It feels odd to write the words “creative” and “process” next to each other. Creativity feels more appropriate in the company of words like “spark” “idea” “inspiration” and “wonder.” Whereas “process” would probably be more comfortable hanging out with words like “formula” “operation” “instruction” or “system.” But the two words belong together. Creativity without process is like helium without a balloon.
I’ve sat in a lot of writer panels and Q&A sessions and inevitably the question is raised: “What is your creative process?” I think we sometimes ask this question to see if there is a secret method – one we have yet to discover - that will magically make our craft easier. If you’re looking for easy, you’re going to be disappointed. I’ve learned the only creative process that matters is the one that gets you to the finish line.
I took a screenwriting class once that expounded the virtues of note-carding. Note-carding is a process in which a summary of each scene is written on a single note card. The cards are then posted on a wall or board and organized by Act (Act 1, Act 2, Act 3). Using different colored cards to represent different characters one can easily map characters’ story arcs and ensure key story beats are hitting at the right places. I know a lot of writers who use this process. Once the story is mapped with the notecards, it’s just a matter of writing the scenes. It’s efficient, and if done right one can end up with a first draft that is pretty darn close to final.
My process is a little different. It starts with my little black book. I jot ideas for characters, dialog, or scenes as they come to me. Worthy ideas eventually move from the black book to notecards. I do use notecards, but I do not map the entire story before I begin writing it. I notecard just enough to get me going. Currently, I’m note-carding the first 20 pages of my new script. Once I feel good about it, I’ll write it. Then I’ll notecard another 5-10 pages, write that, and so on.
Mapping an entire story is a challenge for me. I don’t know exactly where a character is going end up until I’ve spent some time with him or her. I need to hear him speak and interact with other characters before I can understand what a character will say and do by the end of the story.
This process if very much influenced by the years of performing and teaching improv. With improv, there is no script or outline. You make it up as you go. You discover who characters are as scenes develop. I like to write the same way. The notecard is like an audience suggestion. It gives me a direction for the scene, but I don’t know exactly where it will lead until I write the action and dialog and observe the choices the characters make "in the moment." Scenes build upon each other as previous scenes inform the next. This process works for me because it provides room for discovery along the way.
The problem with this process is that it can easily lead to weak story structure in the first draft of a script. In subsequent rewrites, a lot of scenes will end up on the cutting room floor as I work to craft a tighter more cohesive story. That said it is my process. I’ve written almost all of my scripts this way. It provides space for creative spontaneity but employs enough structure to ensure my efforts are productive and driving toward my end goal. It's how I get to the finish line.
A WRITER AND TRAVELER KEEPING THE FAITH IN LOS ANGELES