Inspiration in creative screenwriting: an author guest post by Zara Waldeback and Craig Batty

By | April 24, 2012

'Anyone writing fiction – indeed anyone writing full stop – needs to know much more than how to craft words on a page. They also have to have a sense of how to delve into that mystical, magical area where true stories lie: the place of creativity and inspiration. Sometimes writers tend to just shrug their shoulders, cross their fingers and hope for the best – hope that the muse will descend independently of what they do, and that somehow, somewhere, inspiration will strike.

But is that enough? When inspiration is such a vital aspect of a writer’s life, should we not try and meet it halfway? Should we not feel compelled to learn more about what it is, how it works, and where in ourselves it takes root and grows? We feel that this is as important to teach writers (or writers-to-be), as it is to talk about writing style, characters and structure, but it’s something which is far too often sadly lacking on curriculae.  

In our new book, “The Creative Screenwriter”, we focus on ways that creativity can be taught, so the writer can take an active part in improving this part of their craft, rather than sit passively and think there is nothing to do. In this book we explore not only how to have a creative practice, but also present an essentially creative approach to learning screenwriting. The book is taught by active involvement, each chapter full of targetted writing exercises that help students understand theme and plotting, visual storytelling, worlds, scene writing, dialogue. We feel that teaching in this way brings the knowledge home more clearly, and naturally increases the writer’s creativity and imagination as they work.

While writing the book, we also found that a strange alchemical process began to take place. We sometimes feel we should put a disclaimer on it – “Warning! This actually works!” When we began, our aim was to communicate our passion for a screenwriting approach that includes creativity, collaboration, play and adventure. This we feel we managed to manifest. But there was also a surprising side-effect, that grew stronger as we kept writing – by designing exercises and making up story examples in a creative, explorative way, we ourselves came to be more inspired. As we wrote each chapter, we had a flurry of ideas for our own creative writing; for starting new stories and seeking solutions to old scripts. A rush of revitalizing energy and sense of playfulness accompanied the creation of the book. When it was done, we realized that not only had we completed a book, we had also become better and more enriched screenwriters ourselves in the process.

This, we think, is because we were focusing specifically on what it means to be creative, and because we are certain that it is possible to train creativity. By engaging with a creative process – such as undertaking the exercises in our book – you naturally grow more creative. The more you turn on the tap, the more it flows. Inspiration is a living thing, it needs to be exercised, come out in the open, be enjoyed and played with. Then it will pay you back a thousandfold.

Inspiration is often surprising and not something to control. Instead, a good way to engage with it is to play and see where it takes you. Inspiration can also be linked to place, and how you write, not just what you write. Finding places that inspire you as you write can be hugely influential, allowing your body to roam as your mind wanders, and finding a creative space that seeps into and supports the story.

Our book was written partly up in the air and partly in the depths of the wild wood. Craig flew high into the clouds, travelling the world visiting conferences and festivals and wrote as he journeyed. Zara stayed in her rustic cabin in the forest, listening to the birds and the wind. This double process reflects the different aspects we feel are essential not only to screenwriting but any kind of good writing: an ability to go to a still place within and listen deeply, then fly into the world to speak your words and share your stories. To be creative creatures, writers must be able to do both, and dare to engage with a landscape both deep within them and a world far beyond themselves.

It also showed us how to be creative with situations we find ourselves in. Our writing spaces were not always of our choosing, but by engaging with them, we found more creative ideas than we would have otherwise. So inspiration is not always about getting what you want, but about engaging with where you are. Inspiration is an attitude offered from within the writer, rather than something bestowed upon them from the outside. Creativity, we have found, needs both freedom to roam and some limits to constrain it. Freedom and constriction in the right mix creates a space where the writer is encouraged to walk new paths, try new ways, rather than fall into old familiar patterns and choices. This is the essence of creativity, trying something new, and inspiration strikes as you see how these new possibilities may miraculously fit with the story you’re trying to tell.

With this book we hope to encourage more writers – not only screenwriters – to actively engage in a general creative practice and learn more about ways of working with inspiration. There is so much to learn, so much to discover, that makes the writing process joyous and adventurous, helping to strike gold in deep veins. Play can be a very serious endeavour, and its role in creativity is paramount. So why not go out and try something fun, to see where it will lead you? Inspiration has a way of finding the perfect way to energize you, if only you allow it to whisper in your ear.'

The creative screenwriter– Zara Waldeback and Craig Batty, authors of The Creative Screenwriter, now available to buy. This exciting new book will rekindle the creative spark, remind you why you enjoy writing, and create new ways to express the stories you want to tell and sell! More information can be found here.

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