For aspiring and veteran screenwriters alike, beginning the process of actually telling your story…of sitting down and actually starting to write scenes…can be incredibly daunting. So much so that plenty of would-be writers never actually sit down and do it. They talk about that great idea for a movie they have. They talk about that great script they’re going to write and sell. But they never actually do it. Writing is a drive that comes to so many of us, but very few of us end up being able to take that drive and actually harness it into the real deal.
Crutches are plentiful and easy to fall on. We blame not having the time to write, not having the money needed to quit our jobs and focus on writing. We use our families as scapegoats. My particular crutch was reading screenwriting manuals. Most screenwriters come across one or two when they’re starting out. Treatises written by people like Syd Field. Blake Snyder. Linda Seger. Robert McKee. John Truby. Chris Vogler. And those are just the branded gurus out there.
There are literally hundreds if not thousands of these how-to guides out there. And I read more than my fair share of them. I’d finish one and go right into another one, determined to learn everything there was to know about quality screenwriting before embarking on writing myself. It took me a long time to realize that I was using these guides as a crutch. As long as there was another screenwriting book I had to read, I didn’t have to sit down and actually try to write. It’s worth reading several of those books, absolutely, and there are insights to be gleaned from all of them. I don’t subscribe to the notion that just because those gurus aren’t actually working screenwriters means that they don’t have a leg to stand on. It’s more than possible to break down and understand the fundamentals of good screenwriting without actually being a screenwriter. Analysis is a different muscle than creativity. I don’t have to be able to cook an Austrian soufflé to know what’s good and what’s missing in one that I eat. But I digress.
The point is, I was using those books as a crutch, and we all have to identify what our crutches are and wean ourselves away from them. Starting out, we all grapple with that fear of sitting at the keyboard (or sitting down with legal pad and pen, for those of us who are still old-fashioned about such things) and realizing that we’ve got nothing. That we aren’t good enough. That we aren’t going to make it. As long as we never actually sit down to try, we can still believe that we’d have the chops if we ever had the chance to really sit down and go for it.
But you can’t win if you don’t play, and here’s the truth: you don’t have to be good the first time out. In fact, you probably won’t be. Your first script will likely be terrible. I know mine was. You may not get good for a year or more. Embrace the doubt and use it to fuel you. Writing is like anything else: you get better the more you do it. You have to be willing to put in the time to get good. You have to be driven to write, to constantly create new stories, new scenes, new characters. And if you find out that you don’t have that drive, that you’d rather spend your free time watching television or hiking or playing competitive Candyland, that’s okay too. Just be honest and don’t torture yourself. Embrace who you are and what you want to do. Life’s too short to do otherwise.
But if you just have to write, then do it. Just sit down and do it. Go ahead and write a piece of crap, that’s okay, crap is better than nothing. Crap gets made all the time. Did anyone see that last Die Hard movie? You can make it better, or you can move on to the next story that will be. Just think of it as an adventure. Whether or not you get anywhere, you can be proud that you sat down and created something. Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses but always stay positive and always keep writing.