Guinevere Turner is a writer, director and actor who has been working in film and TV since her 1994 debut film Go Fish. She went on to act in several films, including The Watermelon Woman, Chasing Amy, and Treasure Island. Eventually she teamed up with Mary Harron to write American Psycho and then The Notorious Bettie Page. She stopped by Filmmaking Stuff to share some useful screenwriting advice.
Screenwriting Advice: Write The WORST Scene Ever!
I’ve been privileged enough not only to work as a screenwriter for the last 20 years, but to talk to many other screenwriters about what they do and how they do it. So I am going to steal some screenwriting advice from them.
One of my favorites is from writer Mike Werb. He says when he feels stuck he just says out loud: “I am now going to write the WORST scene ever written!” and then he starts typing.
I do this all the time because of Mike and it works. And you will write the worst scene ever and then you will rewrite it and then there will be progress.
Don Roos says he forces himself to write for one hour, with a timer, every day. Every single day, no matter what. And he has a husband and kids. He says, “Even if I just write, ‘Oh my god, I’m so fat’ or ‘Oh my god, Dan is being so selfish today’, I have written for an hour, and I am writer, and then I can go on with my day. “
I’ve tried Don’s method and it doesn’t work for me at all – I don’t respond well to structure like that – but it just brings up the real issue which is this: as a writer, you must find your way.
What works for you, what makes you productive/creative/inspired. Some people like to have music. John August says that he actually gets a scented candle and lights it when he starts to work on a certain project – so that he has a smell associated with a story and it puts him in that world.
For me, it’s about morning, quiet, solitude and no Internet to plug me into the cacophony until I have written something. Also about not having a conversation with anyone. Which might be why I am single. I have often woken up to a person next to me who says in a sleepy affectionate way “Hey – what are you up today?” and I answer but all I am thinking is “You killed it! It’s over! Now I can’t write today.”
Working in TV was great for me though, because I learned to get over myself and just get the damn thing done. In film, you can lie on your chaise lounge with a Garbo-esque hand to the forehead and claim that you “Just don’t feel inspired today” and get away with it for a bit – in TV you either finish the script when you are told to, or you are fired. And there’s a line of people around the block who are ready to do your job.
Finally, I just want to say that you should never describe anyone as “ruggedly handsome,” and don’t tell me that Bob is thinking of his grandmother. I can’t read Bob’s mind. Tell me what Bob looks like when he’s thinking of his grandmother. And the biggest peeve I have in movies and TV is people saying each other’s names.
Notice, the next time you are with a lover, a sibling, an old friend, that you NEVER ever say their names. Really, it’s weird but true. People who know each other well only say names when they are very mad or very in love.
An equation that constantly surprises me is this: writing something = happiness. Not writing something = anxiety, fear, grief. So… just write something.
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I am Guinevere Turner – writer, director and actor who has been working in film and TV since I first got into the game in 1994 with my film Go Fish. I’ve been in some movies, including The Watermelon Woman, Chasing Amy, and Treasure Island. I teamed up with Mary Harron to write American Psycho and then The Notorious Bettie Page. I was a staff writer and story editor on Showtime’s The L Word, and I played the nightmarish Gabby Deveaux on that show. I’ve written and directed five short films, two of which showed at Sundance, some of which played on TV and around the world, and some of which were completely ignored.