Rediscovery within the idea factory

Where output is a 24/7 operation
Where output is a 24/7 operation

Where do you keep your collection of story ideas? A folder stashed away somewhere in your home office? A notebook tucked away on a bookshelf?  A flash drive lost amidst the clutter on that messy desk you keep telling yourself you’re going to eventually get around to cleaning?

No matter where it is, hopefully you still have it and have been contributing to it all this time.  The stuff you came up with way back when with the intention of getting back to it someday.

When was the last time you looked at any of them?  How much did you work on this or that before moving on?

It might just be a title, a logline, or a single paragraph. Take a closer look. How do they read now?

Does your mind still race about the possibilities of what could happen? Do you read it and think “I barely (or don’t) remember writing any of this,” or (hopefully) “This is a lot better than I remember.” Do you make a mental note that this has to be your next project?

Sometimes the ideas we come up with are better than we realize. The initial effort might not be what we’re hoping for, but  the idea or concept behind it is so strong – that’s what really appeals to us; it really drives us and motivates us to explore it further. Some may jump right into reworking it, while others file it away – “I’ll hold on to this.”

Maybe all you really needed were time and experience. Aren’t we all better writers than we were, say, a year or two ago?

Last week I wrote about working on two projects. While I wait for feedback on each in their current state, I turned my attention to the outline of a story I came up with about five or six years ago.

Much to my surprise, there were two outlines: the original, and then a semi-rewrite from two years after that. I skimmed through both. I prefer the second one, but there are definitely elements from the first I can incorporate into a new version.

There’s nothing like finding some of your old material and not just enjoying it, but seeing its potential and looking forward to working on it.

(As much as I’d like to add this into the mix, it’s probably better to not overdo it. I’ll focus on the other two, then move on to this one.)

So dig around and find your ideas from days gone by. You might even be surprised and potentially impressed with what you find.

Making space in my repertoire

This many
On the verge of this many more

After finally finishing the outline for the rewrite last week, I immediately jumped into re-reading the western spec in preparation for the inevitable rewrite/polish.

Looking at it after a 1 1/2-month break was incredibly helpful, and it still reads great.

Then it hit me.

If I can keep up this kind of productivity, I’ll have two brand spanking-new scripts ready to go relatively soon.


This whole “dedicating a little time each day to writing” thing continues to be paying off.

Added bonus – more material at my disposal to respond to the question “What else have you got?”

Making the most of a limited timeframe

Fortunately, I'm not doomed when the sand runs out
Fortunately, I’m not doomed when the sand runs out

My schedule is probably a bit different than yours.

A job in broadcasting, getting around a large metropolitan city via bicycle or public transit, and escorting V to her numerous afterschool activities means not a lot of time to sit and write. Maybe a little over an hour a day. Maybe one and a half to two, if I’m lucky.

Since it’s all about getting stuff done, I’ve learned how to jam as much productivity as possible into that short window. Sometimes it’ll be “write until the end of this particular scene” or “crank out X number of pages.” Other times it might be “write until this point in time” or “write until you just can’t do it anymore”.

An hour may not seem like a lot of time to work with, but you work with what’s available.

Plus, setting up this kind of work habit is extremely beneficial on several levels:
-compels you to concentrate
-regular work pattern can improve skills and boost creativity
-problem-solving becomes easier and less necessary
-productivity may be slow, but remains steady
-that sense of accomplishment from having actually written something (very important)

These extremely unscientific results are how it’s worked out for me. I can’t speak for others, but I would imagine the results have been similar.

Find a system that works best for you, and keep at it. Make the commitment and stick with it. A few pages a day, and before you know it, you’ll be done.

Then you reset the clock and start all over again.

Gun the engine, pop the clutch and let ‘er go!

Ah, the car chase. A film staple. And a fantastic opportunity for the writer to really let their imagination run wild.

Mine started with the short description in the outline “Chase! (2-3 scenes)”.

I knew how it was going to start, and how it was going to end. It was all that stuff in the middle I had to figure out.

Despite the story’s fantasy-like setting, I’ve made a point of trying to keep things as realistic as possible where applicable. This falls into that category.  No crazy cg effects or unbelievable stunts; just simple, basic and peppered with mad driving skills.

“But there’s only so much you can do with a chase scene,” you may think. And in some ways you’d be right, except there are countless ways to make things happen.

Break it down to the simplest elements – somebody’s trying to get away, somebody’s trying to stop them, and there are going to be obstacles in each one’s way.

The challenge is to think up ways for both to go about achieving their goal, as well as what can stop or prevent that from happening.

It’s not just about having a chase just for the hell of it or something that looks cool, but what makes the most sense and what fits in, plot-wise. Is there a way to make it feel it really belongs there and is connected to other parts of the story? If it means adding a little something to a previous scene, so be it.

Need a little inspiration? Go to YouTube and type in ‘car chase in movies’, or check out William Martell’s blog, which always includes a classic chase in the Thursday posts.

Most of all – please, please, please avoid tired cliches like the plate glass window, the fruit cart, the baby carriage and the large construction vehicle.

The health benefits of writing organically

I'm a much better writer than a gardener
Not necessarily THAT kind of organic

Getting closer to the end of the outline rewrite. I like how the story’s developing, and it definitely feels stronger than it did before. There are still some tweaks and adjustments to be made, but overall, it’s really coming together.

The last two words of the previous sentence are especially poignant, because as I modify the previous draft, it exposes some problems that need immediate fixing.

Occasionally, something would happen in an “all of a sudden”-type of way, mostly because I hadn’t set it up properly.  So I’ll go back to earlier in the story to see where it can.

If I can make it work, great. If not, what has to be changed so it still works on all the levels it’s supposed to?

You want your story to flow smoothly and not feel forced. Throwing something in out of left field not only disrupts the story, but is just lazy writing.

Each scene should continue what happened in the one before it, and lead into the one after it. One of the basic tenets that tends to get lost in the shuffle, especially among beginner writers.

Take the time to plan things out, and don’t be afraid to cut where necessary.

You also want to make sure the details of your story all mesh together. This applies not only to what happens in the story itself, but the world in which your story takes place.  Make it feel as authentic as possible. Part of our job as the writer is to convince the audience this kind of world could actually exist.

You have to do everything you can to ensure the story is fresh and original, stays interesting and keeps things moving. You may not think all those little details matter, but people will notice them (or lack of them).