“You just muscle it out”

October 30th, 2012 by

“First you start with an idea, then you start to flesh out the structure, and that’s a long process. I think that’s where we spend a lot of time, just figuring out the structure… all the acts… the beats of the story. And then comes the great leap which is the first draft, I call it ‘the muscle draft,’ where you just muscle it out. You don’t worry about what you’re missing, you just get through it, get to the end… You find that a lot of novice screenwriters will spend years on the first act and it’ll turn into the best first act in the world, but you need to have the whole picture. I think I read an interview with George Lucas saying that the best advice he got from Coppola was, ‘Just get through it.’”

This is a quote from writer-director Darren Aronofsky. There’s a lot of ‘meat’ here [or seitan for our vegan friends], so let’s break it down:

* “First you start with an idea, then you start to flesh out the structure, and that’s a long process. I think that’s where we spend a lot of time, just figuring out the structure… all the acts… the beats of the story.” This is prep-writing, a critical aspect of the process. I keep hammering on its importance because it is important. Don’t take my word. Take Aronofsky’s!

* “And then comes the great leap which is the first draft, I call it ‘the muscle draft,’ where you just muscle it out. You don’t worry about what you’re missing, you just get through it, get to the end…” Every professional writer knows this aspect of the story-crafting process intimately. Some call it the ‘vomit draft.’ I like muscle draft. It’s not so gross as the former and it denotes strength. Plus it describes the process really well: You muscle your way through it, FADE IN to FADE OUT.

* “You find that a lot of novice screenwriters will spend years on the first act and it’ll turn into the best first act in the world, but you need to have the whole picture.” A great first act is not a story. It’s a set-up. A foundation. Foreplay, if you will. Important to get to where you need to get, but it alone doesn’t get you there. You need to write the whole damn thing to see the whole damn picture.

* “I think I read an interview with George Lucas saying that the best advice he got from Coppola was, ‘Just get through it.’” If Aronofsky isn’t enough, then you’ve got George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola weighing in: “Just get through it.”

All this week, I’m going to be quoting professional writers hitting this point again and again: When it comes to a first draft, the focus has to be on getting it written. As Aronofsky says:

“You just muscle it out.”

The Quest” has entered Week 16! And so did Go On Your Own Quest, an opportunity for anyone to follow the structure of “The Quest” to dig into screenwriting theory [Core – 8 weeks], figure out your story [Prep – 6 weeks], and write a first draft [Pages – 10 weeks]. It’s a 24-week immersion in the screenwriting process and you can do it here – for free!

Today and every Monday through Friday for 10 weeks, I’ll use this slot to post something inspirational as GOYOQ participants pound out their first drafts.

For background on “Go Into The Story: The Quest,” go here and here.

For all the previous weeks of Go On Your Own Quest posts, go here.

Join the GOYOQ Forums, a free online hub where you and other Quest participants can go to support each other and share your stories. Go here.

2 thoughts on ““You just muscle it out”

  1. I can relate to the re-writing the first act over and over, back when I first started. That first draft always becomes a fight as some point.

  2. It’s not easy to do. Forks in the road at every turn. The outline/structuring is what gets me. Perhaps I should try free-writing it and see what comes up, if I get a first draft out of that it’d be great but even that sounds too ideal. At some point you have to start thinking, to premeditate, and it’s the pause that the dastardly doubts quickly assail. I’m doing my best at the moment writing a short story and ignoring the negative voice during the short (what seem like long) moments of pause…

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