Thursday, May 31, 2007

It's my instinction, it's my in-stinc-tion!

The cat's finally out of the bag: Severance screenwriter James Moran is scripting episodes for the forthcoming series of Doctor Who and Torchwood. Let's ignore the long, hard years of study and toil, rejection and bitter disappointments that James had to suffer through to reach this point. Let's ignore his undoubted talent or his unstinting efforts to help other writers. Let's just focus on the obvious fact, the one thing every green-with-envy blogging would-be screenwriter is thinking today: James Moran is a jammy bastard, and we all hate him a lot. Not really, but you know what I mean. Congratulations, James. No pressure, we just expect greatness.

Moving on. Paul McCartney's entire post-Beatles back catalogue is now available on iTunes. Guess what's the most popular download so far? Ebony and Ivory. Ebony and bloody Ivory. Messiah on a motorcycle, that's like saying the best thing David Bowie ever released was The Laughing Gnome [he's from gnome-man's-land, you know]. Second choice? I'm Partial to your Abracadabra. Hello? People, come on, you can do better than this, surely. That's a great song, but not so much with the McCartney cover version. At least Maybe I'm Amazed is currently in the bronze medal position. This is a genuinely great track, IMHO. An editor of 2000 AD ocne told me about listening to it non-stop for hours on end while blind drunk. Hmm, maybe it's not that good, but it's better than Ebony and bloody Ivory. Rant over.

Lots of debate on other screenwriting blogs about the merits of talent over training. It's the old nature versus nurture debate, recast for people all too familiar with Final Draft. Personally, I think everybody's got good stories inside them, but not everyone has the knack of telling those stories in an entertaining way, let alone the drive to learn how to hone that knack and those stories. All the training in the world won't make you a great writer. It can make you wonderfully competent, you can achieve no small measure of success without having ann significant natural talent.

But I do believe there's an instinct for storytelling choices and an inbuilt well of imagination that can't be endowed by training, workshops or MA courses. That old cliche about everybody having one book in them? It's probably true. Let's tweak that to say everybody's got one story inside them. Give them craft skills and they'll be able to tell that story in a competent fashion. But have they got access to that place inside the mind where ideas and stories collide to create something fresh and new and entertaining? Probably not.

I've spent the past two years grabbing every learning opportunity I could: an MA screenwriting course; workshops; writing labs; short course; long courses; mentoring schemes. You name it, I've probably had a go or applied for it. Has all of that training made me a better writer? I'd like to think so. Grud knows, I cringe with embarrassment at reading things I wrote a few months ago, seeing all the flaws in what I was doing. Hopefully I'm learning from those mistakes.

But some of my best writing still comes from instinctive choices, moments when I stop thinking about the craft of writing, stop over-analysing my storytelling options and just let myself write. Sometimes, I need to get out of my own way, let the story flow and worry about ironing out the rough spots later. Inspiration's a precious thing, and I find it all too easy to crash those moments with theories and sequence charts and pinboards and the art and science of screenwriting. Sometimes, all the craft in the world can't help if you're writing a story that isn't worth telling. You've got to recognise that, realise you're simply polishing a turd.

Workload d'jour: back to my research dossier this morning, before a fresh spit and polish for my TV pilot Taking Liberties. Need to wrap both these up for delivery to various folk in Edinburgh tomorrow. Once that's done, I can go pick up the tickets for my holiday - five days and counting. Nearly there, nearly there now.

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