Ignore all those people who recommend writing five pages a day. If you follow their advice you will not have a hundred and fifty pages in a month or eighteen hundred (plus) pages in a year.
If you get through that first day, at the end of one year you will have:
Because the daily human condition varies more than the most extreme weather anywhere in the world. Even a highly-motivated Tiger Mom-raised super-achiever will struggle to come up with five fresh pages every single day for an entire year.
This does not mean that all hope is lost. Far from it actually. Because for the weeks and months of inspiration-free roaming in the wilderness that we endure there are days when we are just bursting with ideas.
Here is what has worked for me as a writer.
When a thought, or an idea approaches me, I examine it. Is it a fully-formed cute little puppy, playful and lively? Or is it a fearsome dragon that will consume me with a single cough of flame? Can I see this beast in its entirety? Or am I just getting hints of wingspan and butter-garlic breath? Either way, I write down the part I can see.
The ‘writings’ folder on my computer is a virtual Magnum Opus Zoo of these metaphorical beasts. Some of them are mere paws and snouts, the others are fully-formed caged creatures waiting to burst out and play with an adoring public (somewhere, at some time) or stun a room into silence with their awe-inspiring girth and rage.
This is a space for sharing so I might as well confess that in my desktop zoo the fearsome Wrathbeest far outnumber the cuddly Snugglebuns or the amusing Pratfallscamps.
The marketability of my product notwithstanding, this is how I always write—in a mad rush. My fingers trip over themselves trying to literately capture my thoughts. Not for me the organized beat sheet, the step outline or the treatment. My thoughts build upon other thoughts, characters do unspeakable things to each other and then they don’t even apologize. And they do it way faster than I can type.
If you ask me, brain-scanning, auto-correcting, I-think-it-and-you-can-read-it computing cannot arrive fast enough.
And when the muse strikes me I try and do just one thing right:
I. Do. Not. Stop.
And neither should you.
Page count, word count, character count, calorie count be damned. Food, water, crying child, lustful spouse (or one night stand) be damned. When you feel it, put it down. And don’t stop until you absolutely, positively cannot write one word more.
Typing makes me sleepy. So I persevere until I’m in danger of falling off my chair. And then I’ll try and bang out a couple more lines, or pages, or paragraphs.
I wrote most of my screenplays this way. Sometimes I used notes, sometimes I considered a carefully plotted timeline. But at the end of the day, when it came right down to the writing, the screenplay showed me the way.
Last year I wrote Trust, Big Night Out, Woah Marlene, The One That Must Not Be Named (let’s call it USAP), Colony and even my rewrite of Three Stories like this. Totaling maybe two months in all (over the year of course).
And that is a good thing. Because writing really is creating something out of nothing. We—the creators—are the only ones who experience what we put down as words. Our thoughts make it possible for us to create. And when we are visited by the Thought Fairy it is our singular duty to accept each and every piece of lucre offered to us. Accept and record.
And then, when this thing is down, on paper or a computer, leave it be.
Revisit it later.
You won’t always recognize, or remember, that person—the one who wrote all this down. You will not always be able to recall the inspiration for that piece but when you’re done reading, you will find something in there that will provide the motivation to continue. To attempt another piece, or to begin editing this one—to start out on the journey towards making this wild, untamed idea understandable to people. Call it editing or sculpting or streamlining or black magic. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you put this mad collection of words down and now you have something to work with.
If my experience with people has taught me anything it is this: everybody needs something to work with. The ideas in your head, when transmitted in the least concrete form become other ideas in another’s head. So when that finished screenplay or feature film or book or piece of music is finally delivered, the recipient almost always experiences a sense of ‘this isn’t how I thought it would be.’
I am always saying, to anyone who cares to listen, if the producers I’ve repeatedly approached for funding could actually see the movie I wanted them to invest in I’m certain they’d say, “let’s go ahead and make this.” I am aware of the implication of this statement. And I intend to do something about it. But that is not the point of this piece.
For now I simply wish to exhort/encourage/request you to finish putting it down – that thing dancing around in your head. It doesn’t matter if you write in rhyming slang or Twitter-speak. It doesn’t have to be grammatically correct or worthy of the Booker Long List. For now, it just needs to be down. On used coasters, loose leaf paper or that shiny new MacBook you were gifted for being you.
Being creative is a marathon not a sprint, this much is true. But even within marathons, it is essential to pick up the pace once in a while.
With writing, you need to put stuff down. As soon as possible, and as often as possible.