Whenever I get stuck screenwriting, I find myself thinking about if and how my idea(s) might be better suited for another creative medium. I’m also not someone who can really just sit down and focus on one project at a time. I like having a few things to toggle between, based on my mood, energy, and how much time I have to write in a given moment.
In my ideation process, I’m always brainstorming ideas for whatever – and then I just start categorizing them by medium, format, and distribution platform. Sometimes I just start writing one – which helps me feel productive and more capable of refocusing on the project at hand. Sometimes, it takes the pressure off of whatever I’m writing and unleashes my creativity in another direction that might be more immediately gratifying or ultimately fulfilling. And sometimes, it reveals to me that the story I’ve been trying to tell, or the feeling/mood/idea I’m exploring is really better suited for something else and that ah-ha moment also feels like a big win.
Over the years, especially in my consulting work, and in coaching MFA producers to develop their slates, I’ve found myself exploring how I would define the right concept - character journey - mood/vibe/idea - for the right format or medium. On screen, it’s pretty straightforward. Stories that cannot be contained to a single arc, that go deeper into worlds and characters tend to better suited for serial content. A narrative short film successfully explores a character’s realization; a narrative feature successfully explores more of a transformation. A pilot, or an episode of television might not see a character change – we expect to see that transformation or shift take place over the course of a season, or the series. Unless you’re Seinfeld. Experimental, documentary, and docu-fiction formats are great for working out those more abstract ideas. And I love imagining ways to shake things up when it comes to form and content, fiction and non-fiction and the gray area in between.
But early in the creative process, when you’re not yet sure what shape your idea is going to take, I find it really helpful to be open to exploring multiple mediums, and formats within those mediums, for writing and producing or publishing work. For just – getting stuff out there.
More broadly, as freelance writers, I feel like we need to be agile in pivoting to adapt to different types of writing and editing. Many of us write and do something else… edit, produce, direct, perform. Over the course of my writing career, I’ve written lifestyle and art+culture blogs, academic study guides, and articles as a form of advocacy and activism. I’ve edited books in other languages. And while I haven’t had any of my poetry or creative fiction published yet, publishing in other mediums is something I’m currently exploring, learning more about, and trying to figure out how to make happen – challenging myself to grow and evolve as a writer.
When it comes to putting ourselves out there, we also need to be flexible in pursuing different platforms to publish and produce our work. In addition to exploring different types of writing, exploring different digital platforms to fast-pub and experimenting with different methods of production (podcasts, video) can be a creatively exhilarating way to execute our vision, engage our audience, and evolve our voice as artists.
What I think can be really daunting for up-and-comers and more established professionals alike is navigating a new space– this fear of the unknown I think is more concretely defined by fearing that we don’t know what we don’t know… and so then it becomes really easy to not even try.
I’ve had so many clients and colleagues (and students!) say that they “only write for TV” so aren’t sure how to even structure a feature, or they only write features so they don’t know how to structure a TV script. One of the most brilliant gifts my diverse colleagues have offered me in collaborating between three different film schools is an insight into how much I actually do know about other mediums, and that gave me the courage to lean in to just trying something new. They’ve inspired me to take workshops, go to events, read different writers– to continue to explore new disciplines by connecting to my friends in other creative fields.
This is how we expand and embrace a more sustainable creative community, #chitownscreenwriting.
In this issue, I’ve curated some tips, tricks, recommended workshops and events to get you excited about hopefully trying something new for you.