Last night I met up with my friends Ruth and Nik for a “hey we haven’t seen each other in a while let’s have a beer” beer. Ruth and I got to discussing our editorial methods (she is also an editor) versus those of others we have worked with. I remarked that I often found it strange that some people can just jump in and cut without having seen all the footage. That method isn’t wrong, of course, it just doesn’t work for me. I need to see all the footage before I can start putting things together. It’s part of the process. While watching everything and thinking about it, I start putting together cuts in my head. Once I’ve finished viewing dailies, I can slap cuts together with great speed because I feel confident that I am making the right choices. If I haven’t seen EVERYTHING, then I am not sure that I am picking the best takes or reactions or whatever bits I’m picking and that both slows me down and introduces doubt into the process. Again, doing it the other way is neither right nor wrong, I just know what works for me. Ruth agreed with my methods, adding that she feels as though the thoroughness involved with watching everything is an important step.
Today, I wandered off to the coffee shop with my notebook to sit and do some writing for the first time in months. Before meeting Ruth and Nik last night, I found myself in a powerful, crazy funk that I couldn’t shake. I pulled my notebook out and hastily scribbled a couple pages of text and instantly felt better for having purged that bit of anxiety. No, I won’t tell you what it says, but do know that it has been a long time since I’ve written anything of substance and that little writer’s high (I just made that up, feel free to use it) reminded me of how it feels to be productive in that way and how I used to feel during the Y.5k.P.50.S.S. when I was trying to crank out my quota—really really good. Really good. It inspired me to spend some time outside the house today reengaging with my lost love.
With the coffee at Milk & Roses making my blood simmer, I cranked out the beginnings of something that came to me this morning in bed before I woke up to find that my phone had reset itself to the factory defaults (fun). Between chunks, my mind wandered and I realized something: the block I often feel with writing come from the fact that I feel as if I need to know the entire story before I start writing. How stupid is that?! The whole act of writing is puzzling out the story from bits and pieces. If you knew the whole thing before you got started, you’re really just transcribing, not writing. Of course, we can argue about that for about a hundred years, but that’s not the point of this post. The point is that I realized I cannot approach my writing the same way I approach my editorial work. As an editor, there is a set amount of footage to use, a set body of choices to be made, but as a writer you can take your work anywhere at all. The closest thing to that as an editor is the editing of documentaries which can pull from a seemingly inexhaustible body of footage, but even there limits exist. There are only so many news broadcasts of a certain even, there is only so much football footage, there are only so many interviews with former presidents. Sure, you can go out and shoot stuff, but at the end of the day you’re left with a set amount of material from which to work and that’s it.
This is not true for the writer’s craft. Want to be in outer space? Of course you do. Boom. Done. The past? No problem. Want to have you character do anything, say anything, be anyone? Go for it.
You’re only limited by what makes sense in the context of your work. Does it make sense that your main character is a reformed alcoholic with a violent streak who pays his bills as a clown at children’s parties? It does? Cool. Does it make sense that the shadowy body working against your anti-hero protagonist is comprised exclusively of seven year old girls all named Agatha? It doesn’t? Ok, change it then. What should you change it to? ANYTHING. Therein lies the challenge.
But before I go further off on my tangent about what writing is and isn’t, let’s refocus on the issue at hand: how I think about the process. Basically, I just need to let go similarly to the way I’ve let go of my need to have the first draft be perfect. The plot needs to evolve. It is an organic thing, not something rigid and artificial. Let it come and the work will benefit from that.
So that’s my big creative breakthrough for the day. It may seem minor, but sometimes looking at a problem from another perspective is all it takes to fix things. And by sometimes, I mean pretty much always. Let’s hope that this bodes well for the Y.12.P.S.M.R.
Let us celebrate my new perspective with music.[audio:http://www.theblacklaser.net/blog/wp-content/audio/breakthru.mp3|artists=Queen|titles=Breakthru]