Staring at a blank page is something I do all too often – I stared at a blank page for almost three minutes before typing this. For most of us, the problem is not that we have no ideas, it’s that we have too many.
We are either paralyzed by a mass of seemingly unconnected ideas, or we are searching too frantically for an idea or sequence of ideas that feels absolutely right. But we all have things in our heads that matter to us, that bother, intrigue, amaze, delight, and confound us. Often they are very small, seemingly specific things that connect up to larger and deeper ideas, systems, and issues.
The process of making a feature length movie is an insane amount of work. Like the pain of childbirth, I manage to forget how hard it is in order to start making the next one. I can’t devote that level of effort unless I feel the project is worthwhile, so I always try to make the very best movie I am capable of. This causes me to write and throw out endless ideas in a frenzy of self-judgment.
Here’s my secret for getting any writing of any value done.
Exercise. Get a good night’s sleep. Exercise again. Then relax. With a notebook and pen, or a computer, sit quietly and empty your head.
Don’t think about writing a screenplay or an outline of a screenplay. Write down anything that has been on your mind, as briefly as possible. Write down things that affected or are affecting you emotionally.
For instance: My back hurts. Obama. Why can’t I remember our Prime Minister’s name? The intelligence of slime molds.
And so on.
Stop when you want to stop. Look at that page. This is an incomplete map of your mind at the moment. This is a form of free association. Pick up one or several of these threads of thought and follow them.
My first short video came from performing this very exercise, during which I wrote: when walking alone late at night, feel anxiety when a lone woman appears. Want to shout out to her It’s OK, I’m not dangerous, which would probably scare the hell out of her.
This turned into a 22 minute short about a man who follows a woman home one night, denying all the time that he is following her, because he is really, really lonely. It was an extrapolation of what was going on with me at that time.
The point is not to become so goal oriented that you ignore all the stories inside your head that are deeply connected to what truly matters to you. That will give you creative energy to burn.
Did you miss Getting Personal Part I?