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The paradox of writing: structure but don’t write your structure. Trust the process.

I have learned over the years that one of the biggest paradoxes in writing is that in order to begin you have to make a firm decision about what you are writing and in order to finish you have to completely abandon any decision that you previously made on what you were writing.

It makes no sense and yet, that is the process and you cannot circumvent it.

And so you hear people say "trust the process" but what exactly are they talking about?  I think in a large process means trust the stage you are at and know wholeheartedly that you cannot skip ahead.

In the beginning, as I refer to in my creative process timeline, you have to decide the form you want your idea to take and then you have to decide on the story and its literal and emotional questions and its journey...  and then you have to nail down its structure.

You cannot begin without sitting in that.  And that's what's so hard about beginning.  All of the sitting and thinking and deciding. And it may feel like you're not making any progress until you're making progress.  When you're in that difficult stage... trust it.  That's the process.  It's supposed to be hard, you're writing a map to a place no one's been before.  It's hard.

Then little by little you finish a draft.

Aaron Sorkin says often that you won’t know what you’re writing about until you finish the first draft.   He’s talking about theme, about the literal and emotional questions.  I recently wrote a pilot about women bootleggers during prohibition. I researched for a full year in idea mode trying to decide on the form. In television that’s even trickier because you’re dealing with all kinds of questions like network or cable or paid cable / hour or half hour.   I finally made those decisions and wrote a first draft.  I was happy with it but it needed something. It needed a specific point of view.  It sat on the page like historical fiction with great women heroines but it wasn’t complete. I had a reading got some great notes.  And again sat with it. In addressing the notes I started really examining the story I was telling. And it finally hit me that the story I was telling was about women reclaiming their power.  Every episode would be about how each of the character's power is taken away and how they get it back.  I didn’t really know that in the beginning.  Most of us won't know in the beginning. I couldn’t really figure that out without writing through it. Most of us won't.  And so then, I started from scratch. Keeping what fit and tossing what didn’t.

The thing that you must fully embrace as a writer is that writing IS rewriting.

So after you trust the process of beginning and you’ve made your way through the first draft you must accept that that is still only the beginning.

Now, you see more clearly what the form of your story is. Now, you can go in and refine based on what you know.

Rewriting is hard. But holding on to what you’ve already written only makes it harder.  I had written things in the first draft of “Whiskey Women” that I was in love with. It killed me to cut.  But once I really knew what I was “writing about” - women regaining their power as opposed to just a retelling of their life stories, I had to honor that.

In rewriting, you must let go of all of the decisions you’ve previously made and have the courage to throw it all away and look at it with fresh eyes and make new decisions. That’s why that part of the process is so hard. It feels like you wasted a year's worth of work.

I am here to tell you no time writing is wasted. It’s all part of the process. And you can't skip ahead.  You just can't.  

Trust the process.


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