What does screenwriting look like? Waking up at 6am, pouring a cup of coffee -- black, sitting down at a desk with last night's Chinese take out strewn about, turning on your computer, going over notes, and finally, typing away for hours and hours until you remember that humans need food and sleep to survive. Now, raise your hand if that's what screenwriting looks like in your own life. If you didn't raise yours, you wouldn't be the only one. In fact, screenwriter Mike White (Nacho Libre, School of Rock, Orange County) details what the whole process entails for him, which actually includes a whole lot of not writing a screenplay.
Mike White's approach to screenwriting is one that may look a lot like relaxing, watching TV, and procrastinating, and in a way, it kind of is -- but this is good. "Whoa! Whoa! Whoa, V! Are you telling me that procrastination is good? That sounds counterproductive!" Well, I am, and it's not -- if done intentionally. You see, what you might consider "procrastination" is actually just a beautiful part of the process of birthing a screenplay.
White talks about different stages you go through when crafting your script, which he compares to the different stages of childbirth. First there's the "impregnation" stage, where you're filling your brain (ovum) with lots of information (sperm cells). This could mean watching a lot of TV and movies, reading books, taking a walk, whatever. If one of those cells wiggles its way through your "that's such a dumb idea" filter (germinal epithelium), then the "gestational" stage begins, and those ideas begin to grow inside your head (womb). You start staring off into space, pondering these ideas (some even report having a "glow" about them) until you go full-bore and start laboring through the writing process until you've birthed a beautiful baby screenplay (which still requires a lot of care and correction until it becomes a final draft).
For a long time I felt as though I wasn't working if I wasn't actually adding words to my script. When I'd watch a movie or TV show for fun, I felt as though I wasn't working. Every time I'd hang out with friends, talk to a stranger outside of a club, or traipse around on the interwebs, same thing. However, I was, as White would say, "impregnating my brain" with ideas.
Everybody goes about writing a story differently. Some intentionally seek out ideas, researching them it at length until they dive head first into writing. Others, like White, take a more joyfully lackadaisical approach (this image of a determined spear fisherman drawing back to nab the fish he's had his eye on all morning, and a toe fishing Huckleberry Finn, reclining against a shady tree with his straw hat pulled over his eyes came to mind). Whichever approach you take, it's definitely beneficial to understand that your everyday life, with all of the people you see, places you go, and trivial experiences you -- experience (however mundane you may think they are), can provide you with the inspiration you're looking for as long as you're keeping your eyes open.