot that need to be addressed, and it’s good – though apparently not essential – to have a clear idea of where you are going.  But having to knock out 2,000 words a day forced me to confront the narrative problems and solve them by whatever means came to hand, and it was through the graft of writing the story that I worked out what the central idea was.

I’ve been writing screenplays for a long time, and I found it intensely annoying to learn something I should have known years ago – that there is no point in putting off the challenge.  That wonderful idea you have is not going to get better rattling around in your head.  Either someone else is going to have the same idea, write it up and sell it, or they won’t, and the idea will simply grow old and stale and end up as an anecdote you tell in a pub.  That might get you a pint if you’re lucky, but it won’t win you an Oscar or an Emmy, or even a TV Quick People’s Choice Award nomination.*

If you have an idea, sit down and write it.  Don’t procrastinate in the hope the story will somehow find its way to the page with no effort on your part.  Get stuck in and tell it, and resign yourself to the fact it will always look rougher on the page than it did in your head.  Sure, there are rules to screenwriting – keep the story moving, avoid holes, don’t resolve conflict with coincidence – but if you can’t see a way round them, ignore them or break them.  Just get the story written and worry about that shit later.

And finish it. Work your way through the middle and get to the end.  Even a pathetic ending where everyone dies from food poisoning is better than no ending at all.  A rubbish script with an ending is a script, but a cracking script with no ending is still merely an idea. A bad first draft can be revised and reworked and polished into something better; a brilliant idea is worth less than the paper it isn’t written down on.

I know, I know, I’m stating the bleeding obvious.  But I’m not the only writer who puts projects off in the hope that… what? Our wonderful stories will somehow tell themselves?

National Novel Writing Month is finished for this year, but in April 2012 the equivalent event for screenwriters will take place: 100 pages of screenplay in 30 days.

See you at Script Frenzy.

*Wire In The Blood 2007.  We didn’t win, but I got a decent dinner out of it.

Leave a Reply