What You Know Vs. Want To Know

By Leroy James King · April 7, 2010

I’m in the depths of re-write hell, so I’m turning to the trusty blog to help me piece my thoughts together. That’s the irony of being a writer, as opposed to being, say… a quantum physicist. If a quantum physicist is stuck on some time and space transcending equation, they go have a beer and maybe smoke a little Panama Red to free up any schema in the brain that might be over clogged with physics jargon. Then they’re able to get to the root of the problem – they get that perspective that speaks to them in pictures or sounds, as opposed to incoherent mathematical scribble on a page. Kind of like that Nash fellow that Russell Crowe played in that movie about… I don’t really remember what that movie was about, but you get my point. Crowe was a genius in that movie because his genius didn’t come to him while he was balls deep in a musty lab that smelled like farts and sweat lubricated protractors. His real genius came to him when he was drinking beer with horny colleagues in a college bar.

But that’s the quantum physicist. The writer on the other hand… well, we get our perspective by writing more, just about something else. Especially when you’re dealing with scripts, we’re constantly plagued with RULES. There’s the page number rules in scripts – the inciting incident HAS TO HAPPEN in the first 35 pages; you bring in a new main character after the first act; get in late, get out early, blahblahblah. Yeah, these rules are established for a reason – they work for you, most of the time, not against you. But Christ Almighty, we need some release.

There’s a stigma with GOOD writers – that they’re boozers or drug hounds or total deviants that just HAPPEN to be skilled with the written word. That’s a crock of bullshit. Yeah, maybe some of the greatest literary figures of the past were in fact drunks and drug addicts (Hemingway, Kesey, Bukowski, etc), but I’d venture to say they abused their stashes when they WEREN’T writing. I don’t really think anyone can say that they write their best work under the influence of booze or drugs (alright, maybe except for Aaron Sorkin). I’d venture to guess that these sorts of prolific literary figures would say that they did their best work when they were writing ALL THE TIME. In the writer’s world, quantity doesn’t mean quality – it simply BEGETS quality.

What I’m really trying to say is that if you’re stuck when you’re writing, or you don’t know the next step to take, go ahead and walk away from what you’re working on – but write something else instead. Revel in your creative juices without any sense of barriers or confines. Exercise your muscles every chance you have. There’s no such thing as failure – the only REAL failure is being idle.

Something else that just came to me – I always hear people flippantly say, “The writer’s retreat is life,” of course meaning that life experience, the things that happen to us create our stories, our voices, our perspectives. I call bullshit on that.

“The writer’s retreat is writing.” Period.

Yeah, in screenwriting especially, we’re constantly told to “write what we know.” Okay, sure – that’s fair. But I think there’s a finer, more accurate what writers are ACTUALLY doing.

Writers write what they WANT to know.

Yeah. That’s like pseudo profound or something. Seriously though… for whatever reason that makes more sense to me. I mean, a lot of the joy from writing is making shit up – we’re not all a bunch of Malcolm Xs trying to tell our stories, or subject matter that we inherently understand. No. We want to cultivate a side of life that we’re not privy to, or rather, want to become more privy to. I don’t know, maybe this is just semantics, but I challenge you blog readers to give me your take on this:

Do you write with the “write what you know disposition,” or the “…want to know” disposition? I dare you to tell me via the ScriptLab Facebook wall. Fill it up.

As I finish this blog entry, I hope that I’ll have some sort of fresh outlook on how to make this teen mystery movie more like The Departed and less like a bubble gum version of Disturbia, which had enough bubble gum in it to make Jimmy Stewart say something incoherent in the Rear Window of his grave. I don’t think writing this really helped to be honest with you, so maybe I’m just as full of shit as I declared everyone else. But at least I’ve got some quantity under my belt, damnit.