David Hal Chester
YOU AGAINST THE WORLD
I used to write with co-writers. I loved the experience. I do not like writing alone. That said, even though I had co-writers, I often ended up doing most of the heavy lifting, and often on my own. But each person I worked with brought some special magic to the table, even if it was only one line or an observation. Did that make them co-writers? It did in that we shared part of the journey of creating a script together.
Now, because of COVID, and other circumstances in my co-writers' lives and mine, I am on that journey alone. I do not like it, but I have learned to just "face the page and write." Like many people, I find excuses not to: I have to clean the house, I have to make dinner, I have to send an email to someone, I have to comment on something I saw on Instagram, I have to engage in a discussion on "Screenwriting Twitter." But all of that is to avoid what I find to be the tremendous loneliness of writing alone.
I was tasked with creating several two-page written pitches for concepts the producer I am working with thinks he can sell. I take those written pitches very seriously and I have gotten really good at doing them. But they are not easy. They are their own special art forms, and it takes a while to get them right.
I battled with one in particular and I knew I was running out of time. Part of the problem was: I was getting lost. I forced myself to complete a simple character questionnaire for all the characters so I was clear on what their goals were. This little trick helped tremendously.
The other trick that helped was ensuring everything was pushing the story forward. There could be not an ounce of fat. It was like doing an Olympic sprint and knowing that I had to beat my previous record. I made sure that each sentence was punchy, that it had rhythm and purpose and impact. Most of all, I made sure that the story made sense. It's easy to write a dramatic sentence, but if the story doesn't make sense, who cares?
When I finished the pitches to the best of my ability, I stepped back and thought, "I just did that. I actually finished them and sent them off." I also told myself that if the producer hated them, I had made my best effort. But for a brief, shining moment, I felt... elation. I did it. On my own. No one was helping me. Long story short: the producer loved both of them and sent them off to the powers that be. I guess the point I want to make is: if it comes down to you against the world, then you better find your sword and your shield and get out there and fight. I do wish I had a co-writer by my side, but for the foreseeable future, it's just me. And so, I have scaled back on some social media that was way too distracting, I started to take walks in the middle of the afternoon to work out story problems, and I remind myself to keep going by telling myself that a two-page written pitch can turn into a full-fledged feature with funding. I've done 8 so far, so, maybe there will be more, I don't know. But I do know if I give up there won't be anymore. And so... I will keep going. On my own. I have the greatest tool of all: an imaginative mind. And it allows me to create worlds full of people and stories and if I'm lucky, someone will pay me for creating them. If you are at your desk, struggling alone... you are not alone. I am struggling along with you. So, whether it's coffee, wine, sparkling water, or some other concoction, I lift a glass to you, the solo writer... I hope we can meet someday and toast each other's progress.