This is a summary of my semester, a manifesto of sorts, that was required to be presented in two classes. I thought I would share and post for my fellow students to read. To place this in context, I asked for a challenge this semester. I got it. I took three writing classes, each in a different discipline (fiction, scriptwriting, playwriting), while teaching an introduction to screenwriting. I figured doing it would all be easy. I was wrong. Even in retrospect, I still think it should have been easy, and I question if I just made it hard on myself. I have no clue.
Yet, what I learned out of it was a new set of creative rules, written in no particular order that I want to share:
“Feels” right doesn’t make it right. This could have very will be written “just because it feels right, doesn’t mean it’s done.” Many times over the semester I felt I had made the writing work, only for it to be challenged/torn apart in critiques. It was discouraging but it made me revisit the writing more than I ever would have willed myself to and forced myself to try it differently. In the end, I believe the writing was formed through many version and perspectives that I would not have visited or explored.
Push past the point of the known. There is a point past when you have exhausted everything that you have written and you have nothing left to give. It will exhaust all that you know and understand and what has worked in the past. You will use as much of your old shit that you can find to complete the assignment. And then you will have nothing else. Hemingway used to call it when you feel “all fucked out.” After you push yourself past this point of the known, you will be running on empty and you will create absolute shit. It will be crazy and dumb and you will hate it all. This is where you want to go because it is the seeds of the new “you.”
Pushing past your point of known hurts. It is supposed to. Great stuff never seems to come easy. It comes from diligence, persistence, sweat, pain, torture, of racking your brain over hot coals in the last wee hours before a thing is, when what you have to give came three days before. It hurts like hell and putting yourself there is akin to masochism. I was told long ago that if writing doesn’t hurt, you are doing it wrong. I think I believe that now. Also, I don’t even know if you want to always be here.
Don’t go it alone. This is tricky because most people suck at being a guide/mentor. You need to have someone patient and caring and they need to be willing to make you angry, hurt, depressed, upset, sad. You need them to push you past what you believe seems right, what seems fine. They can pat you on the head but only to keep you trying. They need to break you down, past resistance, to a point where your defences are down, so that you will question your work. They have to always keep you guessing. The moment you know what they are going to say, you have outgrown them. They have to be quick with response (a few days) and you have to believe in them for some reason, even if you have no clue what to think of them during the process. Finally, they need to know when to step away. This is not a long term thing. You need to learn to trust your instincts again.
Down time. If you get past the point of the known, I think you will be tired and want to rest. Also, I don’t even know if you will always want to be working from this place. It likely is procrastination. It likely is being lazy. I know you need to recharge but I don’t know if it is productive. I think that the belief that you are letting your ideas gestate is bullshit. Yet, I think it is okay. Just don’t be lazy. Don’t be scared (although you have every reason to be) to push yourself past the known. Don’t stay here.
Work in the moment. Nirav Christophe says that the writing process is a conversation and your work is a response: “a question requires an answer, a verbal attack demands a reaction. A sentence awaits its completion.” Here, there is no past and this no place for the way things are done, and no future where plans cannot be put in place. It is about working in the now and responding step by step.
The New Way. Once you push your writing past the known, you are writing in a different space. You are no longer writing on what I call the creative log jams, the old ideas that you can’t make work, or the counterfeit constraints you “believe” must be placed on a piece. Everything is up for grabs, and theft of ideas is an option. Copying another person’s ideas is laziness. Using another person’s ideas is a dialogue. It may seem like a fine line but really there is a gulf of difference between the two (see #3). This is no room for quirkiness or hipsters. There is no place to be false or insincere. At this point, imposed structure goes out the window, and the unique structure of the work will be needed. You can’t plan for this and if you do, it will need to be tossed. If think you know what it is about, you are wrong. If you are trying for a message, you are wrong. You will figure it out when it is done. Nirav Christophe said that this “process is a conversation and [the creation] is a response.” This is your stripped down, honest response to all of everything. Deal with it.
Writing from the new “You”. As I said, after you push yourself past this point of the known, you are running on empty and you will create absolute shit, but this may be the most honest stuff that you never realized you believe in. This is the source of your theme, your true theme, the natural theme that bubbles from deep within yourself. Christoph described theme as “the cross section of your life.” And, if you decide to stay and retreat to the old ways, don’t worry. Your work will never be the same.