Here’s another basic principle of the craft that writers early in their careers often have trouble putting their arms around. Simply put, if you’re going to write meaningful, gripping scripts, you have to make available your inner, private secrets and not be afraid to deal with them.
You can’t limit your potential idea mine because you’re afraid of what people might think about you as a result of seeing your work. All good writers know that you have to risk such exposure. It goes with the territory. It’s expected and, with few exceptions, is mandatory if your work is going to have real life and punch. To not risk revealing what’s going on inside you, the emotional issues you struggle with, is to severely limit yourself as you consider ideas. Instead, I urge you to go right to those problems you wrestle with the most. Put them out on the work table.
Keep in mind the paradox: the more specific and detailed and personal your writing becomes, the more universal will be its appeal (I did a previous post on this called “The writer’s paradox”). Your inner struggles may seem unique to you, and indeed they will have their own little twists and turns, but don’t think for a minute that those who witness your work on stage or on the screen haven’t had similar thoughts or urges or experiences. The bottom line is that we’re all human beings. We share a tremendous amount of basic physical and emotional baggage. As a writer, you’re expected to deal with and make sense of this commonly shared inner experience.
So my advice is don’t shut the very doors you should be venturing through. Go directly to the source for your material and deal with it honestly. And simply don’t worry about it. Take the risk of self-exposure. The more you do so, the more you increase your chances of coming up with ideas and stories that will make wonderful, vibrant scripts that have something important to say.
There is one cautionary note to this advice, however, and that’s the subject of my next post: dealing only with closed chapters.