#2 No Smoking, No Boozing? (On Writing)

See reddit user beardsayswhat’s original list of “unpopular” screenwriting opinions here.

2. You shouldn’t smoke while you write. You shouldn’t drink while you write. You shouldn’t do anything while you write that you wouldn’t do at your job, because writing IS a job.

I wasn’t going to give this one its own entry, but I’ve been thinking a lot about it and I think it deserves one.

There’s a cliche image of writers as hard drinkers. As alcoholics, even. Personally, I never write while under the influence of anything cause it almost never produces anything usable. (Or legible.)

In my experience, a drink or two at the end of a writing session can definitely grease some gears. The whole point of alcohol—to loosen up, decrease inhibitions—can be helpful for brainstorming or making connections you may not have made before. It can help you to see the forest from the trees. At least it does for me. In my case, it usually quiets the part of my brain that thinks what I’m writing is total shit. Which, you know, is a nice feeling to have sometimes.

Same with smoking. (I assume he means cigarettes.) When I was a regular smoker, a cigarette in the midst of a writing session was how I would pace and reward myself. Countless times I’d end up figuring out what I was going to write next while out for a smoke. I can’t say for certain that it was the cigarette itself that did the trick—but taking some time out to reflect without the taunts of the blinking cursor in your face does have value. I can’t deny that I had many, many good ideas while I was out for a cig. Smoking, as an ex-professor of mine described it, is the perfect “nothing-something” to distract you for a bit. And that can allow for great ideas strike.

And therein lies the misconception. Alcohol (or other substances) can be useful for inspiration, but not necessarily good for translating your inspiration into a coherent work. Writing—the actual act of writing—is a sober activity. Even Hemingway, a notorious drinker, only wrote while sober. As he once told a reporter:

“Jeezus Christ! Have you ever heard of anyone who drank while he worked? You’re thinking of Faulkner. He does sometimes—and I can tell right in the middle of a page when he’s had his first one.”

The main takeaway here is that writing is a job and should be treated as such. But I’m not you, and at the end of the day, and you should avail yourself of whatever methods or substances that help you get the work done. But place the emphasis on work and extra emphasis on done.

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#1: Write Rad Shit (On Writing)

See reddit user beardsayswhat’s original list of “unpopular” screenwriting opinions here.

1. Most amateur screenwriters write movies they wouldn’t see. I read a lot of loglines that are poorly written, but even if they were snappy and sharp, they’re for what could be generously described as character dramas and more accurately as tedious faux-deep nonsense. Write rad shit. Write things people want to see.

If there was ever a point where I would have bristled at advice like this, I can’t remember it now. This is just common sense, and frankly, I don’t understand why this would be an unpopular opinion. Maybe some read that and think he’s advocating becoming a sell-out, or to stick to churning out formulaic, commercial fare. But what he’s really saying is don’t be boring. Not to never write something experimental, or that explores real issues, or that says something important. Do any or all of those things. Just don’t be boring while you do it.

As for bit where he seems to shit on character dramas, I don’t think he means you can never write a character drama, or that your high-concept script shouldn’t include strong character drama. Remember, this is advice for non-established screenwriters. Writers who are trying to get noticed. A screenplay about a lovelorn white guy who finds new meaning in life when he meets his manic pixie dream girl isn’t going to raise any eyebrows. (I admit that The Lionshare has surface similarities to some of those cliches, but I think it successfully tells a story with deeper meaning. Plus I made that movie seven years ago, sue me.)

Don’t be boring. That’s a great motto. You know how to tell if you’re writing something boring? If you are bored while you’re writing it. Even if you think you’re writing something with limited appeal, if you have enthusiasm for the material, that enthusiasm will come through. Enthusiasm is infectious. Don’t be boring.

This also doesn’t mean you have to write something that appeals to everybody. If it excites you, there are others out there who will feel the same.

In my last entry I gushed over meeting Ronald D. Moore. You know one of the most important things I learned from him? Not to treat your characters, or your stories, like porcelain dolls. There’s no reason to play it safe when you’re writing a story. You can, and should, take risks. If what you’re writing feels perfunctory, take a step back and re-evaluate. What’s the craziest thing that could happen in your story? How would it change things? What if you, gulp, went ahead and did it?

Go ahead. Kill that character. Jump a year ahead in time. Have the will they/won’t they relationship be consummated between seasons when no one is looking. How did that change things?

Maybe you decide it’s not right. That’s fine. It’s probably not a good idea to shock for shock’s sake. Whatever you do should work within context and should enhance the story you’re trying to tell. But, at the very least, this is a good exercise to challenge yourself and make sure what you’re writing is the best, and most interesting, that it can be.

In short, write rad shit.

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