Are You Leaving Enough White Space?

In the film industry when a producer, manager, agent (or, more likely, their assistants) receives a screenplay, the first thing they are said to do is flip through the pages looking at the ratio of white space to black text.

If there isn't enough white space the script automatically goes into the rejection pile. It sounds harsh, but it's for good reason since, generally speaking, one page of a screenplay is equivalent to one minute on the screen.

The white space shows the executive that the writer understands this tight, relatively unforgiving structure. It lets them know the writer did not succumb to flowery, descriptive language, that they likely didn't include a boatload of unimportant details, and that they didn't - God willing - meander.

In screenwriting and in life white space is necessary.

The presence of white space in screenwriting holds the promise of a focused, nuanced, yet engaging and entertaining script. It says, "I'm readable! I might even be a page turner!" That white space is breathing room. It's the pause between ideas, or the time jump between locations and scenes. White space is an exhale.

In life the white space reminds us that we cannot exist within the constant chatter of metaphoric black text. We cannot focus only on output and accomplishments. We must build in the pauses and breaks, because they allow us to rest and help us gather momentum to give birth to the Next Thing.

The birth metaphor is apt, because as with childbirth, we artists conceive, gestate, and labor. The white space is pregnancy, and it can't be rushed, hurried, or skimmed over. Yet, in our culture, we aren't taught to value the white space.

We are taught to be Productivity Machines, and, therefore, are prone to imbalance.

If you don't regularly step back and look at your creative practice as a whole, I recommend it. It's a living thing and it needs tending to. Ask yourself, "Am I leaving enough time in between? Am I exhaling? Am I balanced and focused?"

When we honor the white space we bring ourselves back to center and allow for a more fruitful creative life.


Don't Do What I Did

When I was a budding screenwriter I would do more than 20 revisions on a script before sending it to contests, managers, or production companies. Typically, professional screenwriters do 3 to 5 revisions before sending their work out. So even though I had to tack on some extra work for being a newbie, 20 revisions was total OVERKILL. It's no exaggeration to say that I spent years doing something that should've taken months. Instead of having 10 screenplays in my arsenal, I had 3. Some lessons I've learned in hindsight:

* Trying to make each work perfect is short-sighted. Instead of looking at your creative practice or creative career as a marathon, you're treating like a sprint. In doing so, you sacrifice the big picture for the small.

* The quest for perfection comes from a place of insecurity. We claim that we're only trying to "do our best," when really we're obsessively looking for flaws and missteps and systematically eradicating them in order to avoid the judgement of others.

* The most successful people abide by the rule of, "Done is better than perfect." Instead of giving in to the fear and mistrust of our own abilities, we have to retrain ourselves to do our best within the time, energy and expertise currently available then move on to the next so the work can continue to flow - and grow.

If you find yourself tending toward perfection more than completion take a look at your motivation. Is it driven by love or fear? If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't belabor my work. I'd have released it sooner rather than later and let it live on its own. Too many creative opportunities passed me by while I was searching for "perfection."