Part of our mission here at Daily Fuel has been to illuminate life and early career insights for our readers. As part of that continuing purpose, we're excited to announce our new blogger, Christian Zilko, will be providing first-person accounts into one young professional's journey. Enjoy.

Killing The First Script

As I ever-so-slowly approach my 10,000 hours of scriptwriting, my style changes, but I’m struck by how much it stays the same. I find that there are certain habits, certain characters, dialogue styles that I just can’t stop myself from using, no matter how hard I try. They’re never effective, but whenever I start a new script I find myself thinking “alright, this time it’s going to work.”

I was trying to figure out why I keep doing this, and I thought back to the first feature-length screenplay I wrote in high school. While I can’t say the script is great (or good), it is probably the most invested I’ve ever been in an art project. The process from writing it to trying to film it took almost two years, and it went a long way towards setting me on my current career path. The script had a very distinct style, a fusion of all the comedy I liked at the time. It had an outlandish style of dialogue that was insanely fast (not in an Aaron Sorkin way, but more of a bad cartoon way). The whole script, in terms of plot and character and dialogue, was all heavily influenced by the novels of Hunter S. Thompson…I know.

It really shouldn’t have had any role in my artistic development, except that of the obligatory first script that got the ball rolling. Nobody’s first effort is ever good, and I should just be happy that my first screenplay took some bold risks, and call it a day.

Unfortunately, it has become impossible for me to avoid writing in the style of that first script, either intentionally or subconsciously. For my first few years of college, a goal of mine was to write a “good version” of that script, something that never materialized after countless attempts. It wasn’t for lack of effort, but there just isn’t a good foundation to build on. Since I realized that, I’ve started other scripts, but I so often find myself writing in that same dialogue style.

It’s been proven that this is a bad idea, and it’s detrimental to my growth as an artist. If I can’t stop doing things that don’t work, how can I ever develop a voice that does? So lately, I’ve been on a mission to kill that first screenplay. To write things that are so different, it would be impossible for me to even accidentally reference it. For some reason, my young impressionable mind was given the idea that screenwriting should always resemble that first script I wrote, and now I have to unlearn it. So much of writing is subconscious, letting your fingers do all the work as you type things you never thought would come out of you. If I want to be a great writer, I have to train my fingers to stop writing this same mediocre script over and over and over again.

I’ve written about breaking bad habits before, but I’m finding that it’s even harder to break habits that you once thought were positive. I’ve delayed doing this for a while, because I always had fun writing in my high school style. But until you address your weaknesses head on, you can’t grow.

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A habit cannot be thrown out the window; it must be coaxed down the stairs a step at a time.
— Mark Twain
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