Struggling to finish your first draft? You could cry and shove chocolate cake in your face (this sometimes works), but perhaps it’s time for an alternative approach.
So, hitch up your combat trousers, snap on your conical bra, and step into a happier, more nurturing writing environment… the world of Nineties movies. No wait really. Bear with us. The nineties might have been a weird and glorious time of basically nothing – hyper cynicism, political stasis and very big shoes* – but it was also a time when TV, cinema and books pretty much chucked the old rule book away and started again from scratch (first draft! See what we did there?).
*I mean, if you weren’t wearing these to school then who even are you?
So put the cake down, this is serious. For hidden within the movies of the Nineties lie five mystical lessons to help you finish your first draft.
The Bowfinger Method
In Bowfinger, Steve Martin plays a desperate movie producer who fails to get a major star (Eddie Murphy) for his bargain basement film. Does he give up? Hell no! Bobby Bowfinger has saved $1 every week since childhood to make a movie, and that’s what he’s going to do. He shoots “Chubby Rain” secretly around Murphy, using the star’s nerdy lookalike brother as a stunt double. He lies to everybody, putting their lives and sanity at risk, all to follow his dream.
So, what’s the Nineties movie lesson? Write your first draft like you’re about to be mown down on the freeway. She who procrastinates winds up on the grill of a speeding Cadillac. And remember, however bad your first draft is, it will never be as appalling as “Chubby Rain.”
Wield your tiny inappropriate hammer
The Shawshank Redemption is an entire film based on doing things in small consistent steps. Andy Dufresne breaks out of Shawshank Prison by chipping at his impenetrable cell wall with a minuscule rock hammer, year in, year out, fuelled only by hope.
Writing your first draft is very much like crawling through an unspeakable tunnel. You don’t know where you’re going or when you’ll get there. But keep at it, and one day you too will have your breakthrough moment, standing half naked in the rain.
Embrace your inner queen
In The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, three frenemies cross the desert in a lavender bus packed with drag outfits, and boy do they know how to wear them. Those ladies didn’t trundle through the Outback performing mirror, signal, manoeuvre, and neither should you.
So what do we learn here? Embrace the joy of writing for yourself. Your first draft needs to be an explosion of unedited recklessness – it’s the only thing that will get you through rewrite number seven. If you don’t have fun writing it, no one will have fun reading it. This is your story, your desert. Put on a dress with a sixty foot train and ride through the outback on the roof. Your book, your rules.
Whatever it takes
In Election, Tracy Flick is running for school council president, and nothing is going to stand in her way. She lies, cheats, seduces and lets other people take the rap for her crimes. She gets the job done, and she does scary things with cake.
Let’s talk ruthless determination. Barricade the door, switch off the kids, zip up the cat. Don’t waste time feeling guilty, you’ve got a job to do. Yes, Tracy Flick is an appalling role model, but you don’t want pretty, you want done.
Jerry Maguire is famous for two lines, but, “you had me at hello,” is no use to us here. What the first drafter needs is the egotistical exuberance of Cuba Gooding Jr and Tom Cruise* in the world’s shoutiest phone call.
You need enormous reserves of self-belief to finish a novel. So grab a banana and shout “show me the money” to your imaginary agent. Picture yourself at the awards ceremony or the book launch. Use this raucous energy to power you to the end of the story. Believe in your own worth. Believe in your story. Punch the air and shout, “Hell Yeah!”
*This exercise works with virtually any Tom Cruise film. You can’t really get more Nineties than Tom Cruise.
Can’t finish your first draft? The hell you can’t! Bring on the Nineties! Woo to the yeah!
… And freeze frame.