Let’s talk about those masterpieces shoved in your virtual drawers. The unmentionables. Are you finished with them yet? Wouldn’t you much prefer to tell me about the new idea you’re starting, or tell me about your writer’s block? Maybe I shouldn’t encourage you. I have a rule that I won’t allow myself to start the new one, until I have finished at least one of my works-in-progress. This works well for me. I get a sense of achievement from increasing my portfolio by one, although it’s not to say my editor won’t request changes later.
Writing is Rewriting
One of the laws of screenwriting is that when your screenplay takes on a life of its own, you will get rewritten, so you may as well draw a line under your vision, once you can truthfully say you’ve expressed all you want to say. Before dealing with that trauma however, regardless of whether you are unpublished, self-publishing or submitting your manuscript to others, you have to cross the psychological finish line and let your baby out into the world.
I Can’t Do This
To get from raw concept or idea-fragment to a completed novel or screenplay is a huge undertaking. It always amazes me that so many writers out there willingly put themselves through it. A day job has to be easier.
The common solution is to break the journey. For screenwriters, the accepted wisdom is to discover and define your characters, find your theme, to do research and build your world. Before you start writing scenes, you should outline. Writers, being an oddly perverse and cantankerous lot, cannot be relied on to follow the process in that order, however, if you can knuckle down to the discipline of outlining, you stand a better chance of making the finish line.
There are many resources out there to help you. Two that work for me are Zero Draft Thirty, hosted by screenwriter Scott Myers, to get a zero draft down in 30 days, and NaNoWriMo for novelists to get a 50,000-word draft down in 30 days.
Finished or Done?
You’ve motored along and you feel pretty good about it all, until you reach the moment when you have to decide. Fine and dandy, but are you finished or are you done?
Jacob Krueger published an excellent article/podcast on this. In a nutshell, he makes an important distinction between done and finished. In terms of done, he argues for setting your writing goal before you start your project. Done is to do with achieving that goal and also of meeting externally imposed deadlines, such as writing for a production company.
In terms of finished, Jake explains how writing your script is a journey for yourself as writer, and for the audience. He advises your script should move you in some way and move your audience. He also discusses abandonment.
Throwing In The Towel
The prospect of giving up is the greatest source of writer angst in my view. Abandonment is driven by emotion rather than hard-nosed appraisal of what you have written to that point of jacking it in, thinking your work is rubbish. You get to the mid-point and you think you’ve gone off-track. Your execution is so far off what you wanted to say that it’s not working, so you ditch it altogether. Is there a writer on the planet who hasn’t gone through this?
Jake explains how every one of us has to wrestle with such doubts, and he repeats the importance of setting your goal to build a further defence against abandonment. To strive to be original, we have to venture into uncharted territory. There are no signposts to tell us we’re on track, and there’s nobody to hold our hands. We have to work it out for ourselves, and it’s scary.
Last Call For…
The late, great and irreplaceable Douglas Adams said, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” I’m not recommending this as a strategy. Book publishers may possibly have some leeway with deadlines, but not if your book is already slotted into their production schedule, filmmaking less so if production facilities, crew and talent are already committed.
A deadline is actually a stack of dominoes; one falls and they all fall. Anyway, let’s get back to you, the writer struggling to break the back of the concept you wish you’d never started. What can you do to improve your track record as a Finisher?
Finish The Darned Thing
Here are some clues that work for me:
I can’t stand to read this one more time. Your editor(s) may say otherwise. Plurals? Yes, you have structural editing, copy-editing, line editing and proofreading, so you’re going to have to grin and bear it a number of times, even if you are working with other editors.
It says what I want it to say. My artist sister has a more robust defence. “It is what it is,” she says, “and I’m not changing it for you.” This point of view that may not help a writer advance his career. On the other hand, as an artist too, you must defend your concept. If you don’t have conviction in your own work, who else will?
Ask yourself honestly, and don’t rush the consideration, Have I achieved what I wanted with this piece of work? That’s not so say you won’t make changes on request, but you should at least fight your corner.
Hand on heart, I have gone through this at a micro-level and there is nothing I want to change or add. You’re the writer. Ultimately only you can know the truth of your piece and say with confidence, “It’s finished!”
Plus One Your Portfolio
So, writers, what’s your goal? A word count? A deadline? A creative objective? Pick one, and set your mind to finish the darned thing. Get it done. Tick the box. Cross it off the list. You’ll feel so much better when you can put it behind you and add it to your portfolio.
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