Inspiration is for Amateurs (On Writing)

I had a friend staying with me for a few days, and as much fun as it was to visit, it kicked me out of my writing routine. I’m working on a brand new pilot and I set a deadline of mid-February for a first draft.

Starting to write, especially something new, can be a big deal. At least for me. Because I know that when I start the journey, and I start banging out those pages, I’m going to be living and dying with the thing until it’s out and on paper. What kind of day I’ve had (and mood I’m in) depends on how much I wrote and how good I’m feeling about it. For better or worse, I have my self-worth tied up in whatever I wrote that day.

So it can be tempting to not start, not write anything at all, and wait for inspiration to strike.

But inspiration is for amateurs. At least according to Chuck Close:

“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.”

(Emphasis mine.)

He’s absolutely right. It’s easy to get into a headspace that everything I write has to be perfect, and that if I force it it’ll be shit. But that’s paralyzing. It’s better to work it out by doing the work. By living through the process part of the writing process.

I didn’t feel like writing anything today. But I did. Is it any good? I’m honestly not sure yet. I liked it when it was in my head, but now that it’s real and taking shape, it’s difficult to tell. I used to revise as I went, but these days I’m trying the “vomit draft” approach, where you get everything out without looking back on what you’ve done and fixing it later. I’m finding there are pros and cons to the vomit draft.

The most obvious pro is that you get a full draft down on paper. Even if it’s not great, it’s out of you, and now you have something to mold and shape into something great.

The biggest con, for me, is that all of the necessary revisions can be daunting. When I first did a vomit draft on my last pilot, reading through it was dispiriting, because of the many little nips and tucks I would have caught if I’d been revising as I was going were still there. Those little things add up, and my script was completely covered in red ink. (Yes, I make my initial notes on a draft by hand and in red pen, just like in English class.) Revising from that point seemed overwhelming. I just wanted to start over with a blank piece of paper. At that point, I had a realization: This is why people write second drafts.

Sounds stupid, but I’d never really written full second drafts from page one before. I’d edited scenes, move things around, etc, but it was all work on what was basically still my initial draft.

I’ve recently switched from Final Draft to software called WriterDuet as screenwriting app of choice. Initially conceived as a collaboration tool for screenwriters (hence the name), WriterDuet is pretty great for solo work as well. The feature that won me over, however, was the ability to “switch off” or “isolate” scenes within a script. It seems a small thing, but being able to single out one scene or exclude a scene that wasn’t working or didn’t fit yet made a huge psychological difference to me. It helps break a script down into manageable chunks.

(Even more impressive is that WriterDuet is the product of a single developer working all on his own. I’ll leave it to him to explain the advantages of WriterDuet over Final Draft.)

Software aside, the point is, I wrote today. And I’m going to write tomorrow. I’ve set a daily page count to have a draft by my goal date.

I’m getting to work.