Screenwriting is a tough gig. We have to wade through creative, narrative, and professional dead ends, accept an existence lived almost entirely apart from the "real" world, and somehow learn to work with our cynical, tired, and troubled minds that often seem to be working against us. As 2013 draws to a close, and I look back on another (good) year, I notice all the more the blinking cursor, the empty pages, and the parts of my imagination I never unfurled and ask myself, "How will I make 2014 my best screenwriting year?" Here are my semi-unusual New Year's screenwriting resolutions that may help inspire your own.
I will stop being so precious
In 2012, I wrote two days a week (maybe) and completed three screenplays. In 2013, I wrote every single day and completed none. How can one write more, but finish less? Here's the answer:
Situation #1: "Oh man, I just can't seem to make my story work. But, I wrote a few awesome scenes that have the best dialog and character development I've ever written, that tie everything up in a nice little bow -- they're perfect. What should I do with them?" Joss Whedon would say, "Cut 'em." Before people start rabble-rousing, here's the idea behind it. Sometimes we get too attached to certain scenes, characters, and ideas that may be square pegs that you're trying to fit inside round holes. Sometimes it's your best scenes that are holding you back. (Those scenes/characters/ideas won't disappear. Use them for something else.)
Situation #2: "I just -- I just can't think of anything to write. Whatever I put down just doesn't work and now I'm stressed out and depressed and out of beer. I can't write. I'm a failure. I'm going to bed." No one writes a good first draft. No one. Start calling your terrible scenes/characters/ideas "placeholders", because that's exactly what they are. They're holding the place of your great scenes/characters/ideas. Allow yourself to write poorly until you don't have to anymore.
I will stop learning
You heard me. I'm going to stop learning about screenwriting -- for a while. Not because I don't need to learn more; it's quite the opposite. I have so much to learn, but I've realized that the more I focus on proper structure, rules, and how "everyone else is doing it", the less my instincts take over. A while back we shared some advice from director Wim Wenders where he said:
The more you know about moviemaking, the tougher it gets to leave that knowledge behind. As soon as you do things “because you know how to do them,” you’re fucked.
2013 was the year of playing it so safe that I never made it out on the field. 2014 will be the year of bare knuckle brawls.
I will not say "sorry"
I'm not talking about stepping on someone's shoe at the mall here. I'm talking about not being apologetic about your tastes and sensibilities as a writer. It's about knowing who you are as a writer and being okay with -- whoever/whatever that is. It's about having confidence, because confidence protects passion, and passion protects projects. If you're not confident enough to write what you really want to write for fear of reprisal, your passion will be doused, and your script won't get written. For me, that means sharing my story with people, and being okay when they say, "What's wrong with you?" (If you need help, just listen to Charlie Kaufman talk about screenwriting.)
I will bore people by talking about my script
I'm sure we all know (or are) people who like to talk about themselves -- I'm just not one of them. However, talking about my screenplays helps in so many ways. First of all, acknowledging its existence with someone makes it a little more real and tangible. Second, my passion for my stories seems to come alive the most when I talk about them with other people. It may bore them to tears with my endless rant about the storyline, but at least I'm reminded of why I'm writing the thing. And third, you never know which conversation is going to lead to what. That person in line at the DMV might know a guy who knows a guy, you know.
I will celebrate even my worst screenplay
As long as it's finished, of course. All of the work we do, no matter how badly written or confusing it is, or how pointlessly it drags on, deserves a celebratory glass of wine (or something) once it's through, because finishing a script is most of the battle. I understand having high standards for your work; it's always important to know your strengths and weaknesses in order to grow as a writer, but no matter how good or bad you think your final product is, make sure to congratulate yourself on a job
I will destroy all distractions
Buying a TV was one of the worst decisions I made in 2013. I lived for years without one and the only things I could do when I was bored was make movies, drink, or write stuff. Now, on the days when I've set aside a few hours to work on my script, I find myself plopped on the couch watching shows that I'd arrogantly judge my friends for watching -- I mean -- pawn shops become really, really fascinating when you're trying to procrastinate.
So, I've decided to kill my TV, as well as all other technological distractions -- metaphorically. Taking the batteries out of remotes, turning phones off, and using apps that prohibit internet use is as good as unloading a bunch of rounds into them (less mess and police attention). I use SelfControl, because 1.) I don't have any, and 2.) I don't really care what former child stars are doing now (though female celebrities with full on mustaches and beards is worth taking a look at).
I will be a bad friend
The phrase, "I can't. I'm busy," never comes out of my mouth, especially during the times I've set aside to work on my script. If you're like me, you have a serious fear of missing out, so saying "no" to your friends and family is almost impossible. Or, it could be another distraction you purposefully use to procrastinate. Either way, you've got to be a bad friend sometimes and tell your buddies, "Heck, nope! I'm busy writing my screenplay." You can make it up to them later by buying them mountain bikes to ride through your mansion if you ever strike it rich as a professional screenwriter. (That's a joke.)
I will write something marketable
This is the most unusual resolution on the list. Usually I'm saying, "Be yourself! Write the truth that's in your heart and fly on wings of individuality and valor." But -- it's a new year. It's time to get real. In order for a screenplay to be considered, it has to be marketable. It has to appeal to an audience. Having a great hook, high concept, and/or covering a popular genre can add to a script's marketability.
Now, that doesn't mean homogenizing your script or selling your soul. You can still write the stories you are passionate about and that mean something to you, but take the time to see if you can squeeze a little appeal into them, or at least as much as your creative ethics will allow.
Now it's your turn! Tell us what your New Year's screenwriting resolutions are and how you plan to become a better writer in 2014!
[Typewriter image from Tumblr user welcometoalville]