I have been coaching writers for 15 years, and recently wrote a new book on how to use New Media to sell your screenplay. While I realize how critical marketing is to the process, I believe ultimately that a writer has to have a good “product,” which in this case means multiple stories expressed in at least one excellent script and several treatments. I have seen many articles and interviews with great suggestions as to how to mine and develop ideas, but the most obvious secret seems to be continuously overlooked so I would like to address it here.
The secret to being a successful writer is that you must write, not just about the project that you are currently working on, but write as a method of daily expression and interpretation. Ideas do not just appear in a writer’s mind but are a response to the events of daily life. Writers must rely on actual experience however cleverly disguised by the trappings of plot and character. What other source do we have to understand what makes characters tick? Creating circumstance, setting, characters and story arrangement are the work the writer. This ability to combine life experience and story ideas leads to self-knowledge and this in turn creates wisdom. This wisdom is what allows a writer to create an original story that will be pleasing to an audience, and hence commercially viable. The way to gain this wisdom is to practice regularly.
Here are three methods:
1. Write down your dreams or your first morning thoughts.
In my New York University classes where I teach first time writers to write a screenplay in 10 weeks or less, a fast way to teach visual writing is key. By writing down the first thoughts of your day, whether a remembered dream or a shopping list, you connect with the visual part of your mind and train yourself to write the images that you see in your mind. Later, when you are describing the imaginary events in your script, you will find that you accomplish this difficult task effortlessly.
2. Keeping a Journal.
Julia Cameron, in her classic work, The Artist’s Way, promotes the daily habit of writing continuously for three pages about whatever is on your mind. This is great and will definitely produce a few nuggets of gold, but is a bit general. I suggest that you take this concept of “morning pages” and use those three pages to record memories of any possible dramatic situation, bits of overheard dialogue, stories other people told, jokes etc. You never know where a story idea will come from.
3. Look for story ideas in every day life.
I propose that you, as a writer, devote yourself to viewing every situation that you experience as possible grist for your writer’s mill. Art comes from life, and it is the ability to form life into art that defines talent. Take an ordinary real life event that has organic conflict i.e., someone kept you waiting, and imagine how it could become a screenplay. For example, you are kept waiting, and you imagine what could have happened to the person in a dramatic way: what if they had been kidnapped or won the lottery?
To recap: To be a successful writer, write daily about your life experiences, dreams, and thoughts in order to gain greater self-knowledge which will lead you to wisdom and original, commercially viable stories.
Good luck and happy writing.
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