What Good Is A Great Idea If You Can't Finish It?

Ordinary, workmanlike ideas are a dime a dozen. Great ideas aren’t. When I say great I mean commercial, high concept, extremely sellable ideas. If you haven’t figured it out yet, most of the time Hollywood buys the “idea.”  It could be a book, play, comic strip, comic book, graphic novel, blog, twitter, a true story and, oh, yeah, a screenplay.
            If you’re lucky enough to come up with a great idea you move to the front of the line. But if you can’t complete it you’re screwed. You’re more screwed than the screenwriter with an OK idea who has completed a script. At least he or she has something to put on the market.  And sometimes that OK idea is so well-executed that the writing stands out and the characters are so interesting that the OK idea is overlooked because reading the script has been such an enjoyable ride.
            Think Juno a few years ago. Ordinary idea. Really, old, done to death idea: teenage girl gets pregnant, wants the right couple to adopt it: will she find the right couple? Ho-hum. But the execution, as we all know, was spot on. We hadn’t seen dialogue like that in a while or such an appealing character. Hell, all the characters were appealing in this otherwise ordinary story.
            So having the OK idea isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you can rise to the occasion with superior execution.
            But if you’re one of those people with the “big” idea that would make even the most jaded Hollywood type do an Irish jig and you can’t finish it, that’s just bad form.
            I can’t tell you the number of great ideas I’ve heard from students, clients, friends and colleagues. I mean, really cool things. The kind of idea you’re immediately jealous of because you didn’t think of it.  The kind of idea that makes you want to suggest a collaboration.
            And I can’t tell you the number of great ideas I’ve heard that never get finished. Or maybe there’s a first draft, but the author can’t get the initiative to do the next couple of drafts to get it into perfect shape.
            I’ve been saying for years that completion is everything. It’s the only thing that matters if you want to have a career.
            If you’re one of those lucky people with a great idea, but you’re not completing the screenplay, you need to get in touch with why that’s happening. Life intrudes, as they say, so if life is piling on and you can’t get your head on straight, OK. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try to help lift the fog. Or maybe you need help in the form of a collaborator. You need a second set of eyes to help you discover what was right before your eyes. Maybe you need a script consultant or a screenwriting class or a writers support group.
            It’s bad enough to have an OK idea and not be able to complete it. But when you have that killer premise that makes everyone who you tell it to smile, and you can’t get it done, it’s not quite tragic, but it’s pretty damn sad because the risk you take is that someone else will come up with the same idea and beat you to the punch.

Making Hay While The Sun Shines

           It’s been a busy and productive Summer. The only place I haven’t been productive is right here. Only 3 posts in 3 months. Until I started blogging in January I never understood why some of the blogs I follow had lengthy periods without posts. Common sense dictates that bloggers who don’t post have either run out of ideas for a column or maybe just maybe they were, uh, busy?Duh?
            That’s been the case with me. Work on 3 different projects has taken up lots of my time since May. 
Years ago I read an interview with Stephen King.  If you’re a fan of Mr. King you know he’s a prolific writer. I probably read this 25 years ago. He said that when someone is paying him to write he works on that during the day, giving it his full attention. When he’s working on something else on spec or for fun simultaneously, he works on that at night. His point was that if it’s someone else’s nickel you give that priority.
            I’m not now nor have I ever been as prolific as Stephen King. The idea of spending 5 or 6 hours in the daytime working on a paying job, then working that same evening on a non-paying job (something I’m doing for fun) is alien to me.
            If I get 3 or 4 pages on a given day it’s cause for celebration.
            Because of the projects I’ve been working on this summer, along with two classes that I taught, I’ve had to view the time I spend on this blog like what Stephin King refers to his nighttime fun work. Symbolically, the projects I’ve been working on are “somebody else’s nickel.”
            The thing I want to convey is that for most writers, we can go weeks, months and years without anything happening. Nobody likes your script or you can’t finish it or you can’t come up with a good idea or you’re having your annual self-doubt week. But when something, or more than one thing, happens and it means that something you’ve written finally has forward movement, that’s when, as the farmers of yore used to say we should: make hay while the sun shines.
            This Summer has been a positive hay-making time for me.  Some good things are happening and I’ll be discussing them soon.
            I’m also going to free up time to get back to making posts on a regularly basis.
            As my friend Lew Hunter likes to say: “Write on!”