As I have been blogging about very loudly lately (can one blog loudly?), I am trying to get back into the swing of writing after years away from the daily habit of doing the work. As some of you know, I don't feel, when I've written a blogpost, that I've "written" that day, though I have learned a enormous amount from pushing myself to blog, something I resisted and feared before I started She Writes! (You can read my posts, "For This Writer, Writing and Blogging Are Different: Vive La Diffe... and "Five Ways Blogging Has Made Me A Better Writer" if you want to weigh in on that subject.) Yesterday I called on one of my most trusted resources -- who is available to be become one of yours, if you are interested -- my good friend and unofficial writing guru, Amy Fox.
Amy is one of the best writers I know -- a playwright whose work has never once struck me as anything less than compassionate and exquisitely honest (and funny, too!) -- who adapted one of her plays into a film for Merchant Ivory, "Heights," and who is currently working on her first book, too. Because my first project is going to be a television pilot, Amy was the friend I turned to for advice on how to begin. (She might have suggested that I start by logging off She Writes and getting to work, but what can I say.) I wanted to share some of the highlights of our conversation, because I found it an enormously helpful one in the fundamentals of that ever-difficult question when each of us faces the blank page: how do I begin?
For one thing, Amy quickly cautioned me when I began by telling her my idea for a television pilot, and then expressing various fears about it: it is too autobiographical, I'm afraid the protagonist won't be likable, I'm worried about managing the storylines in a one-hour script. "I always tell my students, 'Don't write from a negative place,'" Amy counseled. "Just let yourself write without worrying about any of the things you may worry about later, when you've got much more of the story down. You can always go back and change details or wrestle with story lines, but if you start writing with the idea that you already have a problem to solve, it's very hard to start."
Best, Amy advised, would be for me to start by setting aside some time, whether it was an hour or five, to free write. "Write down everything you have thought about when you've been thinking about this pilot in your mind. Don't worry about whether it's a scene, a detail, a piece of dialogue, or something you know about a character. Just get it out of your head and on to the page." Amy likes to do this on paper, but I may try it on my computer, as I can type faster than I can write. (I am even thinking of trying Scrivener, the organizing tool for writers that Andrea King Collier used to help her survive NaNoWriMo last year.)
Then Amy told me what she thought were the two most important things for a successful television series: the characters, and the world they live in. My task in the beginning is to get to know my characters and describe, in as much detail as I can, the world in which they live. By doing that first, I can then create a pilot episode for the series that "backs out" the story lines that will best describe these two crucial things. It makes sense for something serialized, where story lines come and go, but viewers tune in to watch people they have come to know navigate the world they live in.
I wondered if it will be similar for me when I tackle a novel, the next big project I hope to take on. If there are fiction writers reading this, can you tell me how your advice might resemble, or differ from, Amy's, if one were beginning a novel? And for those of you who have written television pilots, do you have anything to add? I'm all ears. And now I'm off to go DO it. :) More soon!!