Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Breaking News: Ideas are important

In a shocking turn of events it seems that in writing, the ideas themselves are quite important. I suspect many (if not all) of you reading this will already be aware of that fact. And while that seemingly obvious statement is something I’m sure I already knew, somehow I only feel like I truly learned it this year. I now realise exactly how important the skill of being an idea generator actually is. 

Again this may seem obvious on the surface, but multiple and frequent ideas aren’t exactly a requirement for a wannabe writer who works at his or her own pace while building a portfolio. A writer without deadlines who only has to work when they are excited about the creative prospects of a concept they already have has a lot less reason to sit and stare at the blank screen. Because when the idea isn’t there that deadline-less writer can afford to not write until it is. And when the idea finally bubbles to the surface the writer gets to scratch that glorious writing itch.

Although it is a bit of a chicken/egg scenario; do ideas occurring make the writer want to write, or does the writers desire to write force their subconscious to invent concepts? Which came first, the desire to write or the idea itself? Sorry, got a little more philosophical than I originally intended there. Try to forget this paragraph.

So it all came as quite a shock to me this year when I suddenly found myself with multiple writing projects of my own being combined with several freelance jobs that had either short deadlines for or required multiple scripts. With so much to do I had no choice but to sit and bang my head against the keyboard until ideas came; the luxury of simply leaving it until I had something being long behind me.

At one point this genuinely resulted in the rather cliché image of me slumped over my desk with several balled up pieces of paper surrounding me and my bin. None actually made it into the bin of course; I’m not the most coordinated person. At one point I honestly started to think that I might have simply run dry of new ideas that genuinely excite me. But of course this wasn’t that case, I had just never really had to exercise the massively important skill of being an idea generator.

The best example of where it was a problem was when I was hired to do a writing project for a London based acting studio. They had asked me to develop several short scripts to be shot using their students, the intention being to use them in their showreels once they finish the course. Over a couple of months my mandate was to write around twenty three 3 page long scripts for them, each being set in one of two locations and using two of the actors; it sounds simple enough until you realise you need twenty three entirely separate and original premises. A daunting task to say the least.

My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t have enough time to let good ideas come to me and develop in the natural way they usually do, forcing me to use ideas that weren’t fully developed or that I wasn’t happy with. But in the end I feel I did manage to entirely avoid this potential pitfall and I was ultimately very pleased with the results.

It seems that my usual method for idea generation takes a long time because I'm doing a large part of the processing in the background on the odd occasions when my mind drifts from whatever it is I'm actually doing. As a result the shower and that moment just before I fall asleep seem to be when a lot of my best ideas occur.

What I found effective in the end for encouraging this process when I was on a tight deadline was actually setting aside time specifically to focus on it, and not beating myself up for not producing large quantities of text during these sessions. I simply made notes of all the thoughts that occurred and then went back to them a day or two later to see if I could improve them.

So there you have it. The solution is to simply make generating ideas one of the stages of writing instead of letting it happen by accident. I'm basically an idiot for not seeing it sooner.

But as simple and as obvious as the solution is, as someone who was never required to do it before this year, it was an odd sort of revelation. People always say you never stop learning as a writer, and while I never doubted the validity of that statement; I honestly didn’t expect to learn such a large and important lesson this far in. And it’s made me really excited to find out what I might learn next.

Thanks for reading.
-- Dan

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