Nothing you write is ever a waste of time. Even if you don’t finish what you start, it may be of use to you later on. I started writing the Rocliffe Notes book in 2010 but put it aside. Then someone suggested I create a blog, so I used the book as the content. The book was then mooted and, bar interviews and quotes, a lot of it was already half written. So nothing is ever wasted – only abandoned until you need it.
Rocliffe Notes from creatives on finishing what you start
ALAN MCKENNA: I used to bowl straight in and fire up Final Draft with only a rough hint of a story, character or scene, foolishly believing that the rest would somehow magically come together once I started typing. Needless to say, it didn't. Some great scenes, sure, but no real story. I have a bunch of scripts that never got beyond here and those are the longer ones. More than anything, this ‘fools rush in’ process leads to half-finished scripts or scripts that remain destined never to leave the privacy and comfort of your hard drive. Luckily, my writing process has evolved somewhat and I’m a firm believer in the ‘treatment first’ method. Get it down, see if it works, know your beginning, middle and end. It's my way to ensure the story is worth telling and, if you have that, nothing will stop you finishing that draft.
REBECCA DALY: You always feel like you’re getting to the end before you get there, both in the writing and the editing process. You’re winding down and you’re checking along the way, ‘Am I really at the end?’ You just know. It just feels right.
PETER HARNESS: I always advise finishing things. Keep doing it and get it finished, even if it’s the most painful thing in the world. Drink a bottle of wine, sit and crack something out until it’s finished. Once you’ve finished, you can do something with it, edit it – you’ve got something there, rather than a trail of half-finished things. Writers finish things. People who aren’t writers don’t finish things. That’s the difference.
TINA GHARAVI: I finish all the scripts I start. I am lucky or unlucky in that I don’t know how to give up.
JAMES DORMER: I got a piece of advice from some crappy astrological book my mum gave to me to not give up – finish things. Actually it landed so hard I went and got a tattoo of my Chinese sign. A goat. Which is still with me – for better or worse.
GARETH EDWARDS: The phrase I come back to a lot about writing is ‘A thing is finished, not when there’s nothing left to add, but when there’s nothing left to take away’.
CLAIRE WILSON: I finish every script but not every idea. I have a folder of sparkling gems that never see the light of day. When I go back over them for inspiration I often understand why.
ALISON MILLAR: I’m never completely happy with the films I make. There are always bits that just needed a wee bit more work. You stop because you collapse, run out of money and time, or hit the transmission date. Afterwards, no matter how many awards they win, and even if critics write positive things, I often think to myself, ‘Oh, I feel that could have been a bit better.’ Having someone supportive and strong working with you, such as a great exec, will help encourage you to stop and may even utter the words, ‘Leave it now, Alison, it’s grand… it’s done… leave it… no more…’.
SIMON CHINN: The thing with filmmaking generally, and documentary-making specifically, is that you always feel, at the end of a project, that you are just walking away or being dragged away from it. A film is never quite finished. I’ve just been to Sundance with a film of ours. I sat through the screening wishing we could get back into the cutting room and change this and fiddle with that. I always feel like that. As it happens, Malik claims he spent 1,000 days cutting and editing Searching for Sugar Man. He literally had to be dragged away from the edit suite; we were screaming at him to stop. We felt there was a point where the film started to get worse, not better. That’s often the case. That process for him had become something other than making the film; it was like falling in love. Malik had fallen in love with the story and had spent four years of his life with it, suffering for it, loving it. The end of that process was painful for him and still is in a way. He gained so much from making that film (he won an Oscar, for Christ’s sake!) but he also lost something when it ended. I sometimes wonder whether he feels he may never find it again – which is really how I felt after Man on Wire.
POSTSCRIPT: My interview with Simon Chinn was conducted prior to Malik Bendjelloul's tragic death.
Excerpt From: Farah Abushwesha: Rocliffe Notes: A Professional Approach for Screenwriters and Writer-Directors