I’ve been working on my living room floor for three days as I redraft a feature script that I’ve been working on for almost a year now. I got to the point where I felt really stuck, like I couldn’t make it work, so I’m back to the outline and the boarding. Cutting the old script apart and finding new ways to order scenes and tie things together. There are moments where a new scene will pop into my head and others where I sit and stare at a bunch of white paper for 15 minutes, hoping something will come if I just stop thinking too hard.
Sitting down to write a blog post for five minutes a day is actually pretty fun for me. I’m just telling you what I think of things or what’s going on my life or writing straight out of life experience. It’s a specific kind of storytelling form that comes naturally…most of the time. But screenwriting is an entirely different beast. There’s a beauty and precision to it that’s different than a personal essay…or a novel or a play…there are moments and turns that have to happen on certain pages to keep an audience engaged.
If you’ve ever watched a movie that you didn’t like but couldn’t quite put your finger on why, it’s possible that the problem was in the structure; that the writer missed something that is intrinsic to our understanding of story.
The hero’s journey of a screenplay is one of the oldest forms of story structure. It’s part of all the myths. It’s often relatable to our own personal journeys. Just like a main character in a movie, problems arise in our own life that send us on journeys of learning how to navigate the world. We discover who our friends are and who are our enemies, even if those friends and enemies are a part of ourselves. So as I sit here with my main character struggling with her to find her journey, I just thought I’d take a break and say…this is hard. And my apartment is a mess. And I’m thankful right now that I don’t have a roommate so I don’t have to pick three days of work up off the floor.
When you go to see a movie, know that it is a gift that is years in the making. It’s a collaborative effort, like raising a baby or building a home. The plans were probably birthed by a conversation in a coffee shop or an office or a walk on the beach…or from an article that you read today and that a writer read too. The work probably started on someone’s desk or their wall or their living room floor. Right now, something that you will see years from now is being birthed in the mind of the person who is trying to get their ideas to flow.
Who knows if what’s on my living room floor will ever end up on a movie screen. It’s definitely not going to without a lot of help from my friends. I’m learning that part of being a creative person is engaging in the process even when it feels messy and when I want to quit. So, if you’re a creative person and you’re writing a manuscript or painting a still life or carving a bird or making a beautiful set of earrings, keep at it. Don’t stop. (I’m telling myself this as much as I’m telling anyone reading this.) It may seem messy now but eventually it will come together. (And if it doesn’t, eventually it might tell you that it’s okay to move on to the next thing too.)
(This post is a part of a series called 40 Before 40. 40 thoughts on the 40 days before I turn 40 years old. If you have a post suggestion, send it on. Creativity is collaborative and I’ll take any writing prompts you want to send my way.)