Three Reasons Why Bad Writing Is a Good Thing | Script Revolution

Three Reasons Why Bad Writing Is a Good Thing


We are all too familiar with the paralysis that comes with a blank page waiting for us to adorn it with the finest prose we can muster. There is so much for a screenwriter to consider when constructing a scene, yet time and time again we focus too much of our energy into a paranoia over superficialities. We know all that really matters is story, so what's the answer to beat paralysis by analysis? Here Alan Mahenna makes a strong case for putting aside the fear of failure and accepting that writing badly is a huge step forward toward writing well - CJ

Over the past several days, I had the absolute pleasure of attending the Banque du Liban (Bank of Lebanon) Accelerate Technology and Innovation Conference, a melting pot of tech savvy innovators, start-ups, and all around smart successful people come to meet chat and collaborate.

One of the speakers at the TechCon was none other than the co-founder of Apple himself, Steve "The Woz" Wozniak. In his talk, "The Woz" said the following, "If you're not embarrassed by your first product, you're not advancing and you're not learning".

This one statement stuck with me, and resonated deeply. Yes, you are right, I am not a builder of tech, I am not a startup, what I am, however, is a product creator - my screenplays are my product. As screenwriters, we are always pushing towards writing the perfect screenplay, the best screenplay, the screenplay that will win us our Oscar nod. What we always seem to forget though, is the fact that to get to that screenplay, we have many, many steps to climb.

Sure there are stories of first time screenwriters making it big, but those are rare occasions. I am not saying this to discourage any of you. I am saying this because this is the world we live in. A lot of filmmakers graduate from university and expect to immediately make it big, or get an established position on a film set, or in our case sell a screenplay for a load of money. The truth is, to get to that point we have to learn and in order for us to learn, we have to "Fail".

In order to clarify this a bit more, I broke down how failure can actually help screenwriters.

We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master. - Ernest Hemingway.

1) Write To See The Big Picture

In the early stages of writing your screenplay, any screenwriter's main focus should be to get the story on the page. Although this statement sounds rather basic and logical, it is a lot harder than screenwriters expect. As screenwriters, we are our own worse critics. We strive to write like Aaron Sorkin (Steve Jobs), John August (Big Fish), or Alex Garland (Ex-Machina), without realizing that to become the writers that they are today, they had to put in a lot of time, research, and failure. Aaron Sorkin, has said that he would go back and rewrite many episodes of The West Wing, one of his most critically acclaimed works. So in order to see the Big Picture, a screenwriter has to first write without self-censoring or self-editing. The writer has but one task: Put the story on the page, and to do that the writer must be permitted to write "badly". From cliché lines of dialogue, to minor things like grammatical mistakes, the writer needs to allow for those mistakes to occur for the good of the screenplay.

2) Write In Order to Rewrite

"Writing is Re-writing", is a phrase that all writers should be familiar with. The re-writing process never ends, even during the post-production phase. In fact, during the post-production phase of my short film, I was forced to re-write the screenplay via the edit. The original cut of the short had a running time of nineteen minutes and thirty seconds, which is way too long for a short film. Now, the film's running time is thirteen minutes and thirty seconds. The only way that I could cut approximately six minutes from the film was through a re-write and restructuring of the original screenplay. If the writer, however, is focusing most of their energy to edit while writing, and not waiting for the re- writing phase, time is wasted and no progress is made. In fact, the screenplay will only appear to be perfect for the writer, when it is still the first draft. When writing for the re-write, the writer is allowing the screenplay to evolve at the proper pace and in the proper way.

3) Write to Receive Feedback

The best part of being a screenwriter is that learning is never-ending. As a screenwriter, I am always reading new screenwriting books, blogs on screenwriting oriented websites, and talking to different screenwriters. The industry is constantly changing, and storytelling is part of that change. Genre cycles are constantly on the move, what was popular yesterday is old news today. New avenues and platforms for narrative content are popping up everywhere where storytelling is being delivered in new and unconventional ways. The only way writers can keep up with the change is to receive feedback from industry professionals. So does that mean write terrible screenplays? Not at all, but it does mean that when writing for feedback the writer is keeping a door open for constructive criticism and growth.

As a university instructor, I am always pushing my students to allow themselves to write a "vomit" draft, for the sole purpose of them learning and understanding where they have weaknesses when it comes to screenwriting. Writing badly is a good thing and I stand by that. Let me know what you think!

About The Author

Alan Mehanna's picture
Real name: 

I have always wanted to be a bridge between the East and West and writing is how I am going to do it. I have multiple screenplays currently in Screenplay competitions and festivals. During my free time, I freelance as an actor, a screenplay doctor, and I also teach Screenwriting in three local universities in Lebanon. In late 2000, my family and I moved from my home country of Lebanon to the United States where I finished my high school education, completed my Bachelor's of Fine Arts Degree...Read more



John Hunter's picture

"If you're not embarrassed by your first product, you're not advancing and you're not learning." Words to live by. Thanks for posting.

Désirée Nordlund's picture

Good article. The important thing is to write it down. If you have angst it is not good enough before you even start you still need to write it. It will be a far more useful script than the one in your head anyway.

CJ Walley's picture

Personally, I am all about making sure I'm in a mindset where I want to get words on paper, be it just thoughts, ideas, or actual prose. I'm a big fan of writing scriptments (treatments in the form on scripts) and using bullet points to get a rough idea of where I am going. It is so much easy to change direction when you haven't committed too much.

Darren Brown's picture

Writing is an artwork that must be done carefully.