Pixar Rules of Story #18: Don’t sweat the small stuff
You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
Pixar Rule #18 follows on from Rule #17: Practice! and supports many of the previous rules that encourage us to just get out there (or stay inside I guess) and write, write, write.
In the same way we talked about practicing, Rule #18 implores us to just do our best and get our work written. Don’t sweat the small stuff and fuss over the minor details when you are on your first draft and/or trying to figure out the broader story you are working on. Get the first draft done and then come back for the rewrites and then deal with the detail.
Once you have your overarching story on the page, you can revisit the details in subsequent rewrites, refining dialogue, character and subtext for example. If you spend too much time fussing over the details when you just need to get the story out, you may well flounder, delay your writing or, even worse, stall. Again, don’t worry about the quality, nothing you write is wrong, nothing is wasted, just get it down. As Stephan Vladimir Bugaj says; “be wrong, early and often.”
You need to know yourself and your writing, to be able to recognise when you are doing your best and to see when you are simply fussing. Can’t pin down a character’s physical description? Forget it, move on and come back in a rewrite – they’ll still be there, waiting – the story will not fall apart if you postpone dealing with some minor details.
To me, this is recommending a wide to narrow focus, exploring your broad story, getting that on paper and then working out the details in subsequent drafts. A lot of it will change and develop, and that is okay, we know you can cut out whatever doesn’t move the story forward – but if you try to get all that right the first time, you may come unstuck and get bogged down in detail. And, you never know, that scene on page 25 that was giving you hell? Maybe you will find the solution by writing past it, finding inspiration in later scenes as the broader story comes together.
Of course, some writers will work better if they do fuss, working out all the little details as they go along. However, if you find yourself getting stuck during early drafts, staring at the page for long periods of time trying to figure out some minor issues that don’t (at that time) serve the broader story, it might help to try this method of starting wide and narrowing down to the focus on the detail in subsequent drafts.
In short, Rule #18 is another rule that tells us to just get it written, don’t let yourself fuss over the minor details while you are still working on the broader story. Just get it on the page, then start worrying about getting it right.
Get it out, then get it right!
Since I originally wrote this post over a year ago I have worked on a number of drafts (of screenplays, not this post) and really find that this method works for me. From what I can gather, a lot of other writers seem to work this way. The “vomit draft” as it is sometimes called seems to be a popular way to write for many. It may not work for you but, if you haven’t tried it, let us know how you got on. If you tried it, and didn’t like it, what was it that didn’t work for you?
Feel free to comment below and remember to come back next week for Rule #19 – Coincidentally Speaking
Please also check out the Introduction to the series if you missed that!