October 6, 2013

Need an Attitude Adjustment? Screenwriting Tips on How to Approach Your Work

Just about every spare moment I have is spent researching for, suffering over, or banging my head against a wall because of my screenplay. In fact, very little writing actually gets done these days, and I often wonder, as I look at my bookshelf full of material on sharpening my screenwriting and narrative tools, "What am I not getting?" Sometimes what it takes to get your screenplay off the ground isn't advice on how to write it, but what kind of attitude to adopt when you do. Award-winning screenwriters Henry Bean, Larry Gross, Naomi Foner, and Andrea Arnold shared some excellent advice at the Story Creation and the Artistic Process panel as part of the NYFF Live series of filmmaker conversations. Read on for what they said.

Indiewire shares a bunch of writing tips from these screenwriters. For instance, Foner and Bean claim that living in the city provided them with lots of inspiration and fodder for their screenplays, but of course this could be attained anywhere that inspires you, whether that's in one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the world, or in a tiny slice of Americana nestled between two aging mountains.

But one of the key aspects to successful writing, other than good writing, is maintaining a healthy attitude about your writing. I mean, I don't have any statistics, but I'd venture to say that the 2nd biggest reason certain screenwriters don't find success (1st being bad writing) is the attitude they have during the process, which eventually leads them to either writing a poor script or abandoning it all together.

Here are a few of the tips these writers shared that I think speak specifically to the attitude successful writers take when crafting their screenplays:

The Perfection Illusion

Nothing that has ever been written is going to be perfect. The perfect script is an illusion. Think about some of the greatest screenplays ever penned: CassablancaThe Godfather, Chinatown -- we study these works to help our own, claiming that they're flawless and perfect, but if you needed anyone to find the imperfections in those amazing screenplays, just ask the writers themselves. Gross says:

The biggest thing that separates novice writers from professional writers is that professional writers have learned to forgo the illusion that they're going to produce imperfect work.

Excuses Don't Write Screenplays

This is one of my favorite things to do: make excuses as to why I'm not getting anywhere on my screenplay. My favorite excuse is, "I don't have enough time!" Listen, if I have enough time to say that I don't have enough time, guess what, I have enough time to do something with my screenplay. Bean touches on this in probably the best way possible, "There are a million things that are distracting you and a million excuses and if you want an excuse not to write, you will find it."

Your Opinion Matters Most

At the end of the day, the one who will ultimately be affected most by your writing is you. Are you writing the stories you want to tell or are you too concerned with markets and what everyone else wants? Are you listening to other people's advice more often than your own intuition? I'm not saying playing the markets and heeding advice from others aren't good things, but there has to be a balance. Be sure that you are the one manning the helm.

And you're bound to find those who absolutely hate your writing, but at the end of the day, you're the one who has to live with your writing, not them. If you have a need to write, then do it regardless of what the naysayers say. Arnold says:

I think I started writing because I felt like I had to. I hate it and I love it at the same time. It's really hard -- Even though I don't think I'm a brilliant writer -- lots of people say, "Oh she's a better director than a writer," -- I don't fucking care.

What do you think? What are some things you do to maintain a positive attitude towards writing? Let us know in the comments below:

[Typewriter image by Flickr user phooky]

Link: 8 Writing Tips From Screenwriting Masters Larry Gross, Naomi Foner, Henry Bean and Andrea Arnold -- Indiewire

Your Comment

11 Comments

Interesting, what is your screenplay about ?

The only time I can write well is when I make myself incredibly bored. To do this artificially takes a lot of willpower, but after cutting yourself off from phone, internet, computer and especially if you live alone... will eventually create an ideal writing environment.

When I'm bored I find myself wandering around, day dreaming, even talking to myself. It's in those rare moments I come up with my best stuff.

October 6, 2013 at 2:54PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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James

try the app selfcontrol

October 8, 2013 at 10:08AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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David J. Fulde

1. Write up a list of your central characters characterizations make them odious and brilliant then get the two of them talking to each other. If you cannot get your central characters to talk and to each other you have no idea who they are and were they will go and you will then resort to cliche.
2. Research and read biographies and then base your character on say Napoleon... gets you a head start. Napoleon is a heart surgeon who will do anything to...
3. Steal a plot or two. No need to make yourself go crazy on dumb plot points.
4. Figure out your genres, read a few screeplays kinda similar and cut paste the opening scenes into your FADE IN, change the names and characters, locations etc and then keep writing. By the time you get to the end of that draft nothing of those opening sequences will remain but you will have kicked off your screenplay.
5. Write studio notes emails back and forth to yourself every day with updates and pages done. Commit to 5 pages a day no matter how shit and email to 'the studio'.
6. Never ever submit a 1st draft to anyone. If you cannot read back your 1st draft and see it needs a rewrite you need a new career.

October 6, 2013 at 3:35PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dan

Am I the only one confused by the perfection section of this article?

V. Renee writes "The perfect script is an illusion." Then Larry Gross says, "...professional writers have learned to forgo the illusion that they’re going to produce imperfect work."

IMPERFECT, definition: not perfect; faulty or incomplete

This is totally a contradiction. But I assume the point is....let go of perfection!

October 6, 2013 at 6:38PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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earnestreply

I can't be sure, but based on the context of the the original quote, I think it was meant to say "perfect," If not -- I disagree with it. :)
I don't think there is such a thing as "perfect" when it comes to the arts (in most respects.)

October 6, 2013 at 11:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

I treat writing as a reward. I go to a coffee shop after a long day (I'm in film school for directing and working to pay rent and bla bla bla) and spend about ten minutes holding a cup of coffee or tea between my hands convincing myself that this is a reward. After that, I write. I lose myself the moment I convince myself I can be lost.

October 6, 2013 at 6:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Daniel St. Amand

Great article, V! Love the "your opinion matters most" tip. I like that he recognizes the balance.

I am writing a short 7 episode web series, and I have 5 episodes completely written. I asked 3 friends to read it, and two of them said that I should change the format to a doc cam show like the Office or Modern Family because people love those type of shows. I actually considered changing it to fit this idea, but I thought against it because it's just not my vision, and it doesn't really add anything to my show. It would just be a gimmick if I were to use it.

However, when those same 3 friends said that a scene was too long or not funny enough, I went in for another rewrite to fix those scenes because I felt like it was solid advice that would make the script better.

Sorry for the long comment. I just feel terrible when I ask people to read my script for their advice, and then I don't take their advice. Sometimes it seems like such a waste, but it's the nature of the process.

October 6, 2013 at 8:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Jeri

The only film you'll ever need to watch about writing. NSFW! http://vimeo.com/72050199

October 7, 2013 at 7:19AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Conan

Very good article!

October 7, 2013 at 10:25AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Bengali

Dennis Palumbo has a great book called "Writing from the Inside Out" where he talks about teaching his clients to develop a benign process with their writing. He also goes into a lot of the psychology behind what truly keeps us from writing. It's really great stuff.

I also read an interview with Joss Whedon where he said the days where writing is the only thing he has to do are the greatest. For some reason, that made me feel happier and more motivated about my writing.

October 8, 2013 at 12:40PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Nathania

This is a very good article. I too am learning about storytelling.

I am a retired accountant and we are not trained to tell stories. Really. We are trained (some of us) to gaze into the future to prepare budgets and other reports that are used for the investors. Ok, so we are trained to tell stories. I want to get better at my video stories.

I find that reading about what others have done, are doing and relate that to what I am doing may be relavent to the stories that I want to tell. BUT, I find that DOING the writing and shooting is how I learn more about what I do. I practice what I read and try to edit it together and then compare that to the "professional" stories upon which I base my current work. Am I getting better? I find it easier to tell the story; shooting it is another story.

Regards,

Brian

October 11, 2013 at 10:58AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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