Adulthood drastically lessened the time I devoted to writing, although not the time I spent thinking about stories. Search ‘the screenwriter’ on Vimeo. I dare you. You’ll be confronted with dozens of videos encapsulating the stereotype of the screenwriter …
by Jamie Wynen
… a brooding, frustrated figure sitting at their desk, striking furiously at the keys of a typewriter before snatching the page out, crumpling it up and casting it into a nearby bin – already piled high with dozens of rejected first pages. If it’s shot and lit in noir style, the writer will probably take a slug of bourbon at this point.
The Lone Writer
Eager to replicate the success of Hunter S Thompson and Stephen King, this was my favoured writing style during uni. I wasted lots of paper, ink and sleep (and bourbon). As with the stereotype, I didn’t make much progress with writing my vision of the Great Australian Screenplay. Instead, I tended to lose my focus, dither uncontrollably, and give up.
This lack of output confused me – during high school, I wrote nearly every day. My bookcase was infested with battered notebooks, each fat and distended with smudged blue ink. I tended to start writing around nine or ten pm and continue late into the night, often putting down my pen at one or two am. This, coincidentally, set in motion an abysmal sleep cycle that would come to haunt me in adult life – where the expectation is that you’re already at work by 10am, not groggily crawling out of bed in desperate need of a cup of tea.
During high school, I wrote nearly every day.
My bookcase was infested with battered notebooks,
each fat and distended with smudged blue ink.
Along with an enforced change to my sleep habits, adulthood drastically lessened the time I devoted to writing, although not the time I spent thinking about stories. Ideas jotted in a notebook, once the seeds of a larger story or script, remained frozen in an embryonic state until they went stale. Despite calling myself a student of writing, the time I actually spent writing stories had atrophied to a fatal extent.
A new approach was needed.
Experiments in Collaboration
No matter how much the conversation meandered, it always came back to the story at hand.
The opportunity was dropped in my lap when I worked on a short film with a school friend. He eagerly told me about a TV show premise he had in mind. A few weeks later, we met at a café to sit down and see if we could write a pilot together.
I soon discovered a prodigious advantage to collaborative writing: time set aside for writing was actually spent writing.
A disclaimer: my natural attention span is that of a nine year old with ADHD experiencing a sugar rush at Disney Land. Added to which, my near-constant access to that wondrous Pez Dispenser of procrastination we call the Internet does my concentration no favours. I sometimes wonder how I manage to even clothe myself, let alone achieve anything.
But I discovered that by sitting down with a co-writer to discuss a story idea and its characters – and all the terrible things that I foresaw happening to them – the process of brainstorming, selecting, building and articulating a script was no longer a struggle against inertia. Instead, the process became more organic, conversational, and focused. No matter how much the conversation meandered, it always came back to the story at hand.
Internet does my concentration no favours. I sometimes wonder
how I manage to even clothe myself, let alone achieve anything.
I found that this allowed me to be more experimental – by suggesting more risky and original thoughts and gauging my writing partner’s response, I was able to entertain and discriminate between a much wider selection of ideas. If I were puzzling over it alone, I’d be wondering if it was clever, cliché, or just plain stupid.
I was also able to borrow from my partners’ life experiences – having lived completely different lives, I was thrilled at the discovery of common observations, and it was these shared conclusions that would become the underpinnings for theme and character.
Our TV series is steadily gaining momentum. We’ve written several thirty-minute scripts, built a story arc and series bible, and begun our third draft of the pilot script. My creative partnerships with other writers have produced another three short film scripts over the course of the last two months. By contrast, in the last six months I’ve written only two short film scripts alone.
Importantly, collaboration hasn’t replaced my solo writing.
What of the solo approach? Other writers seem to reject the notion of sharing creative control. One told me that he can only work alone – preferring to have a monopoly over the dialogue between only himself and the page. For him, collaboration occurs later, when a completed first draft is ready to be critiqued. I don’t feel that this approach is invalid or wrong – on the contrary, I think the right approach is the one that helps you write a script.
Importantly, collaboration hasn’t replaced my own solo writing. Understanding the essence of the script, I’ve always found, is the hardest part. The success of writing doesn’t lie in how many pages I can pump out per day – instead, the key to my creative writing rests with my ability to conceptualise an entire world inside my head.
Understanding the essence of the script,
I’ve always found, is the hardest part.
The time spent writing with partners frequently involves actually typing out the scripts, but the true value lies in exploring what the story is really about, the building and layering of complex and interesting characters, and finding creative ways to bypass cliche.
Once this world has been built, explored and understood, it becomes liberatingly straightforward to put this world to the page on my own – during time I might have otherwise spent googling Advice Animal memes.
Jamie is a UTS Writing Graduate who took one look at the real world and went straight back to uni for a Masters, this time in Media Production. He has interests and experience across a number of fields, including writing, photography, cinematography, and Youtube connoisseur.
Jamie looks after the video content and writes guest articles for The Story Department. When everybody else has gone home for the night, Jamie will sit at Karel’s desk, put his feet up and pretend that he runs the place.