The speed at which you write has little to do with how quickly you type. Speed has a lot to do with how well you organize your creative process.
Writing slowly (or getting so blocked you can’t write at all) happens when you are trying to be creative and critical at the same time.
As writing teacher Natalie Goldberg has said:
Most of the time when we write, we mix up the editor and creator. Imagine your writing hand as the creator and the other hand as the editor. Now bring your two hands together and lock your fingers. This is what happens when we write.
The writing hand wants to write about what she did Saturday night: ‘I drank whiskey straight all night and stared at a man’s back across the bar. He was wearing a red T-shirt. I imagined him to have the face of Harry Belafonte. At three a.m. he finally turned my way and I spit into the ashtray when I saw him. He had the face of a wet mongrel who had lost his teeth.’
The writing hand is three words into writing this first sentence—’I drank whisky…’—when the other hand clenches her fingers tighter and the writing hand can’t budge. The editor says to the creator, ‘Now, that’s not nice, the whiskey and stuff. Don’t let people know that. I have a better idea: ‘Last night, I had a nice cup of warmed milk and then went to bed at nine o’clock.’ Write that. Go ahead. I’ll loosen my grip so you can.” (Chapter 1: Wild Mind)
We talked about the notion of separating creator from editor here, but I wanted to add some commentary about how to divide the creative process into “right-brain” (creative) and “left-brain” (critical) phases.
- Right-brain: brainstorming, outlining, drafting.
- Left-brain: researching, testing, editing.
A Creative Process: Alternating Right-brain And Left-brain
1. Come up with the idea: Are you ready to capture new ideas as you think of them? I keep this notebook with me at (almost) all times.
2. Brainstorm related ideas: When lightning strikes, it’s because there’s a storm (and potential for more lightning). After you get an idea, take a moment to see what else is happening in your mind.
3. Draft short pitch: Encapsulate your idea in a sentence or two. Doing this well can be difficult, so I wrote this e-book to help make it easier.
5. Draft revised short pitch: Now that you’ve done your homework (research), revise your pitch.
6. Test revised pitch: Test your pitch (including your title) on a feedback group that you choose. The last two sections of my e-book explain how to do this.
NOTE: Repeat steps 5 and 6 until you are confident in your short pitch. Also, every time you test your pitch, it should be with a new feedback group (if possible). This way, you’re getting fresh perspectives and are not in danger of insulting anyone by not using their previous suggestions.
7. Outline the project: Your outline at this stage doesn’t need to be for the script, it needs to be for the project. In other words, keep track of all of the ideas, notes, research, etc., in one organized file. This makes it easy for your ideas to be combined, and for you to find ideas when you need them.
8. Edit outline: After a period of incubation, come back to your outline with fresh eyes. Now it’s time to start converting your outline into more of a blueprint for the project.
9. Outline the story: I recommend using some sort of a “beat sheet” as your headers. Here’s more on improving your outline.
10. Edit revised outline: Take another incubation period before coming back to your outline and revising.
11. Draft 3-page treatment of project: Convert your outline to a summary. Use this opportunity to identify story problems.
12. Test treatment on a new feedback group: Your outline isn’t so testable, but your treatment is something that can be shown to a feedback group.
NOTE: Repeat steps 11 and 12 until you are confident in your treatment. Also, every time you test your pitch, it should be with a new feedback group (if possible). This way, you’re getting fresh perspectives and are not in danger of insulting anyone by not using their previous suggestions.
13. Draft project: Hooray! Now it’s time to start writing. Lots of people skip to this step because it’s fun, and then often must endure the heartbreak of finding out that something is deeply flawed in their core concept. But not you! You did your research, tested your pitch, created an outline, adapted it to a summary, and tested the summary. There are no guarantees, but you can feel confident that you’re on the right track.
14. Edit the initial draft: Once your draft is done (phew), and you’ve let it rest, it’s time to come back to it with a critical perspective.
15. Test initial draft on a new feedback group: This is not the draft you send to gatekeepers or decision-makers. This is the draft you give to your spouse, mom, and smartest friends.
16. Submit draft for professional feedback: This is a key step. Your family, friends, even members of your writer’s group, are disincentivized to give you negative feedback. They don’t want to hurt your feelings or damage their relationship with you. What you really need is direct, unvarnished, professional feedback. A company that provides professional reads is Scriptshark.
NOTE: Repeat steps 13 through 16 until your draft is getting positive (“Recommend”) coverage from professional readers. I know that this is a very high standard, but when you meet it, things can start to happen quickly for you.
17. Hang on tight: Congratulations! You have a script that’s ready to take to market. At this point, it can be tempting just to start sending out. I don’t advise that. I recommend being as thoughtful and strategic about selling your work as you were about creating your work. This would include:
- Identifying likely buyers for your project (this is chapter 4 of the e-book, 7 Days To Create A Better Pitch For Your Screenplay.)
- Developing your Answerbank with answers to the trick questions you’ll probably be asked in meetings
- Creating a customized meeting strategy to help you sell your project for the maximum value.
As you can see, the beginning of the process is more “right-brained,” and the final stages of the process are more “left-brained.” This may be why it’s so much easier for creative people to start working on something new, rather than finishing and selling what they are working on now.
A key component in having the stamina to finish your project is how well you incubate along the way. In addition to alternating your creative/critical thought processes, I recommend taking an incubation period between each step if possible. Even if it’s only for an hour or a day, purposefully resting between phases can help you keep your mojo strong.
It may seem counterintuitive, but using a creative process with more steps, and building in more frequent rest periods, will actually help you write faster.
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