Writing Your Screenplay Is Like Falling In Love, Part 2
By Jacob Krueger
In the first article in this series, The Bouncing Block, I talked about how writing a script is like falling in love, and the importance of staying in your relationship with your script even then that honeymoon period starts to fade. But there’s another form of The Bouncing Block that can be even more deadly, when the fear of leaving is even stronger than the fear of staying, and we end up trapped in a dead-end relationship with a project that’s only making us miserable. We all know what this feels like, joylessly slaving away on the same project year after year after year without ever seeming to get closer to the end. And we’ve all been in relationships like this as well… trying again, and again and again to make it work, only to find ourselves repeating the same mistakes all over again.
Remember, This Stuff Is Supposed To Be Fun!
When you’re going through a tough time in a relationship, it’s easy to forget that this stuff is supposed to enhance your life and make you happy, not hang like an albatross around your neck. That doesn’t mean you have to run screaming the first time something goes wrong in your relationship with your script. But it does mean that you’re not going to get where you want to go with your screenplay or your relationships by repeating the same miserable patterns all over again. If you’re going to stick it out with your script you’re going to need a new approach, some clear goals, and a workable plan of action, so you can know you’ve got a real chance of succeeding, and be absolutely sure you gave it a real chance before you decide to pull the plug. You’re going to need a support system around you that keeps you going through the rough times, and teaches you the skills you need to succeed as a writer. And you’re going to need to inject your writing with fun characters, inspiring challenges, and a spirit of adventure. Because that’s how you fall in love with a project in the first place.
Here are some exciting ways to inject that feeling of new energy into your relationship with a difficult project.
Build On The Things You Truly Love
The mistake most people make in relationships is not staying too long. It’s staying too long without a plan. Some couples simply close their eyes to each other’s flaws, vaguely hoping that things are going to magically bet better. Others see each other’s flaws too clearly, and overwhelm both themselves and their partners, as they set about to change everything, all at the same time.
Every screenplay, like every relationship, is going to abound in both beauty and flaws. And the first step in falling in love again is to recognize what is beautiful about what you already have. That doesn’t mean that things are perfect, or even good. It means that once upon a time, there was something that drew you to this project and made you fall in love with it. And no matter how bad things have gotten, that something is still there, somewhere under the surface, in every page you’ve written. If you and your screenplay are going to stick it out together, you’ve got to start by discovering what you’re building on. So forget about all the flaws for right now, and start making a list of all the things you like, could like, or once liked about your project. These might be lines of dialogue, images, actions, ideas about where your story might go, or even the questions about it that intrigue you. These are the things you’re building on with your writing—the foundation that makes all this hard emotional work worthwhile. And the reason you’re taking another shot at this relationship in the first place. Once you know that, you’re ready to begin work on your revision.
Learn Some New Skills
So many times, potentially beautiful relationships fall apart for completely avoidable reasons. Rather than going out and learning the skills they need to succeed in a relationship, couples end up repeating the same ineffective mistakes they’ve learned from their own parents, and unwittingly destroying their own relationships before they even have a chance to succeed. And so many writers make the same mistakes, convincing themselves that writing is simply a talent that they either have or lack, and never giving themselves the education or the skills they’d need to bring that talent to the surface. If you were a violinist, you wouldn’t pick up your first violin and suddenly expect to play Carnegie Hall. You’d seek out the very best instructors in the business, and practice and practice and practice until you’d built your craft to professional level. Injecting new life into your relationship with your script begins by doing the work on yourself, getting out of the rabbit hole of your dysfunctional relationship with your script, and opening yourself up to new approaches, and new ideas that can shake things up for both of you.
Take a class with a teacher you trust. Find a professional mentor who can inspire you through the rough times, and point you in the right direction. Try new techniques and new approaches. If you know you’re strong with the cerebral side of writing, find someone who pushes you to explore your instincts. If you’re more of an instinctual artist, find someone who can help you develop your craft. Challenge yourself to do things differently, and you may discover that both you, and your idea, both contain potential that you never even imagined before.
Know What You’re Working On
If you’re going to have a joyful relationship with your script, the work you do on it needs to feel like it’s a celebration of the things you love about it, rather than an attack on of all of its faults and weaknesses. In writing, as in relationships, often our fear that our premise isn’t good enough is actually connected to a fear that we’re not good enough. That we don’t have what it takes to execute our own idea in a way that works. And oftentimes at the beginning of the process, we’re right. Because it’s the writing of and the wrestling with the project itself that teaches us the skills we need to make it successful.
There’s always going to be a gap between the script we imagine in our minds, and the one that actually exists on the page. When we refuse to accept any aspect of that gap, and try to fix everything, all at the same time, we set an impossible goal for ourselves that can only lead to failure. Writing starts to feel like a joyless merry-go-round that never goes anywhere, each word we write only making us more aware of how much we have left to achieve, sapping our confidence in ourselves and in our project. If you’re going to have a successful relationship with your script, before you start to rewrite, you need to know what you’re addressing. You need to know what’s important to you, what you need to focus on, and what you can let slide for now.
Never Start a Revision Without a Goal
Choose one thing to focus on for each revision, and don’t let yourself stop until you’ve done that thing as best you can.
“I’m going to make sure I know what the character wants in each scene and that she’s going for that want with everything she’s got”
“I’m going to focus on the first and last image of each scene and make sure they are working visually and telling the story”
“I’m going to cut anything that isn’t serving the story”
“I’m going to figure out how this character talks”
Once you’ve accomplished that goal, and typed “The End” on that accomplishment, you may find that many of the other “problems” you were so worried about have taken care of themselves. Or you might find that you still have a long way to go. But either way, you’ll know you’ve reached a completion with the project. You stuck it out, made it to the end, and grew your craft and your confidence as a writer.
Now get to ask yourself a question. Is this project still making you happy? Do you want to do another revision? Or is it time to move on to a new relationship, with a new project.