Sunday, January 08, 2006

Less Writing, Better Work

So I'm back from four days of reading, note-taking and critical examination of several of the projects I'm working on this year. It's always a good idea to be super-critical of your own work, and it's a good practice to put work aside for awhile and come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes. That's part of what this time has been about - editing the work, shaking out the flaws and in some cases reinventing the ideas to make them better. My treatments are now awash in red ink (which is a good thing).

Most of what I worked on this past week were treatments. I say that because I know of people who simply write without an outline or treatment and pull out a first draft. Guess what? You can tell. Usually those scripts are meandering pieces of work with no central character nor story - just a bunch of scenes strung together.

In my experience it's always been better to write (then rewrite) an outline or treatment rather than just write a draft. Why?

1) It's easier.
2) It's faster.
3) It can double your output. This is especially true when rewriting.

That's why when I go into a rewrite, I rewrite the outline first. It's a forest for the trees thing. If you look at a treatment or outline you can quickly jot down an idea in the first act and pay it off in the third. I'm also not bogged down with detail, and new ideas can be easily integrated.

With a script it takes longer to flip through the pages, find the scene and make the note. With a script you also tend to NOT want to change things. Treatments and outlines are after all, documents (tools) that are transitory. Mark 'em up! Better to rework something small to take you in the right direction than just meander around writing draft after draft - wasting paper, time and energy. By working on treatments and outlines now before I write the first drafts, I save myself a lot of the heartache of "What do I do next?".

It all comes down to an organizational, disciplined mindset so that you don't get the dreaded "Writer's Block."

(Now lest you think I'm preaching here, let me say this: If I didn't do it this way I wouldn't get anything done. I have way too much A-D-D.)

Working on the treatments and outlines also lessens the pressure of writing a first draft. I know where I'm going with the story. I'm psyched about it because it exists as a whole thing- something I've accomplished. The beats are all there. I just have to follow that rhythm and jazz it up.

Now that I'm back at the secret mountain HQ, I can input all these changes I've made into the computer and reprint these treatments.
Then I can jump in and begin writing the actual script.
Then the next one...
Then the next one...

Next time, I'll tell you how writing an outline and treatment helped get me a job.

Addendum:
In case I wasn't clear (which happens more often than not) let me put it to you this way:
If it doesn't work in a simplified form, it won't work at the script stage. Therefore, if the logline doesn't work, the outline won't work, the treatment won't work and the script won't work. Start simply and build each step of the process properly. It saves time and effort and actually increases your good output.

14 comments:

Jutratest said...

I'm great at writing an outline for myself to follow (I know how good it will be with the jazz added and can write shorthand to myself), but do you have any advice for those writing outlines for producers/network's to read?

MaryAn Batchellor said...

I know writer's block is real, but like baby squirrels, I've never seen it.

Bill Cunningham said...

That will be covered in my next post Jutratest.

Jeff O'Brien said...

Writer's Block - I don't know if it is the inability to do our job so much as an excuse for not wanting to do our job. Ever heard of pilot's block, plumber's block, dog walker's block? If you outline, you can write. it may not be inspired but you can push through. That's why we rewrite... we need to stop giving ourselves the excuse that we CAN'T work despite our best efforts and admit that sometines we don't WANT to work - which is fine.

Bill Cunningham said...

Writer's block is simply, "I don't know what to do next!" taken to the nth degree. By not making decisions you stall and meander and end up going nowhere. Every writer doesn't "want" to work - they want to have worked. The good writers are the ones who realize they "have to work" in order to "have worked." Working the outlines and treatments - building everything from the ground up instead of bass ackwards - is an easier way to maximize the creativity and the productivity. You remember that Hitchcock always lamented the start of shooting because he had already done all the fun, creative and yes, hard work in the script and storyboarding phases of his pictures. The same rule should apply to writing scripts - it should be the frosting instead of the cake. You've already baked it through the logline, outline and treatment phases.

Jeff O'Brien said...

So poor planning and work habits can prevent you from doing your job - agreed. But I still say there is no such thing as a 'writer's block' that hits prepared writers like the flu or something and keeps them from working.

hey, how did Silent Bob like the temporary digs?

Jeff

Aric Blue said...

I once heard what appears(to me) to be what writer's block really is.

I don't remember who it was, but they said if you suddenly get writer's block in the middle of the story/script that you're writing, somewhere in the past 10 pages you have written something that is throwing you off.

He advised to go back and find where you lost your way--this has saved me a couple of times when I got stuck.

John Donald Carlucci said...

Writer's Block is a safe way to avoid work. It is an easy way to lie to yourself and avoid work.There are times I can't solve a story problem and I say I have Writer's Block. However, that is just because I am too lazy to do the heavy lifting at that moment and am avoiding work. The work would get done if my rent was waiting for me to turn in a script.

JDC

Bill Cunningham said...

"Aric" - I don't disagree with your idea of going back to where you think you went wrong, but what if you haven't written anything?

JDC - looking at a first draft is a daunting task. By creating the logline, outline and treatment prior to writing...okay, now I'm repeating myself.

Aric Blue said...

That kind of writer's block I've never had. Frankly, it's only through discipline that I make myself finish a script before going off to one of the other 100 ideas I've written in my little "idea" file.

So I guess I'm kinda lucky I don't have that kind of WB.

deepstructure said...

bill, do you know of any tools that are tailored for outlining? i'm not terribly sure im a writer - but i love to block out the story, to create the structure.

but i keep thinking i'd love to have a good software tool that will enhance my natural ability to move structure around and create links between ideas.

i've downloaded the trial version of sophocles, because it claims to have a development tool, but i haven't yet tried it.

i've noticed even the notecard functionality in final draft is seriously deficient.

Philip Morton said...

This is a very interesting organizational post. But it leaves out the idea of the creative process where part of the creation literally IS the process. I agree with you in the macro sense, your steps are dead on. But after I write a treatment and go to script, entirely new scenes develop, sometimes a new character idea comes - or I collapse a sequence and write a new ending. When I re-write - I have to do it on the script - because the flow, the rhythm of scene length and dialogue - has to be full scene sized or it throws my own sense of the "music" of the writing off. That make any sense? I suppose we all have our different process.

As to writers block: it's real, but different than "i'm stuck, let me avoid work". It's a real condition that's psychological. I've seen it in a dear friend. The literal dread of approaching the work, anxiety generated at the idea of having to finish, or a feeling of being overwhelmed by the size of the work that prevents one from going near it. It's intense, and not pretty, and not really what's being discussed here. Hey, like the new look - when did it change? Where have I been?

Bill Cunningham said...

"But after I write a treatment and go to script, entirely new scenes develop, sometimes a new character idea comes - or I collapse a sequence and write a new ending."

After that, I usually go through again and mark up the script. Then I revise the treatment/outline again and have that as my guide when I launch into a new rewrite.

Great to have you back Philip!

Kelly J. Compeau said...
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