Write scenes, not books


A writer ‘s gotta do what a writer ‘s gotta do. © sxc

Write a scene, not a book. Although I am definitely trying to write a novel, this is the most important principle for me to keep in mind if I want to get any writing done.

If I sit down behind my computer, thinking about my book, or worse, my “oeuvre”, then all I can see is the giant amount of work that’s still in front of me. Of course every writer, aspiring or established, fantasizes about holding those two crispy covers, with 360 pages of indisputable genius in between. But for me, personally, that thought mostly cramps my style. As a result, I will find myself dawdling on Facebook or Twitter, streaming some television series, making yet another cup of coffee, or – well yes – blogging.

While if I manage to keep my mind focused on one thing, writing one good scene, just one, then that seems feasible. The “good” might be still up for discussion, but at least I’ll have a scene. And then another one. And…

And what’s most important, focusing on the scene at hand helps me to genuinely enjoy my writing. Firstly because the stakes don’t feel so (friggin’) high, but also because I can feel that fun little jolt of achievement after every scene, instead of once every two years or so.

And if you’ll excuse me now, I’ve got another scene in mind. But first, I think I’ll make myself a cup of tea…

10 thoughts on “Write scenes, not books

  1. That’s really great advice not only to make writing a novel actually feel manageable but when I first read the title of your blog post it made me think of the importance of making every scene feel like its own moment and not just filler or a means of transitioning between plot points. Thanks for sharing that!

  2. I would like to throw a thought into the ether. It’s really unrelated, but related to your writing of books and screenplays. I think writing both can be counter-productive to each other, assuming you seriously desire at least one of them to become a career. Of course, from a hobby standpoint, do whatever you want. But, if a professional career in one is sought – I would suggest that the writing of either can work to the detriment of the other, because of how vastly different they are.

    • Hmmm, you may have a point… I’m trying very hard to build a career from my novels, and I see screenwriting as a hobby. Why do you think they are incompatible?

  3. The goal of one is more words; the goal of the other is less words. It’s like simultaneously training yourself to eat more and eat less.

  4. It’s not just “paying attention to word count” – books can be verbose, repetitious in thought, having a narrative saying the same thing three different ways, highly internal, with flowery descriptions. Screenplays should not be any of those. I believe writing should be a habit. But, if you get in the habit of one type of writing, you can’t just flip a switch. A habit takes time, practice and repetition. A screenplay should be as succinct as possible. If a book were as succinct as possible, then it would be a short story, or a haiku.

    • Hmmm, actually I think switching between genres now and then can keep you alert. Writing is not just a habit. Personally I think a book should also be as compact as possible. In both genres I start out from a “movie” playing in my head. When writing a screenplay I just simply describe what I see, writing a novel takes it a few steps further. Also, some very important things, like the plot, the internal logic of the characters, even the setting in some way… Those have a lot in common in both genres. I actually find it enriching to combine both genres.

  5. I have to take umbrage with the statement, “When writing a screenplay I just simply describe what I see, writing a novel takes it a few steps further.”
    People can not approach screenplay writing as if they have the natural ability to write in such a form – it is not like any other type of writing. Most people have written throughout their lives, from emails to essays to stories. This makes it easy for people to think they can write a novel. Additionally, most people have seen movies. This convinces some people they can write movies. But, that’s kind of tantamount to having seen a car race, then thinking you can build a car because of that. The movie is the end result and it’s vastly different from step 1 – the screenplay. Just because someone has a “movie” playing in their head does not mean they can convey that “movie” – in an unfamiliar structure (most people don’t grow up writing in screenplay format) – to someone else in a way that allows them to see the same “movie.”
    Obviously there are certain similarities, but a screenplay is more like a series of paintings than a book.

    • You really want to convince me I’m a no good screenwriter, do you? 🙂 Well, you’re probably right. I guess we’ll see in a year or so what I’m worth. When I finish my next novel, I plan to give my screenplay a few extra spins and then to get it out there.

      That’s exactly what a novelist does, he paints scenes. You can’t just tell a story. You have to make your reader “see” the scenes.

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