The picture that comes into our head when we think of a writer is this sole-being slogging away in solitude, wrestling with her creativity, with only her set of fountain pens and a laptop for company. This was how my world existed until a couple of years ago.
The Novelist at Work
As writers, we have a certain framework for our method of working. For me, as a wife and mother, my writing day did not begin until the entire family was cleaned, fed and packed away for the day. After that, I walked around my locality for an hour or so in the guise of needing fresh air and exercise. Then, I sat down for my work as soon as the clock strikes 9:30 am.
As far as possible, I kept myself away from the lure of Netflix and Zee5, the banter of kitty parties and the joy of hanging out with friends. I put my nose to the grinding stone and either churned out words or consumed the words churned out by others. At 1:00 pm, I took a break for thirty minutes. Most days, at 3:00 pm, I took a nap for 30 minutes. It was impossible to work after 5:00 pm as the kids were home and it was time to help them with their homework and studies. Being the mischievous mites that they are, they would rather lose themselves in a comic book than do any school work if it wasn’t for me!
The couple of hours that I get for writing every day is precious. It is these hours that keep me sane through the rest of the day. I work well alone with only my muse and Lamy for company. Only a creator knows her characters and her world. Only she can dictate their actions and the consequences. When anyone else tries to meddle with it, things go wrong. That is what I thought until a couple of years ago.
A Novelist’s Nightmare is a Screenwriter’s Life
Then, I got the opportunity to work on the story, screenplay and dialogues for a 10-episode web series. The experience jostled all my notions on how a writer must work.
From morning to midnight, I was bombarded with phone calls. The story was dissected, bisected, bifurcated, massacred, stitched, blended and revived at every other juncture.
Every visit to the Producer’s office was in trepidation of what was to ensue.
Conversations usually began this way, “I loved what you had written in the first three episodes but what if the protagonist did ABC in the fourth episode?”
“But the protagonist is not a person who would do ABC…” I protested.
“Then, let’s make him such a person.”
“But then, he wouldn’t be the protagonist anymore!”
“Yes. You are right. Let’s take away the focus from him.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Let our focus shift to X. He should be the character of interest.”
I would go back home, scratch my head for a little bit and start a fresh .fdx file. There was no way I could salvage what I had written after making such a major change. I would begin again and write another story, that smelled faintly like the first but was completely different.
Shift Your Perspective, Widen Your Horizons
After going through this exercise, a dozen times, I started realising a few things:
- In the majority of the situations, the script became better and sharper with the inputs given by others. Our first ideas need not always be our best ideas. When we force ourselves to think again and think differently, we come up with better stories.
- Writing can be a collaborative exercise and that doesn’t diminish our creativity or contribution in any way.
- Whether it is from the director or the producer or the channel, there would be situations when the idea suggested would be ridiculous. Then, it is the duty of the writer to listen patiently and suggest firmly (but politely and logically!) that such a change would be impossible. Believe me, they might not be happy immediately but they would respect and appreciate you better.
- To repeat, the story must remain logical and satisfactory to you, as a writer. Otherwise, it has failed even before it goes into production.
- However, if you receive an idea that might make your story better but your ego stands in your way of accepting it, then you are in the wrong business.
- The only thing important is the project – not you, not your experience, not your writing credits and definitely not your writing awards.
- The show must go on! If that is your goal and your objective, your dedication would pave your way to success.
In short, as I realised slowly, you need to shift your perspective if you want to be a screenwriter. This experience is unlike anything you would experience as a novelist.
Be open to ideas and suggestions. Listen patiently, put aside your ego and your high-handedness. The producer and channel head are in the position that they are in for a reason. Respect that.
Every project is new and will bring with it its own challenges and tribulations. Not every person you meet would be appreciative of your contribution. Screenwriting is time-consuming, tough and challenging in more ways than one. However, there is nothing that can give you more satisfaction than to see your name when the credits roll out on the screen.