Saturday, December 22, 2007

Is your beard stuck in the thicket?

There are many archetypal images I love from the world of fairy tales. One of my favourites is someone, usually an imp or a demon, with their beard stuck in a thorny bush.

For those of you with a Freudian bias, it might come as a surprise that a bush can stand for anything other than a bush.

However, according to the Jungian school of analytical psychology, especially the late great Marie-Louise von Franz, this image is a depiction of procrastination. It’s a symbolic version of the wrong kind of perfectionism: a person getting caught up in preparation rather than getting down to the task at hand. It’s the epitome of the difference between activity and action. Between the dabbler and the do-er.

One of the reasons I like this image so much is because it's the perfect representation of a screenwriter spending too much time thinking and planning instead of writing. Not that I think preparation is wrong. On the contrary, I use outlines and scene lists myself and for me they work.

The wisdom of this image is that too much focus on preparation is counter-productive. At some point you have to just dive in and start writing. At which point you give the characters the opportunity to come alive and show you, the writer, who they are. That’s when the real fun starts! Plus that’s when you really discover what works and what doesn’t.

In this respect I agree totally with Pixar’s Andrew Stanton, whose wonderful quote I’ve added to this page: “The first draft is nothing more than a starting point, so be wrong as fast as you can.”

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