You hear from a lot of writers say they don’t like writing, but they love having written. I think I’m kind of the same — except the thing I hate the most is being just about to write. When I’m sat at my laptop tapping away, I have ups and downs, but I find nothing worse than having to start. The way I get myself out of this bind? Not writing.

Which is why I was really struck by this interview with X-Men: Days of Future Past scribe Simon Kinberg (@kinberg) on Jeff Goldsmith’s (@yogoldsmith) the Q&A Podcast. He said something about his writing process that really chimed with me, but I’ve never really been able to articulate in quite the way he did.

Basically, Kinberg said that he outlines. He outlines a lot. And the reason he gave for doing so wasn’t necessarily about improving the finished product (giving the script structure, having a plan to execute, or all the other things that I discuss here). For him, it was psychological. He said he outlined so as to minimise the time that he actually spent writing.

I completely get what he means.

Not writing, the key to my writing process

Writing – i.e. that final stage of the creative process when you are crafting scenes, creating dialogue, inputting words into final draft – preys on a whole range of my psychological frailties. What if the script isn’t good enough? What if it doesn’t work? What if whoever reads it thinks it’s stupid, or amateurish? This final part of the process feels a bit too much like work.

And so I outline…

Which is not to say that thinking, plotting, structuring aren’t “writing” per se. Writing a good outline is a massive part of ending up with a great script. And because these early iterations aren’t written to be seen by anyone except me, I’m not under the same pressure to get them right. I can leave gaps, make mistakes. In my head, I haven’t really started writing yet.

Outlining allows me to put off that final moment of truth. By structuring and outlining the way that I do, I am building towards, but putting off, the moment when I actually have to write.

So I agree with Kinberg – put off the moment of writing as long as possible. Just make sure you’re doing something productive in the meantime…

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I'm James, a screenwriter working in the film and TV industry. To get in touch, see my e-mail contact page.

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