Ahhhh, Draft 2, shee eeze a beach.
How do you know when you’ve hit a wall with an idea or a script? When is enough enough and a script needs to be let go? When is it time to move on to another idea?
These are all great, yet troubling, questions. And in the midst of these questions is where I sit on my current Draft 2 rewrite. It happens all the time, an idea or script flattens out, loses it zesty magic and becomes stale. If you are like me, I try to plow forward stream rolling ahead gripping onto imaginary deadlines because I should be able to scientifically fix the script if I am to master this craft of screenwriting. But writing is not as simple as that, and the more sternly I push myself, the less likely I am to finish. My procrastination tendencies skyrocket — though my kitchen has never been cleaner!
So when is enough enough? Because I feel this way at some point on all the scripts I have written. How can I tell a little bump in the creative road versus a big neon billboard indicating it’s time to move on?
As I’ve written in a post previously, the art of rewriting at times employs all manner of techniques and redundancies that keep you working on the script, even if it one the surface amounts to pushing around the peas and mashed potatoes on your plate. Reading the script straight through, scene breakdowns, notecards shuffling, and then all these again in reverse order — these types of techniques and exercises help keep us writing when we don’t feel like writing. It’s a way of stay close to the script and slowly working while deflating the pressure that might be mounting about A) not getting the thing done or B) not know what to do next or C) not knowing how to fix the problems your feel are lurking in your self-conscious.
I’m at a point now on my current script, a comedy mind you, where I have simply lost all interest. I want to give up on the beast, but I feel like I should be able to finish it. This is my ego talking. (EGO!) “Every problem has a solution; detach yourself from the content and fix the problems.” But I have no interest. The characters don’t seem as vibrant and funny as they originally appeared when I fantasized about the completed script. My attempts to block out time and sit down working have turned into massive, maddening trips down the click-hole of Facebook and Buzzfeed lists. So is it time to give up?
After finishing the First Draft, I laid the script down and didn’t touch it for over a month (maybe two) while I finished up something else. Upon coming back to the script with a cover-to-cover read, there were some things I liked with the plotting and pacing especially towards the end. But there were a lot of character development that was glaringly obvious. The comedy and jokes of the scripts seems simplistic and of one note. “Okay,” I said to myself, “Not too bad of a start.” And I began doing a scene by scene breakdown. Missing parts of the characters narratives were missing and To Do notecards were made to fill this holes. After the breakdown, I made notecards that I could spread out and mix around. I inserted some of the missing To Do scenes. I re-ordered some of the second act action. I made these changes in my Draft 2 file barely feeling any accomplishment. And now, for the past two weeks, (I gave myself a one month deadline to do complete this draft making the deal that whatever I had at that point would be it and time for another break would be had.) I haven’t been able to write anything. Every time I sit down to work, I find ways to avoid doing just that: balancing my banking accounts, emailing old friends I haven’t talked to eons, and possibly starting a T-Shirt company. Yes, I have started planning and researching an imaginary ironic T-Shirt business instead of putting fingers to keyboard, pen to paper and writing a couple of scenes.
Not to sound Hippie-Dipppie, but sometimes we have to listen ourselves. I know that this procrastination is a bit stronger than my normal procrastination patterns. My body is in revolt against working further on this script. I think this is why when I initially sat down to start working on this draft, I decided that I’d give myself a one month limit. It was an attempt to give myself some freedom to really get crazy and rip apart the whole script without fearing that I’d get so far off the mark I could never come back. But alas, I have exploited any of that freedom. So maybe it’s time to lay it down.
Of course, my Ego won’t let me. But ultimately, writing is supposed to be fun. If sitting down to do your daily writing is a chore, it just becomes harder and harder to get you ass to the desk in the first place. This is the place I am at right now.
I believe I’ve done two things right in this situation. One, I’ve given myself a very definitive (and relatively short) time frame within which to work. At this point, I have two more weeks in which to focus on this project. If the procrastination remains persistent than I’ve only lost two weeks of writing time, but if on the off chance there is a possibility of salvation, trying to write over the next two weeks should find something t grasp on to if it is there at all. Secondly, I have a list of exercises, outlining & analysis tools, and the fail safe of my screenwriting library all to keep me busy in small ways while keeping me close to this project. Any little thing done in the name of rewriting, even if it seems like time wasting, actually is helpful to discovering that one thing that might get me back on track. But again, if it doesn’t after the two weeks then it’ll be time to move on.
So the long and the short of it when asking the question of whether or not it’s time to scrap a project is: GIVE YOURSELF A LITTLE MORE TIME. Literally, a little more time to find something, anything worth working on. And if it’s not there, then back to the bookshelf with this idea. That is the great thing about writing screenplays, and ultimately the Excaliber for the Ego: SCREENPLAYS NEVER GO AWAY. Once you’ve written something, you can always go back to it anytime. A script that can’t be polished now, could be just the right thing five years down the road. You never know. Your time and effort wasn’t wasted if it didn’t get you that big break right now. Let it steep, percolate longer – not to mix metaphors.
And I’ll leave you with this example as proof, Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg wrote SuperBad when they were in high school. It was one of the first things they’d ever written together. It was sophomoric and juvenile… and unsellable! The main characters were named after themselves: Seth & Evan! But years later, after careers were launched look what happened.
So, steep, little friend. Percolate! if need be. And write something that you are excited about until the coffee is ready.