Had my nose firmly planted in Your Screenplay Sucks which by now one is of my favourite books to dip into during attacks of FDSD (Final Draft Stress Disorder, as described in DSM-IV).
In tip 67 the Akers guy, as he likes to call himself, warns against rewriting while writing. Sure, he says, start your writing session by going over what you wrote the previous day, but whatever you do, don’t go back any further and start tinkering with earlier scenes or, God forbid, the beginning.
Going back will reveal hitherto unseen problems. Going back will jack up your angst. Because your script will be revealed to be inadequate, imperfect, and not Zaillian-esque, going back tends to be monumentally depressing. So depressing that you may just decide it’s better to — give up and start another script. Do not play into this sucker’s game.
Holy pitchforks… when I read this I felt myself blushing and trying to slide unobtrusively under my desk. I confess: I’ve done this. I have abandoned screenplays after twenty pages and started on new ones precisely because I went back and began to doubt the entire premise of the script. I know what this man is talking about. It’s horrible but true!
Then I realized it’s a bit like mountain climbing. (Hey, I’m a screenwriter, I have imagination, remember?) Like, there you are, halfway up Everest, and even though you know in the back of your head that you’ve come a long way and there’s still a long way to go, these are not helpful thoughts right there on the rock face. You look down, you’re going to feel dizzy. You look up… you might let go. So what you need to do is concentrate on what you’re doing right now. The next step, or in the case of a screenplay: the next beat, the next scene.
It’s a thing you hear big-shot screenwriter’s say a lot: Get the first draft finished without thinking too much. (Check out Andrew Stanton’s quote there in the left margin…) And yet, it often feels counter-intuitive, or risky perhaps. What if something I’m writing here isn’t consistent with something that happened ten pages back? What if this scene throws up an unforeseen new twist? And so on. But the simple fact is, that these are often issues you can only deal with once the first draft is there on your desk, in all its ragged and unproducable glory.
Perhaps this should be my New Year’s resolution for 2010: Don’t look up and don’t look down, just get the fuck on with the writing.