Saturday, June 12, 2010

Garbage Happens

OKAY, YOU'RE STUCK. You have a scene ahead of you and you have no idea how to write it. You know your dramatic elements and what needs to be accomplished to advance the story and characters, but you keep starting over because everything you write turns to garbage.

Seriously. It's garbage.

Don't give up hope. This doesn't sound like writers block, exactly. It's more like "scene block." Keep breathing. You'll get through this by simply accepting the following: you have permission to write garbage.

Norman Mailer once said that as he got older, his writing became more difficult because he was no longer just some writer working on his next book - he was Norman Mailer working on his next book. Pride can paralyze all creative thought.

But, unless you actually are the late Norman Mailer, you have nothing to worry about. Everyone else in the world writes badly, sometimes. Now that we have that out of the way, let's talk more seriously about garbage.

Allowing yourself to write garbage is liberating. When confronted with "scene block," you need to write the worst version of your scene that you can possibly think of and write it as fast as you can.

"Huh?" I can already see your heads turning in that sideways quizzical way, the way my dog's does when he's thoroughly confused. Stay with me a sec ...

You think too much. You need to stop it. You already worked your outline and know enough about your character histories to write this. You're thinking way too much from your left brain. You want this scene to "make sense." But life doesn't make sense sometimes, and neither does writing.

Just do what it takes to get it on the page.

When you give yourself permission to write something awful, you free yourself. Sometimes, you really do write an embarrassingly good example of bad writing. Other times, the expectations and demands that you put on yourself are the problem. Releasing expectations can access interesting things that you didn't know you had inside you. But in either case, the scene is written - and you have given yourself permission to throw it away later.

The other critical thing that writing a "garbage scene" does for you is that it allows you to move forward in your script. As you continue through your story, you grow to understand your characters even more fully. Everything sharpens.

When you finish your draft, review your script, paying special attention to your "garbage" scenes. Are they as bad as you thought they were? Have you learned things that now make these scenes easier to write? You might find that you have communicated the content of these scenes in other ways and don't need these scenes at all.

Screenwriters, like sharks, must keep moving forward or their story will drown.

Keep swimming and have a great writing day!

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