When I started out writing, I felt I had to learn as much as possible from those who came before me. There was no Internet then. Being the last generation to grow up without it meant getting my information the old-fashioned way. I read books. Hit the library for whatever information was there. And even then there wasn’t a cornucopia of meta-writing. That meant if you didn’t have direct access to another writer, you could try writing to them. But writers were reclusive folk surrounded by an impenetrable wall of agents, publicists, and so on.
Things have changed, in case you haven’t been paying attention.
Many writers, both for the screen and literature, have availed themselves of the Internet and what it has to offer. They can connect with their fans and that’s great. More than a few have passed through the halls of this blog and elsewhere on that same big, wide Internet and left nuggets of their own hard-earned wisdom for everyone else learning the craft.
The point I’m getting at is Stephen Kings and John Grishams of the world all at some point had to contend with the old-fashioned way of learning how to write. They developed as writers in an incubation period of exclusion. I believe it is necessary to let a writer develop their ideas in private because those ideas are, in their genesis, very private matters.
Everybody has their own opinion about what is the “right way” to write.
My father used to tell me there was always more than one way to skin a cat. One day I replied, “There’s twenty-three.” He gave me a quizzical look then laughed at the absurdity of the statement. Of course there’s more than one way to do something. You should always look for multiple ways to solve a problem, either in a story, a script or film.
It’s also wrong to put absolutes on how many there are to write. Writing is problem solving. Problem solving can also be writing. I said what I said to my father as a jest, partially because I was a smartass growing up. In writing it’s the same. Don’t read one book on how to write and think it’s the end-all, be-all absolute rules. You’ll only look like an amateur when you say, “Well, so-and-so said in their book that you style your scene action like this…”
People seem to want rules. They want to know there’s some manual they can go back to. In writing, film, and otherwise, there is no real manual. Every film is different in just enough ways to make it not quite like the last one. When you get locked into someone else’s way of doing it, everything you make will look exactly like the last one. You’re no longer a writer but an assembly-line worker.
Build your toolbox of unique tools. Listen to those that have been here before you but don’t take everything as holy writ. And once you have your tools, go out and skin those cats.
Everybody’s different. And there’s a lot of cats out there.