It took my years to finish my first feature-length screenplay. I’d done a zillion kinds of writing in the meantime, including TV show development, co-authoring a sitcom spec, and co-authoring a book, but finishing my first solo feature script took an unprecedented level of integrity and determination.
Then I got caught up in the agony of rewrites. Ah, rewrites. (Sigh.)
What I discovered out of finishing that screenplay was a process that works for me. Outline. Refine the outline. When I get blocked, create a beat board. Enter the outline, in its entirety, into Final Draft. And then write at least one scene a day, paying no attention to the order, and just writing what seemed like a good scene to write at that particular moment.
I was shocked to discover that scenes that seemed so hard to write last week, were suddenly easy to write today. I gave up the perfectionism of it, and just got it on paper. Can always rewrite later. (Ah, rewrites. Sigh.) But I was even able to keep this process going on a vacation, disappearing into my room for an hour when I really wanted to be in the living room partying with all my friends, or sleeping or jacuzziing away the exhaustion from the ski slope.
I also discovered my brand. I am, at heart, an editor. An editor with a good eye for story and a wicked sense of dialogue, but an editor nonetheless, which means that as a screenwriter, what I want to focus on is adaptations. No coming up with anything on my own, just rewriting other people’s stuff. (Ah, rewrites. Sigh.) And after all, that’s one of the best ways to get paid in Hollywood. It also has the added benefit of that sense of accountability that comes from someone else waiting for my work to be done. Notice that all the things I was able to finish for those first few years involved other people. (And rewriting their stuff. Ah, rewrites. Sigh.)
As I write this, I’m at the tail end of Dances with Fat (working title), the true story of plus-sized dancer Ragen Chastain‘s quest to win her first national dance championship. Although it’s not quite the kind of source material that I first envisioned when I said I wanted to write adaptations, I do have the tremendous advantage of a vast canon of actual events to draw on. And, as it turns out, the truth is often much stranger than fiction. Since I’m doing this as part of a class, I wasn’t able to perfectly follow the process that I so brilliantly devised for Postville. But the way the class is designed, I was able to get pretty close.
So now I’ve got 5 scenes left to write. And then I get to spend the next couple of months on rewrites.