The RoughWriter

There it is. The blank page. Or screen. It’s perfect, pristine, shimmering with possibilities. You want the words you impart on this perfect canvas to be worthy. To flow with lyrical, righteous, and passionate… stuff. No, scratch that, not ‘stuff’ – it must be classic Oscar, Emmy, Tony award winning scriptness. Wait. What? ‘Scriptness?’ Ok, perfect prose, poignantly profound… stop! Scratch that, too. And now it’s ruined. The blank page, which was once so full of hope, is now ruined. Crumple paper, or delete, delete, delete. Time for coffee.

Such pressure, the blank page. Why is it so hard to allow for imperfection? It’s not called a rough draft because it’s perfect. So go ahead and be a RoughWriter!

In his book,”Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting” Syd Field put it very bluntly, “Let yourself write sh*tty pages, with stilted, direct, dumb, and obvious dialogue. Don’t worry about it. Just keep writing. Dialogue can always be cleaned up during the rewrite. ‘Writing is rewriting’ is the ancient adage.”

This advice applies to ALL writers, not just screenwriters. It is the only way to get through a novel, a play, short story, or novella. I know, because I’ve written at least one of each in that prior list, and Syd Field’s advice got me through each project.

Currently, I am a Mentor for a group of very talented MFA screenwriters. In the first semester, each student selected the topic of their screenplays, wrote beat sheets, and narrative outlines. At this point, two writers decided they no longer wanted to write the stories they’d chosen, and switched – went through the earlier process again and then began writing script pages. Then a third writer decided her pages were awful, her story was stupid and it was boring. One of the first two writers, worried that well, maybe the new idea wasn’t good either.

To clarify, none of the stories were boring. What I was hearing from these students was doubt, resistance… you know, fear of failure. They had each done great work. But the Inner Critic had moved to the foreground and was doing its best to get them to give up.

What to do? It was time for the talk, as follows: