Can everyone write a story? No. Can everyone imagine a story? Yes. We all have a story to tell. We imagine characters & situations pretty easily. The imagination is a beautiful and powerful thing. When we talk about a great story of any medium with someone often times in the excitement of recalling the story, many of us will say… I have an idea for a story! Usually, it is a character & a situation. And that core of an idea is lodged in our minds. As we daydream about our story it seems so powerful & clear even as a basic impression. That idea, that spark is undeniable. But… committing it to the written word is daunting. Even to the practicing writer, that first draft is no easy task. So what can a novice or first-time writer do? Well, you could pitch that idea. But if you’re like me, your next thought is, pitch it to who? Sure I understand the concept but who do I really have access to? And for me, pitching is not being creative. So we must write!
“Many first-time writers approach storytelling with the misconception that every pen or keystroke will produce a polished, perfectly formed thought. This is not the case”
I am not a scriptwriter or a novelist. I am a storyteller and my mode of expression was originally theatre and is now film. And by a film I mean video and by a video I mean, shorts, online series & low budget features. When I gather people to realize one of my stories I need a script, no way around that. It is the tentpole of the whole process. Therefore as a filmmaker when I have an idea for a story I approach scriptwriting just like any of the other components I need to gather in order to realize my vision. I ask myself, what is the easiest, most efficient way to get this done without compromising quality? Seven times out of ten? Teach yourself how to do it.
Earlier I mentioned, “The imagination is a beautiful & powerful thing.” And, I just quoted myself, apologies. Your brain does two things equally, one side will dream and imagine a story and characters that have somehow found their way inside your mind’s eye. The other side, when pressed to give up these ideas into the written word, will fight you at every step, with self-doubt as a powerful ally. What is one to do? Well, I’ll share with you what I do.
I feel the biggest burden, hurdle, barrier for most would be storytellers who want to put their idea onto the page is that when they finally sit down to write many first-time writers approach storytelling with the misconception that every pen or keystroke will produce a polished, perfectly formed thought. This is not the case, the imagined idea does not want to be words on a page. And 97% of the time when trying to exercise the story out of our mind the side of our brain resisting will shut the whole process down. And forever you will talk about this idea you have, just words in the air.
This is how I work through this. First, I commit to the idea that the first draft of my story will flow unedited from my imagination and most importantly that I will bring the idea to a conclusion. That is to say, I will not leave my first try unfinished. What I do is I meditate for about a week on my idea, I make sure before I go to bed at night I’m thinking about it. And if the word “meditate” turns you off just think a lot about the idea, a lot. No writing, just imagining. I see the story in my mind’s eye, I sleep on it. Then I set aside a day to write, about 8 hours. In that eight hours, I am committed to writing to the whole story. Trust me that’s not as ambitious as it sounds but, it is as powerful as it sounds. Here is the key. You are not writing your story from your imagination you are just transferring your imagination to the written word. What do I mean by that?
Do not think about structure, just think about your character or characters, your situation and imagine you are calm and comfortable setting and someone is asking you to describe what is in your mind or to describe what you see when you close your eyes. Then, just start “transcribing” not writing, writing is active transcribing is passive. By simply transcribing, you do not wake up that part of your brain who will shut you down. Just write down on paper what you see in your mind’s eye. Sometimes it helps to kick things off by literally writing what you are thinking and at some point, the imagination will kick in and take over. Think of the literal transcribing of your thoughts that are not the story as the warm-up, the act of doing that will ease you into it. Do not edit yourself just write what you see, what you imagine.
If that idea is new or strange, I’ll give you a brief example here, I’ll do this myself, now, it goes something like this – [Note: This is warts and all, no grammar, spelling or punctuation corrections ]
*START* Ok so now i just told the reader i’d give an example for this which i dunno how would i do that oh well ah i am pausing don’t pause hmmm well basically what i am saying hmmm well i am saying my reason for writing or wanting to share this article is really based on the idea that the biggest mistake and barrier to storytelling by people who are not practicing writers is this idea that the story just flows onto the pages in a final draft its hard work man so hard should i just tell them for most of us your first rough will be terrible of course it will but what is more terrible is no draft right hmm what i am saying that really it is just writing writing writing and more writing but as a non practicing writer to realize your story and to get out that first writing that you will write over and over and over you need a pre-first draft one that just gets out of the head onto to the page taking our internal, external *END*
I’m back, that went on a bit but, I wanted to give you the idea and show you I would never ask you to try something I’ve not done myself. For example in that quick passage, the idea that a “terrible draft is better than no draft” or “taking an internal idea and externalizing it”. It would have never occurred to me to write those ideas here for you had I not just moments ago done the writing exercise. And I would like to add that I do in fact often type “hmmm” while doing this exercise. I find it keeps me locked into the task.
This first draft of your story no matter how rough, jumbled or confusing is now in a document. This is the important part. Whether you use word-processing software or online documents, put that document in a folder and label it your tile or working title subtitle rough draft. For me this is the “for my eyes only” version, no one will ever see or know of the existence of this draft, it’s a secret. Come back the next day or a few days later duplicate that document and label it version one. Read it, rewrite it, add subtract. Keep doing that. The goal of subsequent versions should be to get the idea to a short story form of roughly 5 to 20 pages that makes some sort of sense. Once you have that idea in a short story form you can get started. I will add here if you choose to do this process in handwritten longhand, its the same process, Put version one in a Folder and as you refine it handwrite each new version as a separate document. I myself have on a few occasions handwritten the first rough idea draft into a notebook and then transcribed that scribbling into my computer as my “version one” That way the rough was truly for my eyes only. Also, there is value in transcribing your own handwritten words, there is a degree of separation to that process which allows you a valuable objective view of your idea.
From that rough short, if you just decide there is just no way you can write this do not worry about that, the important thing is, at least you tried and that means something. I don’t mean that lightly, so many people simply do not try. What you can do now is take that rough short and turn it into a proper treatment document. I won’t go over that, you can just search online about formatting a treatment. The exciting news is you now have enough material in your short to take your story and turn it into a properly formatted treatment. Then you can share your amazing story with people that are potential collaborators who will take on the writing and producing of your original idea. Congratulations are no longer just another person with a great idea. You are now a storyteller. On the other hand, if you are inspired or better yet, driven to write your story and a feature film is what you imagine, expand that short and root out your core ideas that need further exploration. And now if you need help with the script format, your core idea exists and you will be able to find someone with script writing skills willing to show you how to format your story into a screenplay. No one ever wanted to write your idea for you but you’d be surprised how many people are willing to help you refine your idea and show you how to format it into a script. Why? Because they know how hard it is. Congratulations you’re in the club! Maybe you want to create a series, again take that short and start breaking it up into, segments or beats that could be expanded upon. Perhaps a short film is your goal? Well, you’re 75% there, do some rewrites and put your story into a script format. If you don’t know how to do that? Ask for help, research online, stumble through it. You will get better, but not if you never start. And if after all you just simply wanted to write a short story, congratulations! You’re done, well almost still you will need to write and rewrite.
“The only kind of writing is rewriting.” -Ernest Hemingway
So what is the catch? The catch is it is still a very hard thing to do. I’ll repeat, be prepared to write and rewrite, throw ideas away and bring some back. It’s not easy, but if you are really committed to telling that story of yours this will get you on your way. I should also say you may re-wright 100% of your first rough draft, you may even do a second, first rough draft but once you set things in motion you’de be surprised of the momentum generated by the simple act of doing. Our intention was always to tell a story not to learn to screenwrite or become a novelist. If you were trying to learn to write a screenplay at the same time as you were trying to write your first draft of your idea most likely you would just spin out and abandon the whole process. Certainly 3% of you out there in the world are capable of doing both but for the other 97% of us its just a matter of hard work and finding a method that works.
In a nutshell, no one is going to do the work for you and if it means that much to you, roll up your sleeves and get in there. If you at least commit yourself to just exercising that idea out of your head and wrestling it onto the page with no regard for spelling, grammar or structure you will have a lump of clay of your very own imagination to mold into something uniquely your own. That’s a pretty amazing lump of clay. In closing I’ll not leave you will a quote or final thought to drive this all home and inspire you. I will share with you a very special letter. I think if this letter from Martha Graham to Agnes De Mille does not convince you to get started, nothing will.
“A Letter to Agnes De Mille”
There is a vitality,
a life force,
that is translated through you into action,
and because there is only one of you in all time,
this expression is unique.
And If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.
The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine
how good it is
nor how valuable it is
nor how it compares with other expressions.
It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly
to keep the channel open.
You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work.
You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate YOU.
Keep the channel open…
No artist is pleased…
There is no satisfaction whatever at anytime
There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction
a blessed unrest that keeps us marching
and makes “us” MORE alive than the others.
( – a letter to Agnes De Mille-)