Monday, October 17, 2005

Beans and Routines

I eat a lot of beans. Canned beans. We buy bulk supplies at Costco. Toilet paper, paper towels, baby wipes, cereal, soy milk, batteries, liquor, shampoo, soap, dates, eggs... and beans.

I'm a big fan of simple food preparation, and so I buy 8-packs of Bush's Best Original Baked Beans. Each one-pound can contains one chunk of bacon, for some inexplicable reason, and of course that's the part I eat first every time I open a can and microwave it for two minutes. Eating out for lunch every day is more expensive than preparing your own food; one of my Life GoalsTM is to be able to afford to eat lunch out at a nice restaurant every day, and never have to prepare my own lunch.

But until then, it's all about the routine. I've been eating cans of beans for a few months now, ever since I discovered them at Costco. It's not every day I have 'em; some days I don't feel like packing lunch, and every Friday me and a couple coworkers go to lunch at a nearby Tony EateryTM and spend an hour bitching about our various supervisors.

Why the hell am I blathering about beans? Because routine is an important part of creativity, especially in the highly structured format of a screenplay. Abstract painting? Who cares, throw some paint around until you feel emotionally satisfied. But a screenplay, you can't do that.

[ The Metaphor Cannon sneaks out from behind a hedge, and fires. ]

We must be disciplined monkeys; flinging around our creative poo can make for some novel wall decorations, but it gets old and smelly fast. You can paint a painting on a giant fork-shaped canvas, or an icosahedral canvas, or some kind of four-dimensional Klein bottle canvas, and some art maven somewhere will praise your daring exploration of the form, but you can't* write a 120-page screenplay that's totally blank and have it hailed as a "masterpiece of minimalist expression -- The Times."

Routine is an interesting aspect of self-discipline. Sometimes, we fall into a routine because it's the path of least resistence; sometimes, we have to train ourselves to a particular routine, lest we (for example) develop the gum disease gingivitis. In screenwriting, we need to cultivate the good parts of the routine and excise the bad. Routinely going over your story to make sure you haven't got any orphaned set-ups or payoffs, for example, is a good habit. Routinely using the same clich├ęs over and over again and again endlessly ad infinitum? Not so good.

Screenwriting is possibly the hardest form of creative expression to do well, because the format is so restrictive, and yet we have to transcend these limitations and create something both excellent and fresh.

* Oh, you can try. Go ahead, we're all waiting.