Monday, January 10, 2011

Digging Holes

You've got to dig holes to plant an orchard. You have to plan it out. The holes have to be so deep, so wide and near enough to some water and light to have it all make sense. The initial task is to make decisions. Once you start digging a hole, you really, really do not want to have to fill it up again without something going in there besides dirt.

This may be my first challenge.  I am not a writer challenged by ideas. I have an idea all the time. It's not as if I can carry an idea around forever though. It'd be like carrying around a peach tree sapling. "Oh, hey! Look at what I've got: a peach tree sapling." Yeah. Great. Moreover, you know what happens to peach tree saplings that never are planted. That's right. They die. Ideas that never get planted die, too. Imagine if we writers learned not to worry so much about ideas, and instead focused on how to put them in the ground and start developing them? Of course, that is kind of the gift of the screenwriting craft...being called a craft. It implies there is a way to plant the idea, and if I follow this way, dig this hole, then I can simply plant this idea there and it will grow -- like a Southern California garden. Dig hole, drop plant - bloom!

The thing is that digging holes is not that much fun and the rewards look like a far piece away. It's oh so much more fun to carry around a tree sapling and its grandiose promise. Digging holes is hard work. I am facing the fact that even though I know how to work hard, and I have worked hard, hard, hard for others digging all manner of holes, digging holes for my own ideas is somehow much harder. I'm trying to figure that out. Why can I dig a hole for someone else's ideas, peach trees, and yet be such a ... refusnik on my own damned holes. I don't mind working hard. I love nothing more than to set things up for other people's ideas to flourish. That's what I've done my whole "professional career," but do it for myself? Har.

Julia Cameron wrote something about this in her famous tome, "The Artist's Way," that I read years ago. It goes back to that fear of success/fear of failure complex. It is like hitting ROCKS when I'm digging holes. Bam! My shovel bangs against something hard, something that has no give. Bam, bam, bam! Frustrated banging of my shovel may chip the immovable stone, but the rock isn't going to move. So...what does someone digging holes have to do to dig out rocks? 

Of course, a hole-digger has to dig around the damned blocks of igneous scrap to loosen them from their hold on the earth. Guess what? A writer has to sort of do the same thing while developing the beginnings of a story and a block appears. Sometimes these are exercises in futility, going round and round. I can dig a place for the main idea for quite a while and seemingly make no progress, but suddenly, one little area of the story comes alive, entertaining moments between characters, a place of origin, the back-story, and the block wiggles. If I keep on making my way around the wiggle, start moving the block into the wiggle, it gets easier to imagine that the block won't be there forever. 

That's what I'm doing right now. I'm working in the wiggle room of some holes.

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