Keeping your writing fresh
When I started writing properly… actually, let’s define that a little before continuing. I wrote scripts and stories a LONG time ago but I don’t really think of them as writing properly. Why? Nobody bought them. And, being honest, I barely pushed them. When you write, you’re a writer. But for me, it was when someone actually took an interest in my writing that the pressure came and I felt it was proper writing. It had to be.
So when I started writing properly, I had to learn to tell a story well. I had read numerous books on scriptwriting and story but knowing the theory and truly understanding it and being able to apply it are very different things. I learned through doing, by having a wonderful script editor who steered me along the way and then by later reviewing the work I had actually done (an important step).
When we learn, it doesn’t always stick. I have mentioned here on this blog that I love having reminders of principals, ideas and anything that I have picked up along the way. But eventually, it goes in. And it becomes a part of you.
And here’s the danger: what you learn becomes formula.
You hit a point where, without realising it, you’re applying the same tricks over and over again. I have seen this in animation and I see it in writing too. When you have been around a while, directing and editing, it becomes easy to spot in the work of others and yet not so easy to spot in our own no matter how long we’ve been doing this.
I am currently writing a short form comedy. Really, these are sketches. Situations, setup and gags. And what’s funny (not good funny) is seeing how desperately, years after having no clue how to form a good story, my mind wants to force a full story in here. A beginning, middle and end. My brain is screaming at me to make these bigger. Okay, so I feel it’s a positive that I like to tell a story that rewards and it is somewhat understandable, going from 80 minute feature films to 2-3 minute episodes, but I’m having to consider this: am I finding it difficult to move away from the story formats because they have become habit?
Possibly. And this is why it’s always so important to try to retain an awareness of our own work. It’s not easy. We can’t do it all the time. But it’s great to take a time out, look at what we’re doing, at what is working and not working (being honest!) and to reset. To refuse access to our usual tools so that we can force ourselves out of the habits. I find I need to do this quite regularly. It really helps because it keeps me fresh, allows discovery of new methods and tricks and explorations and then, at the end of it all, I can revisit my old writing toolbox and find that, actually, a lot of these tools are still really useful. Using them is now an informed decision, not just habit.
So here’s what I recommend: even if you just want to do one thing and you’re really good at it, try writing something completely different. Consider it playtime. Write anything you like as long as you can’t fall into any familiar patterns. Then review and see how it worked out. It will keep your writing fresh.