Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The rewriting process: Getting some distance

I like the analogy that a finished first draft is like a freshly baked pie.  When you first take it out of the oven, you have to put it on the rack to cool.  If you dig into it right away, it falls apart, the insides come oozing out as you attempt to put a piece on your plate.  And if you try tasting it, your mouth gets burned.

In my experience, gaining a bit of distance from a very first draft is essential.  The degree of objectivity gained with even a few days of "cooling off" helps enormously as you go back to appraise what you've come up with.  During this time find some way to engage yourself in another all-consuming project, perhaps even start working on another new script idea.  Or as Marsha Norman explained to me, "You should just find wonderful things to read between the time you put the play away and the next time you pick it up.  You should fill your mind up with other language, other characters' concerns."  However you do this, the idea is to get some distance, get the project out of your head as much as you possibly can.

During this breather period, it's also critical that the script remains a private experience.  Your script is still incubating.  It's a very delicate phase and this is not yet the time to start sharing your initial draft with anyone.  Getting input from others now could forever destroy that special, intimate relationship you've been nurturing with your work and that you still have a use for.

The point here is that your ability to judge a first draft's merits can only be trusted if you keep it to yourself and allow yourself to gain some objectivity.  And the only way you can achieve that is to put it on your own private rack for awhile and walk out of the kitchen.  I've never encountered an exception to this.

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I'm the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art.  Our last residency just ended, running from January 6-15, and we are currently accepting applications for starting the program with our June 2017 residency running from June 23-July 2.  I'm also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter) a professional script consultant, and the author of The Playwright's Process.

You can follow me on Twitter @eitherorfilms or @mfastagescreen.  I’m also on Facebook at buzzmclaughlinscriptconsulting.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The one essential ingredient for a successful writer...

To wrap up my recent series of posts on writing your first draft, it's worth stating the obvious:  One way or another all successful writers have found a way to sit themselves down on a regular basis and turn out pages day after day, week after week, year after year.  And the operative word here is discipline.
Almost every writer struggles with this to one degree or another.  And the best of them have found a way to fight their way through the ever-present alluring distractions of their daily lives and sit themselves down and focus on the task at hand.  It may be painful, even agonizing, to order your body into your writing space and force your mind and fingers to crank up yet again, but this the only way scripts get written.

You've got to produce actual pages, lots of them.  One at a time.  Steadily, stubbornly.  With determination.  Sometimes with gritted teeth.  And sometimes with great pleasure.  Page after page after page...day after day after day...

Here are some our most successful writers on the subject:

The late Wendy Wasserstein:

I'm innately a very undisciplined writer.  I'll be distracted by anything, basically.  I take phone calls, I speak too many places.  But finally, when I think, "this is too much, I can't do this any more, I must write," I set aside time and say, "Wendy, every day for x amount of hours you'll be in a room writing--no telephone.  You must do this or you're going to go mad."  So that's what happens.  It really takes discipline.

Playwright Terrence McNally:

I have to sit at my desk to work....I have to sit there and look at that computer screen.  And not talk on the phone.  You have to be really grown up...  Once you start on a play, it's an enormous emotional, physical, spiritual commitment.  It's a big thing to write a play.  

And screenwriter and playwright John Patrick Shanley:

At a certain point I had a job, so I had to get up at five o'clock every morning and write for three hours, and then I would go to work...My only rule was that I had to be sitting at that typewriter.  I didn't care if I wrote anything or, if I did what it was.  Just so long as I was sitting at the typewriter, then I was writing.  So I created a space and habit in my life with that.

Somewhere inside you have to find that commitment.  Because without self-discipline, even a towering gift lies dormant.

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I'm the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art.  Our last residency just ended, running from January 6-15, and we are currently accepting applications for starting the program with our June 2017 residency running from June 23-July 2.  I'm also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter) a professional script consultant, and the author of The Playwright's Process.

You can follow me on Twitter @eitherorfilms or @mfastagescreen.  I’m also on Facebook at buzzmclaughlinscriptconsulting
    

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Another tip on tackling that first draft...

Recently I've been sharing a number of posts on various aspects to keep in mind as you write your first draft. Hopefully you're finding them useful.  Here's another tip to keep in mind...

In my experience as a writer and a script consultant working with hundreds of fellow writers, probably the one practice followed by most is that once you feel you're finally ready to plunge into your first draft armed with your pre-draft exploratory work and plot outline, it's important to just push through the whole thing as fast as you can without stopping to fix or make major adjustments along the way.


Just keep going till the final fade out and then take a deep breath and congratulate yourself for finding a way through to the end.  What you have when you arrive at your destination may very well need serious revision, but at least now you'll hopefully have something relatively whole to work with.

Over the years, here's what some top-tier writers have shared with me about this:

Michael Weller:  Half of getting through a first draft is just being too stupid to know how bad it is and to just keep going and going and push through to the end.  Then you go back and say, "Okay, how can I persuade myself that this thing really happened?"

Romulus Linney:  You try to go right through.  You want to write that first draft a fast as you can.  Faulkner called it the tightrope.  On a tightrope you don't want to look down and question yourself, "Is this really a good idea?"  You just walk across.

Marsha Norman:  It's a mistake to go back and revise too much until you see what you have.

Lanford Wilson:  I'm just trying to stack up work--in other words, to keep going...When I get finished...and have it there, that's when I say: "What in the hell is this now ?"...The first draft is a creative process, and I'm the artist or the writer at that point.  When I finish, I become an editor--that's a little schizophrenic--and the editor doesn't have nearly the fun the writer has.

I could go on, but the point is clear.  Not all writers work this way, but the vast majority of the most successful ones do.   

                                          *                    *                   *                   *

I'm the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art.  Our last residency just ended, running from January 6-15, and we are currently accepting applications for starting the program with our June 2017 residency running from June 23-July 2.  I'm also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter) a professional script consultant, and the author of The Playwright's Process.

You can follow me on Twitter @eitherorfilms or @mfastagescreen.  I’m also on Facebook at buzzmclaughlinscriptconsulting


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

How to handle the "bad day"

I know I've posted about this before, but how to deal with a bad writing day is something worth revisiting.  All of us experience these painful first draft sessions when everything comes to a grinding halt and the whole project you've been slaving over suddenly appears ridiculous.  And the negative voice grows to a fever pitch in volume asking "who are you trying to kid?"

Writers who have developed long successful careers have figured out how to handle this, depressing as it may be when it happens.  They've learned that they don't have a choice but to embrace these roadblocks as just part of the process and they've trained themselves to push through the inevitable moments of uncertainty, doubt, and a sense of being totally lost.

For example, Tony Award-winning playwright John Guare once told me when this happens, his solution is to "let it sit...It's not writer's block.  It's just that inside, down deep, you're trying to figure it out.  And it's just saying 'Leave me alone for a bit.  Just go away and do something else, because I'm trying to figure this out.  Come back in a couple of days.'  And I trust that process."

Or as multiple Tony Award -winner Terrence McNally tells us:  You should write with confidence and courage and boldness and be grown up enough when you have a bad day to just go out and get some ice cream and say, in the immortal words of Scarlett O'Hara, 'I'll think about it tomorrow.'"

Academy Award-winning screenwriter and playwright John Patrick Shanley puts it this way:  "You look at it and say, 'I don't know what to do,' and then you tell yourself, 'Well, you haven't known what to do before, and someday you will know what to do.  Put it away and go on with whatever else you're doing.'"

First drafts are tough largely because they don't have that sense of polish and professionalism of successful scripts you're familiar with.  And you have to just accept that your initial pages you're turning out may very well not measure up.  Just keep in mind that every one of these successful scripts was brought into existence in the same way yours is.  And the finished work might be the fifth, tenth, or twentieth  reworking of the very first pass through the story.

And especially with that first draft, bad days come with the territory.

                                           *                    *                   *                   *

I'm the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art.  Our last residency just ended, running from January 6-15, and we are currently accepting applications for starting the program with our June 2017 residency running from June 23-July 2.  I'm also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter) a professional script consultant, and the author of The Playwright's Process.

You can follow me on Twitter @eitherorfilms or @mfastagescreen.  I’m also on Facebook at buzzmclaughlinscriptconsulting

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Giving your characters rope...

As you plunge into your first draft on any project it's imperative that you allow your characters free rein to wander where they want to wander.  To let them surprise you as they find their rhythm and start wanting to go places you haven't charted for them to go in your pre-draft work.  In other words, give them some rope...
This is an essential requirement if you ever hope to write a script with a sense of spontaneity and that comes fully to life.  And it's what keeps the writing of that draft a true adventure.

However, there is one caveat.

To keep your characters from getting hopelessly lost and turning back to you for guidance (which they most certainly will), it's equally imperative that you have a well crafted plot outline worked out beforehand that supplies a basic road map to get you from the starting gate of your story to your final destination.  It can never be written in stone, but it should definitely supply a charted path from beginning to end if and when you need it.  Because this is what frees you up and liberates you--by allowing those wonderful characters you've fallen in love with to take as much rope as they feel they need as they journey through the wilderness of your first draft.

And then when they do get lost, you have the means to pull them back on track.

                                           *                    *                   *                   *

I'm the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art.  Our last residency just ended, running from January 6-15, and we are currently accepting applications for starting the program with our June 2017 residency running from June 23-July 2.  I'm also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter) a professional script consultant, and the author of The Playwright's Process.

You can follow me on Twitter @eitherorfilms or @mfastagescreen.  I’m also on Facebook at buzzmclaughlinscriptconsulting

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

How to protect your artistic vision...

As you face the challenge of writing your first draft there is one cardinal rule you should always keep in mind.  It's actually one of the simplest rules to follow, but often one of the hardest to put into practice.  It has to do with the writer's urge to share his or her work, to communicate to others what you are creating on the page.

In a nutshell, the rule is to resist the powerful temptation to invite other people to take a look at your first draft pages and show them the progress you're making--to get reinforcement, encouragement, and positive response in order to garner the emotional fuel you need to continue the often arduous task of trudging through the writing of that initial draft.

As you work through that first scripting of your story from beginning to end it's absolutely essential that you fight against this urge to share your pages as they're being produced because doing so is the one sure-fire way to lose control of your own artistic voice and vision, at least how it relates to the tale you're struggling to tell.
Without fail, friends and trusted colleagues are always eager to step forward to take a look as your pages materialize.  They like you, they want to help you, to encourage you, to give you positive feedback, to make you feel good about all that effort you're putting into your project.  And along the way, they love to point out what they really liked, what surprised them, where it took them as your story progressed, what it reminded them of as they consumed your pages--all in an effort to make you feel wonderful about yourself as a writer and storyteller.

The problem is, if you do succumb to this temptation to share your work while it's being given birth in your first draft, you destroy entirely your own private artistic experience with your material.  It is, instead, forever contaminated with the well-meaning input of those friends who talked you into letting them see your pages when you were in a moment of weakness and fear that what you were producing was terrible.  You won't be able to get their feedback out of your head.  Their attempts to encourage you, to bolster your attitude towards what's on those early pages, to "help" you write something you can be completely proud of are all well-meaning efforts and are delivered with love.  After all, these folks are your friends and want nothing more than for you to have amazing success as a writer.

What they don't understand is that the last thing you need as you struggle through your first draft is their input.  This is your story and your telling of it.  You deserve to have it stay a private and locked experience between you and the characters who populate your tale as long as possible and certainly through the writing of a completed draft and a first rewrite.  There comes a time soon enough that others can level their thoughts on what you've created, but you owe it to yourself to keep it to yourself at least through that first pass and until after you've had a chance to privately take a look at what you've come up with.

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I'm the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art.  Our last residency just ended, running from January 6-15, and we are currently accepting applications for starting the program with our June 2017 residency running from June 23-July 2.  I'm also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter) a professional script consultant, and the author of The Playwright's Process.

You can follow me on Twitter @eitherorfilms or @mfastagescreen.  I’m also on Facebook at buzzmclaughlinscriptconsulting

 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

At the first draft starting gate: the takeoff

There are two ways you can position yourself to begin the actual writing of your first draft.


One is to review all your pre-draft exploratory work one more time--any character work, backstory timelines, plot outlining and anything else you've explored regarding your developing story--and then, leaving all this material handy for reference, simply plunge in with page one and see where it leads knowing you can refer to any or all of this developmental material at any time.

The other approach is to put all your prep work away and don't review it at all, the theory being that you've done the pre-draft work and thinking, so it's up there in your head somewhere for guidance if and when you get stuck in the actual writing of your draft.  The thinking here is that this allows your characters more freedom to do and say what they want in the moment and reduces the temptation to force them into a predetermined mold.

Of course, there's not one best way to get started.  You simply have to discover a procedure that you feel comfortable with, that puts you at ease.  If all your prep work makes you nervous, get it off the table and file it away.  If it gives you a sense of security at the starting gate, keep it there in front of you.  Just always remember that first drafts often have a way of taking on a life of their own fairly quickly and you should give yourself permission to explore where your characters might take you regardless of any predetermined route you've worked out for them.

Ultimately, no one but you really cares how you get started with the actual writing of your script. People are only interested in how good the finished product is.  As the late, great playwright Romulus Linney told me about getting started with his first drafts:  "I have mulled it over and thought about it this way and that way, and there is always a moment when you say, 'Okay, for better or worse, here we go.'"

                                 *                    *                   *                   *

I'm the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art.  Our last residency just ended, running from January 6-15, and we are currently accepting applications for starting the program with our June 2017 residency running from June 23-July 2.  I'm also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter) a professional script consultant, and the author of The Playwright's Process.

You can follow me on Twitter @eitherorfilms or @mfastagescreen.  I’m also on Facebook at buzzmclaughlinscriptconsulting