Sunday, January 13, 2008

Writing as a writing exercise

A recent discussion on Shooting People’s screenwriting bulletin centred around someone’s confession that they’d been adapting a literary work for which they don’t own the rights. Purely as a way to practise their craft.

Responses were roughly spilt into two camps:

A) What a waste of time. If you’re going to do the work anyway, make sure it’s something you’ll be able to sell one day if the opportunity arises.

B) What a good exercise. This is an excellent way of honing your craft without the pressure of a real-world deadline or boss.

Is the exercise analogy valid? Is being a writer like being a sportsman or a musician in that training and practice increase your stamina and technical ability?

I think it’s a truism that the more you write the better you write. But it’s also true that one script meeting with an experienced producer or director can sometimes teach you more about what professional screenwriting is all about than six months’ solitary scribbling.

The temptation to shut yourself away and “practise” writing for the rest of your life is very real. So you have to be honest with yourself about why you’re writing something “merely” for practice.

It’s one thing to write something as an exercise because you love the process, you’re inspired by the idea, you see it as a positive step on the way to something even better, or even just something to add to your CV.

It’s quite another thing to practise writing because it’s the least intimidating option at your disposal. Other options being things like: writing a script for a competition, approaching people in the industry to pitch ideas, finding an agent, etc.

Here’s one positive way of looking at it: If you don’t have a proven track record, i.e., one or more produced films you can refer potential partners to, then sometimes the next best thing is a script you’ve written. It demonstrates your writing ability and dedication, even if the script was just an “exercise” and you don’t own the rights.

But at some point you have to get washed and show your face out there, in order for all that practice to translate into real, professional opportunities.

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