April projects bring writing lessons

So, it’s been a while since my last post. I’d like to say it was because I was writing so much, but that would be a lie. Most of my time has been spent reading vegan websites and on weight loss forums. The good news is that I have been cooking a lot of plant-based, whole foods and have lost about 5 pounds. The bad news is that I didn’t write the 30k I was supposed to this month. But I’m okay with that, because I did learn a lot in the past few days.

First things first, though: I wrote 4,604 words yesterday, which translates to about 20 screenplay pages. I won Script Frenzy with an hour and a half to spare, which was exciting. I still have 7 scenes left to write (including the super long climax scene), but I’m hoping to finish that either today or tomorrow.

It’s funny – for the past year or so I’ve thought of myself more as a pantser than a plotter. Sure, I spend most of my time planning stories, and I usually have at least a basic outline when I start writing, but I generally toss that outline fairly soon into the writing process and just write what comes to me. I always have to start out with a basic overview of what will happen, but if I get too specific in the outline, I either don’t finish the story or completely ignore the outline.

But I realized something yesterday, after I spent a fair amount of time staring out the window and writing a new outline for the end of Degeneration: I wrote more of my screenplay in one go after writing that outline than I had the rest of the month, and I like what I wrote yesterday more than I like the rest of the script. I’m realizing that it’s not the outlines that were hindering me before – it was the fact that those outlines were horrible.

Take my first outline of Degeneration – I have at least one bullet point for each scene, but there are no real specifics. I thought this would help me write, since I would have more freedom, but I just ended up spending a ton of time staring blankly at my screen, trying to figure out what to do next, how to get from one bullet point to the next. It would be like trying to drive from Georgia to New York without a map – or, rather, with a map of Georgia and a map of New York. Sure, I might know where I want to be at the end, but if I don’t know how to get there, can I really be surprised when I end up way over in Kansas? It’s not that maps aren’t helpful; it’s just that I didn’t have the right maps.

What else happens when I don’t have the right maps? Well, I stall for time. I hate being lost, so I’m not going to speed off at 70 mph in what could very well be the wrong direction. So, instead, I’ll spend a lot of time right where I am. I’ll take a walk in the park. I’ll visit each store in town, examining every single knickknack in the place, prolonging the moment when I’ll have to leave and actually make a decision. That’s why I was at page 45, and they had only just arrived at her grandparents’ house, even though that scene was supposed to occur between pages 20 and 25. That’s why, when I was writing Learning to Lie, it took me almost 20,000 words before something interesting happened. I didn’t know where I was going, so I just rambled for a while, hoping that by the time I stopped rambling I would know where I was supposed to be going next.

That’s not to say that outlining is the only way to write. There are plenty of people who are gifted at just jumping in the car and knowing instinctively where to go. There are also others who set out with no destination and just sort of drive around for a while, enjoying the ride. I admire these people, but I am not one of them. I need an outline, especially when it comes to the second draft.  That was my biggest mistake with Learning to Lie: I wrote draft 1 with only a basic plot idea, and I learned a lot from it, but I didn’t then stop and take the time to plan the whole series. I just planned the first one, and now I’m going to have to rewrite a large part of that one once I finally figure out where it’s going long-term.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a screenplay to finish. 🙂

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Posted on May 1, 2012, in Degeneration, Learning to Lie, outlining, Screnzy, Writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. This is exactly where I am at after finishing Script Frenzy. Congrats to a fellow winner! Right now I’m trying to get into my next script with only a bare outline. And yes, the trees in the wind outside my window look more interesting. Now I’m spending the time writing a detailed outline. It worked for me before, so I will stick to what I know. Best of luck to you!

    • Thanks! Congrats to you, too, and good luck with your project! I have a feeling I’m going to be working on outlines quite a bit this month, as soon as I finish with my current project. 🙂

  2. Congrats on Script Frenzy!

    And it takes courage to admit that maybe you need to try something else. Good on you for being willing to try it, for being self aware enough to analyze what isn’t working vs what is. I look forward to hearing how that goes.

    • Thanks! I’ve been relying on excuses for too long, trying to pretend that just because something worked for me once it will work again. I’ve failed to meet my monthly goals 3 out of 4 months so far. Enough is enough. 🙂

      • I think every project is a little different to some extent. Believe me, I’m having to do a few minor changes to my process as I’m building my new project. You’ve done the hard part now, though, so I have full faith that you’ll get there and figure out what you need to do in order to accomplish those goals.

      • Thanks. I met my first goal and finished my screenplay. I think my problem before was the I was trying to force myself to finish stories I wrote in November and no longer cared about. Once I start writing novels I care about, I have a feeling it’ll be a lot easier to finish another one.

  3. Oh, man, right down to the wire with ScriptFrenzy! Congrats on finishing.

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