Friday, January 22, 2016


Writing is a tough gig.

'How close is close enough?'
I come across this idea with writers all the time.

Countless hours of toil are invested into a creative project. Or very few; the lightning in a bottle that needs to be protected from dilution.

Am I overworking it? Or underpolishing?

When is the script ready? When is it right?

It's an internal debate that can drive you mad. Like a running battle with a muse that won't stop taunting you.

I was sitting in McDonalds at some god forsaken hour recently. My chest warm with that comfortable blanket of just enough drinks. As I ate what appeared to be food, I noticed a lady finish her meal and then glance furtively in all directions.

Intrigued by such bizarre behaviour, although not ultimately all that surprised given the hour and the location, I surreptitiously watched and waited.

With great, almost unwarranted, haste the lady rose, dumped her garbage and grabbed an industrial sized helping of serviettes and straws. The larcenist scanned the room again, before she quickly departed. Halfway through a chicken nugget, I blinked heavily, confused by what I had just seen.

To a single, successful hamburger restaurant, such petty theft is borderline laughable. A tiny leak in an enormous tank is almost more costly to fix than what it loses over time to a repetitive drip.

But what if that flaw is systemic? And what if the scale of your enterprise means you have one thousand tanks, all with this individual leak?

Suddenly the leak is no laughing matter.

One petty theft in one McDonalds restaurant makes me blink with disbelief and move on. How would I consider the same leakage, if it is multiplied by the 35,000 restaurants McDonalds has globally?

An extraordinarily similar moralistic juggle is in play with writers.

A writer can look at a single script and say to themselves 'I'm not certain if this one is ready, but it seems close enough on a minor rewrite and I have a deadline. The next will be better.'

The leakage is seemingly minor. One, small, project.

But what happens when the same structural flaw in the writing, say between the second and third act, occurs in the next script? And the two after that?

Or what if this script, rather than being a speculative creation for The Black List contest, is a commissioned rewrite for Disney?

Suddenly the leakage, while unchanged in its characteristics, seems more like a torrent than a drip.

With perspective, you discover that the concept of leakage, far from being objective, is contextual. The true answer, in terms of how concerning that leakage should be to a writer, often depends on scale. The scale of your ambitions and the scale of your current creative enterprise.

The same can be said for the other mental pitfall faced by writers; slippage.

Slippage is a more difficult idea to pin down, because it is driven by perceptions of value, rather than observed flaws.

"I FEEL like my last script was better, and that my recent work is not measuring up to my standard."

The challenge of slippage is, of course, that the "worth" you use to measure any perceived drop in overall quality is speculative all along. You are shadow boxing with a swift moving target in your own mind.

And yet, both managing leakage in your work, and reacting to perceived slippage are intrinsic to the struggle in creative endeavors.

So, what can you do about it?

How many cigarettes, stiff drinks, or fingernails should you go through as you resolve these internal theoretical concerns?


You have to work through it instead.

Essentially, what you must come to accept is that both of these concepts are completely subjective self-critiques, akin to procrastination or worse, self-sabotage.

Most leakage can be made gargantuan or diminutised, depending on context. All can be fixed if necessary.

And slippage is inherently based on your own internal perceptions; both of the change in your work and the intended quality for that project when you started writing.

So, how much time should you spend worrying about a leakage or slippage? Or do you instead work through these internal barriers, while honing your craft and your process.

Have you seen the size of the collected works of William Shakespeare?

Fortune favours the prolific.

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