Comments (0)



Writing is the most frightening profession you can undertake. Oh, sure, rescuing a kitten from a burning building, or topping off a skyscraper, or plunking down a few mil on the latest IPO may cause you to catch your breath once or twice, but writing is really terrifying.

At least with the kitten, the skyscraper, and the IPO, you'll know you have an obvious, unmistakable success or failure. Writing is always uncertain. Even at its best, it never quite matches that Precious Vision that began the process. The product is always in some respect a compromise. Perhaps the compromise that results from the creative decisions you've had to make along the way produces a far superior work than that capricious hallucination of your fantasy, but the written page is never quite the same unflawed daydream child it was before craft breached it into the world.

Every time you face the blank page, then, the potential for failure is enormously high, perhaps even inevitable. We're not talking about popular or economic nonsuccess here, but real personal deficiency, the kind of naked truth that jerks you awake in a cold sweat at night. We're talking about I'm-a-fraud-and-everybody-knows-it failure. That is what makes writing the most terrifying profession.

This is the reason why many would-be writers never get around to putting anything down on paper. It is also the reason why so many people who wouldn't presume to fly their own airliner or perform their own hemorrhoid surgery or even mow their own grass are absolutely certain they can do a better job of writing than a professional writer - after that writer has knocked back the blank page to create a work of something from a beginning of nothing.

The problem, of course, is that the screenwriter is injected into the work to such a degree that it is often difficult to separate where the incarnate person stops and the fictional characters begin. We regularly tell ourselves that we are basing a character on cousin Charlotte or Uncle Max, but the fact is that Charlotte and Max are merely starting points. They have certain superficially observable traits and behaviors that we find interesting, and we try to extrapolate character from these mannerisms. But the truth is, all characters are you.

Who else could they be? You, the writer, are probing your own soul to touch the vulnerabilities until you discover that cantankerous cousin Charlotte in life is actually an eccentric millionairess as a character, and the living good-natured Uncle Max is a screenplay psychopathic rapist. Charlotte and Max have reached inside of you for the components of your soul that become living characters. The writer then forces those attributes through a magnifying lens. Sometimes it can be delightful, when you touch the part of you that's a quirky philanthropist. But when you get in touch with the part of your essence that is angry, demented, and evil, it sucks the breath out of your body and you push yourself away from the keyboard. You'll go anywhere except to that place. Eccentricity is one thing. Raw evil is an entirely different matter. If you've touched it, you know it's there.

The difference between professional writers and amateurs at this crucial stage is that the professionals write through the fear, manage it, and use it to make discoveries about their characters, more than about themselves. The amateurs either run away or, worse, wallow in their personal distress until their screenplays become nothing more than incoherent psychotherapeutic masturbation exhibited on the page.

What is most alarming is that the dread you discover doesn't have to be evil at all. Far more often the dismay you encounter is simply the terror kept in some painful part of your inner self that you have successfully hidden or ignored. Suddenly, there it is, demanding expression in a character. Do you manage it, write through it, make it work for your story - or do you run away? Are you a professional or an amateur?

More recent articles in Archive


Only logged-in members can comment. You can log in or join today for free!