by Justin Ross
As a development executive, and perhaps more so as one whose company is connected to talent management, I often get the question: What do you think I should write next?
After having just finished a project, the interrogating writer often has several ideas tumbling through their head and wonders what to focus on next.
My reply is always the same: What are you most passionate about? What story will not let you go? Whatever the answer to those questions is the next story you need to tell.
Let’s define passion then. A quick Google search brings up this: Barely controllable emotion. I love that! Think of this in context with a great movie you just saw. I am sure I am not alone in the desire to then tell people either about it or certainly to go and see it, my excitement brimming over. I am passionate about that film and I want everyone to know it; that spirit is contagious too!
Digging a bit deeper, I came across this psychological definition of the word which I like for our purpose even more: Self-defining activity that you find important enough to dedicate time and energy to.
I have written a script, start to finish, in a single day and have spent literal years on others. In both instances, I dedicated time and energy to the process. By doing the work, whether in an hour or many hours, I prioritized the story above anything else I might have chosen to engage in (and yes, that includes doing nothing!). That dedicated time and energy is best served when it comes from a place of passion and not merely one of, say, “should” as in “I should write this.”
Wouldn’t it be best if the statement going into a writing project was, “I have to write this” or “I must write this”? That is passion, an almost obsessive overflow, a not-letting-me-go. It is no wonder that passion is maybe most often associated with romance and love! Digging even more, we find that the etymology (background) of the word PASSION comes from late Latin and literally translates: To suffer. Hence, the titling of a “Passion Play” a la “Passion of the Christ.” It is quite simply, the suffering of Jesus on a Roman cross.
How then does this relate to you writing a pilot or a screenplay? Some of you are probably laughing because you equate all the work of writing as a painful ordeal – only teasing, though we recognize the truth in jest. From the “suffering” through the creative process comes something wonderful; something amazing. We call them growing pains – not growing smiles…remember?!
Lastly, I want to flip the question around and offer what is either confirmation or revelation from “my” side of the desk. A hundred out of 100 times I would rather read a script that, while perhaps not even spell checked yet (it should be though, it should be), practically bleeds it is so infused with a personal and passionate story and characters than one that is formatted perfectly and was written for, say, just what the writer thought the marketplace would want to read right now. Every time. I compare this with music. A friend of mine played me a Barbara Streisand song from her early days – before the Grammy’s and Oscars and, etc. and ad nauseam. There is a moment in the piece where “Babs” is slightly ahead of the orchestra and another brief moment where she is singing so gut-wrenchingly that she’s briefly off key…but I absolutely love this performance so much more than the perfected, produced album version of the same song. In the first, she is so into what she is communicating that she is lost in the emotion of it (our definition of passion!). And in the second, while technically flawless, most all of that angst is gone. To me, it’s rather flat (no pun intended).
The same analogy with your work, writers. I can tell within very, very few pages if a writer was compelled to craft the particular work or whether they just kind of wrote it for…some other reason. Even if the specific story does not resonate (or I have something else in the pipeline that is just too close to it), I know I have found a writer whose work I will want to read more of and who, if they keep writing from their own individual place of passion, is someone special.