Final Draft made a mess of me last night.
I haven’t written a screenplay since 2009, one I wrote in a frenzied six-hour rush for a film I had to shoot the next morning (in an equally frenzied rush). The screenplay before that was finished in 2005. Realizing it’s been 8 years since I sat down to write a script with the time to do it right was…well “psychic punch to the throat” might be the best way to describe it.
I used to think screenwriting was where I was headed. Film or television, not prose. Not novels. Yeah, sure, I wrote prose, too, but it was film and television that I really loved. That was my home. Or, at least, I was going to make it my home.
Then Broken Magic happened, and things changed. My dream of writing for film didn’t die. It was pushed aside by something stronger, maybe, but not killed. I still loved film. I still wanted to make film. It just wasn’t clear anymore it was where I belonged.
Last year, I found myself at a crossroads. I was about to finish my second novel, and the What’s Next question loomed. If it was a third novel, that felt like a commitment. Like I was making a career choice, at least for the time being, and I still wasn’t sure author was a smart one. I decided that, if I was going to make a push toward screenwriting, it was now or never. So I considered it. Seriously. I talked to Erin about whether she’d be willing to move if it came to that, and made plans for what I’d need to do before a move would be a good idea. I asked for advice. I researched.
In the end, I decided to stay. The right thing was to build off what I’d started with Broken Magic. I’d started in a direction and, for now, that direction was the correct one.
I was very, very close to deciding otherwise.
I missed film. I missed filming. I wanted to be on set again, working with actors, riding the energy of the terrifying, chaotic collaboration between people with too little time and not nearly enough money.
After Word on the Street I figured, hey, noveling is my next big step, but I could take a little detour into film. A short one, to dip my foot into the pool for a bit before I got back to the business of bookery. An idea for a short film had made itself known, and I needed a little break before the next Big Thing, so why not?
Which brings me back to what started this all: Final Draft. Which is, if you haven’t heard of it, the screenwriting software you’re often told to buy if you plan on working in The Industry.
I’d opened Final Draft before, but I hadn’t really used it. My previous scrips — all written for myself, to be filmed by me — were written in Word (or, in the case of the 48 Hour Film Project script, in Google Docs). I bought Final Draft last year (I told you I was making serious plans), fired it up screwed around, then let it sit, unused, on my hard drive until I had something to write. Something to write is what I finally had.
I got exactly this far:
I hadn’t realized, not until I typed that scene heading, exactly what it was I decided last year. What road I’d chosen to follow, and what I was leaving behind by walking it. I wasn’t going to write a script that would find its way onto a television, not any time soon. Maybe never. I wasn’t the writer I thought I’d be. Still a writer, yes, but a different one. When I typed EXT. ALLEY, it suddenly felt like I’d run away from the writer I’d hoped to become. It felt like I’d failed.
That’s crap, I know. I had to write this post to know it, but since I’m almost done with it, I do. I chose to be here. I didn’t decide to press forward as an author instead of a screenwriter out of fear. I did it because, when I finally forced myself to choose, the choice was really clear. I knew where I belonged. I belonged right here.
The future is a strange and unknowable thing. Right now it looks like, outside of the short films I find the time and energy to do on my own, I’ll never be a screenwriter. But who knows? I made a choice for right now, not forever, and where I’ll be tomorrow could be as unexpected as where I am today.
Still, it’s more to work through than I thought it’d be. Not bad. Maybe even good. Just a lot.
There are things we were meant to lose, that we’re better off without because we gained something else by leaving it behind.
Doesn’t mean you don’t cry when you open an old shoebox and find a photograph of it.
Doesn’t mean that at all.