Thursday, July 31, 2014

composting your children

I used to make painting-babies. Now I make screenplay-babies, novel-babies, and even blog-post-babies like this one, right here. I've made a lot of art-babies in my life, but here's the sad thing: sometimes after hours, days, and even months spent gestating, birthing, and nurturing these art-babies, I have to admit to myself that they've given up the ghost.

So here's a question: 
Is a lifeless art-baby a waste?

Or, because this is kind of an icky metaphor:
Is it really better to have loved a work of art and lost it, than to have never loved at all?

As a concrete example, let's take KILLING HARPER.

Killing Harper started out as a short film script back in the year 2011. I loved its non-chronological weirdness, so in 2012 I expanded the story and turned it into a feature, which I then entered into the Nicholl Fellowship competition. In July of 2013, I got word that the script had been chosen as a quarterfinalist. I crowed loudly about that on here because hey, not-getting-rejected is fun, and being acknowledged by the people who run the Oscars is super-fun.

Then Killing Harper got knocked out of the competition - because the truth is, it kinda sucked.

So I composted it.

I threw it onto my Dead Writings Compost Heap and moved onto other writing, leaving Killing Harper to rot down into the mix.

One day when I happened to be wandering past the compost heap, something about Killing Harper caught my interest. I dug it back out, cleaned it up, and plopped it down in the garden of my mind. In just one short afternoon it grew into something else... a twenty-eight page short film that'll never be shot, because half-hour short films have no place on the festival circuit.

So here's a question: 
Is a composted and re-purposed art-baby with no market value a waste?

Well, I suppose that would depend on how you define "value." I learned a lot in writing the first version of Killing Harper, and in re-writing it multiple times. I learned a lot, as well, by picking out what was good in the original and rewriting it into something that works, and says something true and (to me, at least) incredibly interesting about human nature.

Then today, I took my new Killing Harper short film script out and polished it up a few more times. When I was finished I posted it to my screenplay website, in place of the first three pages of my first attempt. As I did all this, I kept thinking of ways it could be fleshed out into a full-length script - one that would actually work as a movie.

Will I ever actually re-write Killing Harper into a feature-length script?

Probably not. A feature is a lot of work, and I've got other scripts and novels and blog posts to write. But who knows? Maybe some day someone'll meander across the post, love it, and talk me into writing the whole deal.

Even if they don't, though, I think that creative work is its own reward. Doing it not only gives pleasure, but it makes us into better creators, too. And the compost of our old, discarded work is the best sort of story-fertilizer there is.

Nothing's ever thrown away in Story-Land. It just goes into the compost. 

Who knows what might grow there, Once Upon a Time?

- - -

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