Madness In Your Method

How do you work best? In long stretches or short bursts? The screenwriter Mark Spragg prefers total immersion. "I work seven days a week, all day long, 'til I drop, so the subconscious is so saturated, it's what I dream about. When I meditate, it comes up, I've already done so much thinking about it."

Writing tools may seem like a trivial consideration, but you need to know what works best for you: Pencil and paper? Pen? A computer? A typewriter like Barton Fink? (William Faulkner outlined his books on his study wall, but I don't recommend this for renters.) I need pen and paper when I start a project—or a piece of one, like this chapter. I need to noodle in longhand before I turn on the computer. I love the scratch of a good fine-point pen across paper; it gets the creative juices going for me while I brainstorm. And noodling (a similar technique is called clustering) is nonlinear, so it keeps me loose, keeps the ideas flowing, keeps the raging perfectionist in me at bay.

Know thyself and thy hang-ups.

I noodled this chapter before I started writing (see page 26):

It may look like chaos to you—isn't that where order comes from?—but this noodling helped me see connections, which I noted with arrows. As the chapter began to take shape in my mind, I assembled the various prewritten pieces on the computer, and I was ready to write a rough draft.

When I'm writing a screenplay, I'll noodle a much longer time—piles of pages—until the characters and story are clear in my mind; then I work out the structure on my drafting table. I need to know my scenes—at least their dramatic purpose—and the order I'll tell them before I turn on the computer and start drafting the screenplay. Even then, as I reach a new scene, I'll stop and noodle the dialogue and action before I start typing. Some writers work more organically, writing the screenplay to find out where the story is going. Barry Levinson dictated the screenplay for Avalon into a tape recorder.

Do you work better in silence or with music playing? I never thought about writing with music until I began writing scripts with Matt Stevens, and he always did. Vivaldi's Four Seasons seems to work best, and it's playing now as I write this chapter.

"Music played an important role in composing the atmosphere of the written page," Lani Sciandra said about writing Cool Breeze and Buzz. "I was listening to a lot of electronic music at the time and used a mixed tape of songs I thought captured the feeling of what (I suspected) was going on— sometimes rewinding a track for hours until I got through a scene. St. George Pierre (the composer) was a great influence in shaping the mood from the beginning—I felt his score provided another dynamic to the expectations of a story told against a rural backdrop."

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