Yesterday I was telling my friend Sam a story about the first feature screenplay I ever wrote. At some point in the conversation it be are clear that he assumed I was talking about a script I wrote ages ago, in a time before Google Street View (WAS there such a time?). In reality, while I'd been penning sketches and plays since girlhood and various TV scripts since college, I didn't actually write a full feature screenplay until I came to grad school to study screenwriting. As I explained to Sam, the very idea of writing a feature stopped me in my tracks. I'd read books about it, I'd studied film theory in college, I'd made a full length documentary, but I just couldn't fathom how one would go about filling two hours with a self-contained story. I went to school needing and expecting to be taught how.
And taught I was, but not in the way I expected. Rather than running blow-by-blow through a Syd Field text or poring over The Hero's Journey, my first ever feature screenwriting class was mostly a process of trial and error. I would take a stab at an outline, clueless but desperate to get it right, and then my professor would tell me why it didn't work. Frankly, it was hell. I cried a lot. But eventually, my outline was approved and I started writing.
Later on in school, I would learn loads about classing screenplay architecture and various theories on story structure. We would learn to obsess over character arcs and the fine art of learning the rules before you break them. But by that point I had already experienced the steepest hill of the learning curve: at some point, you just have to stop thinking about it and DO it. And only by doing it can you really hope to learn how to do it right.
Sure, lessons and peers and notes and corrections are invaluable, and planning is swell, but those things can't serve their purpose until you've taken a stab at the thing. Several stabs later, I am floored by how natural the feature writing process is beginning to feel.
I'm trying to keep this lesson top-of-mind today as, after months of planning, I record the first episode of the Sweet Valley Diaries podcast. I am so excited to embark on this new adventure, but because of its newness, it's also very scary. Part of me wants to call the whole thing off and try again in the Spring, when I've had several extra months to structure and pre-produce and sound-test. The wiser part of me, however, knows that the whole thing will be just as scary (and probably less exciting) in April as it is today.
Sometimes, you just have to do it. I think this first episode will be a blast, and only by making it real can I hope to make future episodes even...blastier. I know the first episode won't be perfect, but it will be something better than perfect: it will be real.
Wish me luck!