Approaches to The Big Idea
Throughout my time in LA and becoming a screenwriter, I have met dozens of other writers, and have always been fascinated to learn where ideas for their scripts come from. If anyone (in the industry or not) has read something you wrote, they almost always ask, “Why did you write it?” or “How did you come up with that?” This article aims to explore those two questions a little more.
Despite the many ways to break story, get to outline, write the first, final draft and polish – no matter what you are writing, it always starts with an idea. And that part of the process is particularly interesting to me. Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, makes a compelling argument that writers are just vessels for ideas that are looking to be birthed into the world. In other words, it doesn’t come from you.
I would make the distinction that you are in control, and you ultimately decide how the story is executed. But we have all had those times where it feels like the blank screen just wants to stay blank that day. And conversely, we have had days where the words can’t get down on the page fast enough. So, what is that? Why does that happen? Is it because we slept well the night before? We ate the right food?
Part of me can’t deny that an idea for a script, and to some degree the actual writing, isn’t always in my control. Certainly, I decide what words get on the page, my fingers physically tap the keys – but I have also WANTED the story to go a certain way, and the story says NO. Or I thought a scene was going to go one way, but the characters in that scene decided it would go a different way. That’s really hard to qualify!
Similarly, I have had an idea come to me like a tsunami, fully baked, beginning, middle and end… and I have had idea’s come to me slowly over years. How many of you have lists in your phone, or journal, of movie ideas? How did they come to you? How many are ready vs how many are still incubating?
David Sedaris has an example of a short story he wrote about a woman that lived in the apartment next to him, that took him twelve years for the idea to be ready to be told. He literally said, “I must have sat down to write it seven different times and it just wasn’t ready. Then one day twelve years later, for no reason at all, it was just ready to be told, and I wrote it a couple hours.” What is that?!?!
What I would challenge you to take away from this article is that writing is more than you. And it’s so easy to put pressure on ourselves to create, and write 5-10 pages every day, and be great, and while that certainly is true for the most part (work on your craft every day), I want this article to be a reminder that sometimes the idea isn’t ready. And it’s okay to be patient until it is.