Friday, May 20, 2011

Thoughts versus Words.

I am not the most productive writer in the world. I can't sit down and write 10,000 words in one sitting like Amanda Hocking can do. I don't sit around my apartment all day in my pajamas plunking away. I don't have a membership to a place like The Office or whatever that private writers' club in LA is. But considering the demands of the rest of my life and the fact that I write by stealing time at coffee shops and bakeries and not in my home office, I think I do ok. I finished a new screenplay draft a couple weeks ago. I'm over 11,000 words in my novel. I sometimes update side projects I'm working on.

However, I'm most productive with my stories when I'm actually writing in them. I think it's because 1. it's easier to monitor your progress. I can know how many words I've written or how many pages I've advanced. I get closer to a defined end goal. And because 2. it's easier to make up stories than it is to analyze them.

After the requisite emotional break from The Exit Strategy, I've pulled it back up to rewrite. The difficulty with rewriting is that you usually need to know what the problems in your story are in order to rewrite them. You have to find problems, come up with a solution, and then implement it. This requires analysis, brainstorming, more clearly defining characters and choices, grappling with your theme, finessing subtext, deeping conflict, manipulating more complexity, coming up with new scenarios only to discard them, figuring out how to set up jokes, constructing set pieces--building up support for your structure at all.

Structure? I think I forgot about that in all the writing.

I can spend my typical hour or two writing just thinking... and have only a couple pages of notes to show for it. It's difficult to believe I'm making progress when I look at my scribbles and find myself just as unsure in my choices as ever. If I'm lucky enough to spot a problem, my solutions are generally vague and not implementable strategies yet.

I.E., I know my opening is weak. My notes are as follows -- "What is the BEST opening possible? What am I trying to set up? The story? The setting? Hazel's character? Hazel's current situation or the absence of her dreams? Her relationship with her family? What is the best set up for the pay off?"

See? I know what the problem is--but I don't even know what the question is.

My favourite note to myself? "This scene needs more punch." What does that even mean? And how am I supposed to make something more "punch-y"? I obviously failed at it the first time around. Did I suddenly get more clever in the past month?

Another note I starred (stars show importance. This is an important note.) -- "How does Hazel's FLAW feed into her PROBLEM?"

Not only do I have to give my protag a flaw and a problem, I have to CORRELATE them.

I'm not good at this part of rewriting, this ethereal staring off into space while I just conjure up brilliant edits to my story. I am, as a 20 year old family Christmas letter prophetically suggested, not a thinker. I am a do-er. It's very hard to believe that all this thinking is writing. It's too unsubstantial for me. And sometimes when I look at my own handwriting all I see are loops and swirls. I get very antsy and want to just go back to the actual page writing.

But I'm trying to make my rewriting process better, more efficient. I'm trying to slow myself down, take time to consider characters and motivation and conflict and set ups and payoffs and theme and subtext. I'm reading scripts in the same genre and might even watch some older classic movies to give me a good grounding in the style I'm trying to acheive. In an ideal world, after one more draft and a polish, I'd be able to start showing this script to people who are better than I am at anaylsis and who can give me real, intelligent notes.

And then I can start rewriting. Again.

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