The other day, I was asked to describe my writing process. My first instinct was to say I didn’t have one but, upon further consideration, I realized that I do follow certain patterns when writing a script.
Step #1: PROCRASTINATE
I’ll do anything to avoid starting a script – surfing the net, doing my taxes, writing this blog – sometimes going weeks steadfastly distracting myself until, finally, fed up with my no-can-do attitude, I’ll capitulate and begin!
Step #2: LAY THE GROUNDWORK
I’ll open up a new file page, put my name, the date, and the title on the cover page, then set up the headers and, finally, write TEASE at the top of the first page. This always gives me a great sense of accomplishment and, satisfied with work well done, I’ll take the rest of the day off.
Step #3: OPENING WITH A GLACIAL PACE
The first scene of the episode is crucial and, for that reason, I will agonize over it for days, constructing the entire scene in my head before writing it down. After several rewrites, I’ll set it aside and come back to it the next day, throw out what I’ve written, and take another stab at it. Eventually, I’ll have a scene that I don’t love but honestly don’t hate as much as previous versions and, besides, I’ve got to get moving. And so, the following day, I’ll rewrite the scene, then forge ahead and, usually, complete the tease. This offers another great sense of accomplishment as I convince myself that 1/7th of the script is complete (tease down, next five acts and the tag to go! That’s technically 1/7th – if you don’t take page count into consideration).
Step #4: CREATIVE DRIVE
The beginning of a script is always tough as I’ll re-read and rewrite those early scenes endlessly in the hopes that racing through them will give me the momentum to carry me through the rest of the act. Instead, I usually stumble and crash half a page into new territory. Fortunately, the cure for my writer’s block is only an elevator ride away. Once I’m behind the wheel of my car, far away from the distractions of the internet and the chocolate in my fridge, I can finally focus. In fact, I’ve done some of my best writing while driving. I’m not sure why it is but the 20 minute drive to work is golden time, allowing me to run and refine dialogue so that, by the time I get into the office, I’m ready to write!
Step #5: PUSH! PUUUUSH!
That’s it! Don’t let up! Lock your door, ignore the distractions, and keep at it! You’re almost there. Yes! Yes! You’ve done it! Congratulations! You’re the proud parent of a Tease and First Act! It may not be much to look at now but, like any mom and dad, you’ll grow to love it. Or get used to it.
Step #6: RINSE! REPEAT!
Completing the first act is a HUUUGE accomplishment. Believe it or not, the hardest part is over. Now it’s simply a matter of repeating the techniques and superstitious rituals that got you here. Re-read, rewrite, go for a drive, lie awake into the wee hours playing scenes in your head, drink some sake, seek out positive reviews, comments or messages to remind you of your salad days and motivate yourself to achieve the perception of unparalleled visionary heights, you sad, creatively-spent has-been.
Step #7: RIDE THE WAVE!
At some point in the writing of the script, amidst the seemingly endless hours agonizing over turns of phrase or Rubik-like plots, you’ll get into a groove and the words will start to flow, smoother and faster. And suddenly, all the pieces of the puzzle will fall into place and you can do no wrong. You’re in the zone and it’s glorious! Great characters moments, tight dialogue runs, clever developments – it’s as if some future you has traveled back in time to give you all the answers. Sadly, this inspired burst is fleeting, usually lasting 5 to 15 pages before dissipating and leaving you the shattered mess you once were. But the key is to recognize the wave and ride it as long as you can. Just last month, I rode my best wave ever on Dark Matter Episode 304, blazing through a record 32 pages in a white heat.
Step #8: FEAR THE DEADLINE!
By this point, I’m hopefully at least halfway through the script. I can often rely on a late closing burst as all the story’s narrative points converge in those final pages of the fourth act, giving me the momentum to drive through another modest chunk. If that doesn’t work, then the prospect of a looming deadline will be enough to spur me forward.
Step #9: CAP IT WITH SOMETHING SPECIAL!
Beginning a script is tough, but ending one can be just as hard UNLESS you’ve got the Holy Shit conclusion already in your head. And you should! Start strong, but end even stronger. Yes, it’s important for the viewers who will no doubt be blown away by your inspired moment, but it’s equally crucial to your creative mental well-being capping the episode with an ending YOU know will blow them away. The shocking reveal at the end of the show’s very first episode, the reveal of Jace Corso in Episode 3, TWO being blown out the airlock, the Android going down in Episode 12, the captured crew being escorted off the ship by the G.A. with SIX revealed as the mole in the season one finale, the bloodbath in the palace in Episode 212 – all deliciously devious moments I envisioned for ages and saved for script’s end, like a decadent bite of dessert you look forward to at the end of a long and exhausting dinner party.
Step #10: IGNORE IT LIKE AN EX THAT SPURNED YOU!
Once the script is complete, I’ll set it aside and move on to other things. Resist the urge to give it any attention. Don’t you remember the difficult times? The frustration? The thankless hours and days spent trying to make it work?!! Play hard to get. Ideally, I give it a few days before I pick it up and give it another read and another pass. After that, it’s someone else’s problem…
Until they give you notes. Then it’s your problem again.
22 thoughts on “October 24, 2016: My Writing Process!”
This humorous look inside your writing process makes me wonder why you don’t drink more. 🙂
That’s exactly what I thought the writing process would be. Thanks! 😀
Hi! I have a similar writing process. Interestingly, the only time I choose to procrastinate, is when I need to write! It also came to my attention, that Sam Esmail (Mr Robot) also procrastinates and has a similar approach to writing.
I’m just plum tuckered out after reading this. Exhausting! Thank you for enduring this tedious process to provide entertainment to the masses! Sounds like Ep 304 is gonna be amazing by early indications! Gotta remember to pay special attention….next year.
My favorite phrase “to achieve the perception of unparalleled visionary heights”. I’ve got to work that into some dialogue or note writing this week. This will be replacing “significant psychological overlay” and “plethora”.
Can’t wait to see how your Tuesday works out. I’m taking my nieces out to dinner tomorrow, at Sekisui, a local Japanese restaurant that has been around for years but I’ve never been. I’m a creature of comfort and habit but after you posted about the wonders of Katsu Curry, I googled local restaurants to find this savory dish. Branching out, I’ll let you know how it is.
Gee Joe, all that just for my entertainment. Wow. I thank you!
That’s a very daunting writing process.
That’s not a writing process…..it is something closer to being
an episode of “Black Mirror”.
Thank you for everything Mr. Joseph.
Wow, you almost made it sound…fun? Like a proctology exam with better pay.
Sounds like the way I wrote term papers. My senior history adviser, who was also the department head, awarded me the highest grade in the seminar. He nearly took it back when I told him the actual writing portion of the paper only took three days.
I just heard that enRoute magazine named Vancouver’s Kissa Tanto as the best new restaurant in Canada for 2016. Did you get a chance to go before leaving Van? I immediately thought of you and Akemi when I heard about the cuisine — an Italian/Japanese fusion. Check out the article here: http://enroute.aircanada.com/canadas-best-new-restaurants-2016/kissa-tanto/. The others rounding out the top 10 are: http://enroute.aircanada.com/canadas-best-new-restaurants-2016/
I’m fighting my old enemy procrastination; although my new enemy is much worse: great TV. Reality TV drove me away from TV to read, listen to music or watch DVDs but now that there are so many great shows I’m becoming like my folks who were the original glued-to-the-TV generation.
Today I brought a sugar-free low-carb treat I baked myself instead of buying a pastry at the bakery. Part of me feels super healthy and the other wants to Hulk out and run to the bakery screaming “Shiny smash!”
Wow, just wow!
The first question, that the psychologist in me, thinks to ask….
Why 10 steps?
Do you have exactly these 10 steps?
Or, is it because 10 is thought of as ……give your ‘top 10 answers to’….
Sorry, thats what happens when I have elements of psychology in my BSc Degree 😊
If suburban housewife advice columnist Erma Bombeck or Gary Larson
of Far Side Gallery fame
were reading this blog entry today
I’m sure they would be proud.
Bravo brave soldier boy!
This one definitely gets a salute and standing ovation from me.
and perhaps even a few sweet thank you kisses n hugs too. XO
Hey, Do you remember? The Little Jack Little version of the 1935 hit
“I’m in the mood for love” – simply because you’re near me.
O’ how I do love his beautifully fun endearing voice
and the sweet instrumental embrace of that melody
as those lyrics sweep one away into the lightest, most blissful, glide
of loves’ loveliest and most carefree, daydream.
Albeit sometimes when I hear the melody
playing in my head,
the lyrics spontaneously change to tell an entirely different story.
Today, for example, after reading
this entry you ever so delicately bathed in 250 proof eleoquence,
patted dry and rolled in the essence of Rodney Dangerfield,
then sprinkled with a hint of Jerry Lewis’ mirthful cologne
and baked to a crispy perfection,
likely while consuming a batch of
freshly made drunken uncle cookies,
I could have sworn I heard Little Jack Little sing these alternate lyrics:
“I’m in the mood for prose
simply because I’ve grown weary
Of those who waste their poetic talent on stressful writing chores
they find difficult dull and dreary”.
Someday Joe. … Someday Soon…. You ‘WILL’ author and publish
that long fantasized about book
( the one and only you didnt by any means dread writing)
and all at once shall bestow upon the animal kingdom and their human campanions, a very beautiful legacy
so much more personal & more wonderfull than you could’ve ever imagined!
Yes, Someday Joe …..Perhaps even sooner than you think.
(And yes, Just in case you are wondering, all of the above
‘is’ a small, spontaneously, but none the less,
cleverly crafted hint about one of the gifts
you will be receiving from me for your 10 year anniversary.
– Aside from serving as coordinator
and one of the co-hosts for the tribute & celebration)..
Have I got your mind racing yet
with trying to guess what the hell I’m talking about?
Well, com’on now handsome – What are ya waiting for?,
Get that brain of yours working on attempting to can figure it out, eh!!
I can guarantee It is a unique gift,
unlike any other you’ve ever received in your life,
and actually @TamDixon & @Gforce dont even know it yet,
but they are both, in part, very directly responsible for
inspiring some of the idea behind it.
I’m fairly confident you wont be able to guess it entirely correctly
… but Hey!, – at the very least, in laying out these hints to mull over,
I’m lending you the most absolutely perfect-est of all brilliant distractions
to enable you to procrastinate from re-writing that next DM script today. XO
Wow! Thanks, Joe. I really enjoyed reading this. Intriguing, very intriguing … and entertaining.
Cor, I can imagine a rewrite/s must be quite jarring to the writing process!
…. I imagined notes on postcards, string pinned from one note to another, a chart with hero, nemesis, love interest (!), actions, etc.
Too many black n white Hollywood films methinks! Teehee!
Thanks again, Joe. Continue your most excellent methodology….
PS ….. Oooow, Joe……
Have you seen new episode of The Walking Dead?
………….. Too hard!!!!
If I understand Drea correctly, and forgive me if I do not, she is hinting that you take these blog entries and comments and turn them into a book.
Hey, if folks can take soldier letters written during war, diary entries, newspaper columns, etc. and turn them into books — why not this blog? I would think 10 years of ready-made material would be a great jump start. Just rearrange the topics, place into categories (chapters) and you have a book! I’d buy it – you betcha!
I would certainly approve use of my comments without reservations.
(still in awe after digesting your amazing writing process)
By the way, I also write for a living and your writing process reads uncomfortably familiar, especially the procrastination part. If I didn’t have deadlines prodding me (and a manager who demands progress updates), nothing would get done and then the paychecks would stop.
We thank you for it too!
That is exhausting. I am glad YOU are the writer and I am not. It makes me appreciate you even more. Nothing like a deadline that sometimes brings the best out of you. Like my IRS deadline — oops! Wait. My IRS tax deadline was almost met, but a little storm with massive flooding did me in. Not that I was affected during that particular one, but the flooding kept Patrick home that Monday and that was going to be my time to get things done. And then life got crazy. Really crazy. But at least I got it filed before the deadline expired in October. I’m sure your reward is seeing the feedback from people, although I guess that is a double-edged sword. This is something you worked so hard on. You know some people will love it, some will like it, some may dislike portions but will tell you why so you might understand their POV, but then there is just people who hate with vicious comments because internet anonymity gives them license to do it. That must be hard. That would be like someone criticizing me about how I went about approaching Patrick’s autism treatment. And I have gotten grief from other parents, especially the militant biomedical group, so said that when I approached Patrick’s biomedical treatment of his autism, I “didn’t do it in exactly the right steps.” Well, I’ve had choice words for them. I won’t get into that.
I do my best thinking for ideas in general either in the shower or driving. It tends to be the two times of day (except for sleeping) when I’m not thinking about things I need to do, should do, or go over things I’ve done for Patrick.
Life of a writer, gotta love it. 🙂