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Old 07-26-2015, 12:05 AM   #1
John Maudsley
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Default Problem with "Pursuit of Perfection"

I recently started my first script, and while I have the framework mapped out in my mind I am having issues with accepting, or rather pushing past, pieces of writing that are less than ideal.

I know logically that the first draft is in no way intended to be great, or perhaps even good, but I still have the desire to make it perfect.

I was curious as to the mental gymnastics that other writers do to get beyond this feeling, or if other writers experience this. I have a feeling that since this is my first attempted screenplay that the issue is amplified by my not knowing what it is to finish a script.

It is almost as if I have a deep fear of what will come, and that it will not be good enough. I have an immense amount of faith in my writing abilities, but this seems to be ignored every time I hit a rough patch.

Any advice or personal stories about this problem will be greatly appreciated.

PS. I wasn't sure where to put this thread, but "Basics" seemed to be the best place for it.
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Old 07-26-2015, 12:47 AM   #2
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Default Re: Problem with "Pursuit of Perfection"

Perfection paralysis! The best way to get over it is to come to the realization that you will have many many drafts, especially if the script is successful - through multiple notes of a manager, producer, studio, director.

I can't even explain how long it can take to feel like a screenplay is "done". It's fvcking maddening sometimes. Other times it's quick. And you really never know. You just write it. Send it. Revise, or don't. And if it doesn't connect, you move on, repeat the process.

If you can truly get comfortable with that early on, but still retain the enthusiasm of writing, you'll be fine. If you can't get comfortable with the idea of rewriting, seriously, don't become a screenwriter. Just don't do it to yourself.

I'm not saying allow yourself to write sh-t. But I am saying give yourself the mental latitude to realize that a screenplay is constantly evolving. That takes a certain pressure off to be perfect the first time or any time, because perfection is an illusion.

If you find yourself stopping constantly because you aren't sure what to say, ask yourself "what is my intent here?"

Allow yourself to write the less than perfect version that says exactly what your intent is. Your "on the nose" version. The version only you will read. Once you get past the blank state and have something down you can massage/ tune/ refine, then it feels manageable.
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Old 07-26-2015, 09:36 AM   #3
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Default Re: Problem with "Pursuit of Perfection"

You use both halves of your brain when writing a screenplay, and you have to let them take turns. Use the creative side to brainstorm ideas, use the analytical side to outline, use the creative side to write, then use the analytical side to judge how well it's working and to rewrite. Writers differ as to how much rewriting they do immediately after writing. If your perfectionism is getting in the way of your ability to proceed, you can tell yourself you want to do a vomit draft with your creative side (let it all pour out of you and don't look at it again until you're finished) and then put your analytical side to work looking over the whole thing and only then making changes. It's hard for some to not stop and keep fiddling with what they just wrote, but the advantage of finishing a vomit draft is that you can look at the entire structure at one time and make the big necessary changes instead of paying so much attention on every word and punctuation choice. Structure is the most important thing to get right before you start worrying about commas.
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Old 07-26-2015, 09:50 AM   #4
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Default Re: Problem with "Pursuit of Perfection"

Somewhere back in the primordial mists of the early podcast era (I dimly remember it might have been on Pilar Alessandra's On the Page, but it's probably been said a hundred times) I heard a guest frame this in a way that's stuck with me.

You're in love with the imaginary movie that's in your head (and you'd better be, otherwise, why do you want to be a screenwriter?) because it's perfect. And it's perfect because it is indestructible, invulnerable because no one can say anything bad about it. Not your parents, not the jocks who beat you up in school, not your ex-boyfriend who never believed in you, not some clown with a pseudonym on DDP when you post pages in the Script Pages section... no one.

But when you turn your imaginary movie into 110 real pages, it's by necessity like someone kidnapped and murdered your perfect movie and replaced it with this grotesque simulacrum made of poop held together with duct tape that is also made of poop.

So what that perfection-as-obstacle-to-work really is is fear. Because that imaginary movie in your head isn't just another space opera or teen sex comedy, that imaginary movie is your dream. Your dream that you can quit your boring day job, that your mommy will love you, that movie stars will want to hang out with you, that when you show up at your next high school reunion everyone will regret not appreciating your genius...

And as long as your movie is only your imaginary movie, you can still hold on to your dream, but the minute you type "Fade In" you haven't just destroyed your imaginary movie's invulnerability, you've destroyed the invulnerability of your heart's innermost, ownmost dream.

You need to sit down with your heart, explain this situation to him, and ask him for the permission to fail. That's the only way.

People all the time say "writing is rewriting", and before I tried my hand at writing narrative and dramatic prose that never made a lick of sense to me. "When I'm writing a term paper for my political philosophy class, or drawing up a legal brief, I decide what I want to say and then I say it and it may take a while but I wouldn't've said it that way unless it was right, so I'm bloody well done!!!!"

I didn't understand that what the phrase "writing is rewriting" really means is that all the great stuff you've ever watched that inspired you happened because the writer not only gave himself permission to fail, you know he did fail, on his first draft, his second, his third until he got it right.

TL;DR: every draft until the last one should just be called The Failure Draft. The path to perfection isn't around failure, it's through it.
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Old 07-26-2015, 05:55 PM   #5
John Maudsley
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Default Re: Problem with "Pursuit of Perfection"

I thank the three of you for your comments. I already have segments of the script that I know will be heavily rewritten, and that part is exciting to me. I am thus far avoiding the urge to go back and rewrite before finishing the first draft entirely.

The "vomit draft" is something I had read about before, but I still find it hard to get beyond my hesitations. I hope that with time the process becomes easier.

Ghost: I think that is a major issue, the fact that the story is so beautiful in my mind that anything less on the page bothers me. At this point I know that the first draft has "failed" in some respects, so I just have to truck on and get beyond it.

Joan: As mentioned I am thus far able to avoid the temptation to rewrite passages before finishing the draft. Part of my mind says that it's okay to go ahead and finish. The other side says that it would be best to correct it immediately, but I think this would be detrimental.

Mad: The rewrites are what I am most looking forward to, which sounds strange. I will enjoy going over the script and revising it myself, and incorporating notes from my peers. The mental latitude you mention strikes a chord with me. It makes a lot of sense because I logically know the process includes multiple revisions and rewrites.

Thanks again for your comments and advice. As it happens I wrote more last night on the screenplay than I have in the last two weeks. Perhaps owning up to my deficiencies gave me a cathartic release of sorts.
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Old 07-26-2015, 07:10 PM   #6
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Default Re: Problem with "Pursuit of Perfection"

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Maudsley View Post
I recently started my first script, and while I have the framework mapped out in my mind I am having issues with accepting, or rather pushing past, pieces of writing that are less than ideal.

I know logically that the first draft is in no way intended to be great, or perhaps even good, but I still have the desire to make it perfect.
Write it -- finish it. It feels great to write "FADE OUT:"

Enjoy finishing it for awhile -- maybe a week or two or longer. Then look at it again. The things that need to improve will be obvious.

I've seen this too many times -- writers, often listening to others advice -- write out anything that was good by writing the beginning too many times, before moving on.

It takes maybe thirty or forty pages before my characters really start coming to life and taking on a voice of their own. If I was endlessly writing the first ten pages, that would never happen.
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Old 07-26-2015, 07:50 PM   #7
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Default Re: Problem with "Pursuit of Perfection"

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Originally Posted by John Maudsley View Post
The "vomit draft" is something I had read about before, but I still find it hard to get beyond my hesitations. I hope that with time the process becomes easier.
It was late last night when I typed that post but let me add...

Some people do vomit drafts and some don't. I'm like you in the respect that I edit as I go. Everyone has a different process. None are necessarily right or wrong and it takes awhile to get your groove in regards to what your process is. Like the screenplay, it evolves.

But I guess I do write vomit *scenes*, if that makes any sense. Like I was saying in my previous post, getting the scene down with crystal clear intent gives me a great place to start in regards to shaping the scene. Typically I will rewrite that scene until I'm happy, and it includes all the subtext, atmosphere and little flourishes. I tend to write sequentially too. All of these things are just the way I do it. I would probably be much faster if I didn't revise so much as I went. Any way you turn it, you have to put the time in. Either up front or in a rewrite.

Keep writing, but take the pressure off yourself. Please. It won't help you I swear. Even the most seasoned pros practice many times over to get it right.

I'm including a link to an ASC article by Iain Stasukevich on the collaboration of Django Unchained's brilliant cinematographer Robert Richardson with Tarantino:

https://www.theasc.com/ac_magazine/J...ined/page1.php

If you read this article, you will see the amount of films they screened just for reference (what's the intent), the testing they did (what's the intent), even revision of the script while shooting (refining intent), and the general malleability it takes to get the most professional product in the end. A LOT of work, but look at the product.

OP, let me tell you why you are further along than you think. Because you give a d-mn, you are already way beyond the beginners who don't care at all. Most don't have the ability to discern the difference between good writing vs writing that isn't ready.

Take the time to get it right, but give yourself the allowance to get it wrong and it will all work out.
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Old 07-26-2015, 08:23 PM   #8
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Default Re: Problem with "Pursuit of Perfection"

Actually, that "Mad" guy gives some pretty good advice. You may want to do a little more paying attention to what he says and a lot less to what I say.
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Old 07-26-2015, 09:46 PM   #9
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Default Re: Problem with "Pursuit of Perfection"

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Originally Posted by StoryWriter View Post
Actually, that "Mad" guy gives some pretty good advice. You may want to do a little more paying attention to what he says and a lot less to what I say.
I appreciate that but you have a great point too, because rewriting the first 10 over and over again can really take the wind out of your sails. Even once I write "Fade out" - I probably go back and rewrite those first 10 more than any other part of my screenplay. I tend to rewrite the ending the least because generally I've got that destination figured out. Not exactly locked but I know where I'm heading. But it's all hard. 1st Acts are hard because setups are hard to nail. 2nd Acts are hard because it's easy to lose track.

The producer I just worked with hates cutaways so much, just vehemently believes they don't work and doesn't want to leave the hero. Another producer I worked with loved the bad guy and wanted to cutaway more. It's such a process.

But the key is relaxing into the process, not bucking it. Find what works for you and be okay with not always getting it right the first time out. No one expects that, so why expect that of yourself? They don't expect it because it's unrealistic. It takes time to develop anything worthwhile. (Most of the time.)
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Old 07-29-2015, 01:51 AM   #10
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Default Re: Problem with "Pursuit of Perfection"

When I get that feeling, and can't move past a scene. Sometimes I'll just put some filler text in the scene and then skip to a scene I'm really excited about.

For instance I will literally write in dialogue: "Placeholder: Something about hope..." etc because I will keep writig the same dialogue over and over never happy with it.
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