The strange realisation hit me the other day: the more I write, the less sure I become about all my theories about writing. One day, with luck, I’ll be sure about nothing at all.

This is not an argument for ignorance. In fact, it’s ignorant writers who are sure they know everything. It never ceases to amaze me how full of certainty some inexperienced writers can be about their craft. When I started writing, I too thought I knew everything about how to write. Then as I got further into it, I discovered how much more I needed to learn.

Nicolas Cage in Adaptation

Knowing and not knowing in Adaptation

Now, every week I find the more I write, the less I know. Page by page, my certainties disappear.

This may sound a very strange thing for someone who also teaches writers to say. But actually, I think it’s very important.

Take planning a treatment. I used to sweat for months planning my stories in precise detail and then trying to write that detail into the script. Then I found that the less I remembered the plan, the better the writing became.

This is not an argument for not planning and not writing treatments. Quite the reverse.

Paradoxically, it is only by planning and researching the best possible treatment that I can write the script with true freedom. A half worked-out synopsis nags at the mind, distracting me. Only with a fully thought-out treatment can I relax and write… as if I really don’t know what happens next.

Actor Mark Rylance said recently that one of the key challenges of acting is in forgetting what happens next. I believe that applies to writers too.

Mark Rylance in Jerusalem

Mark Rylance in Jerusalem

Know your story inside out – then write as if you don’t.

Strange irony.

The same applies to all the other screenwriting skills – from structure to character development.

Learn them so deeply you can forget and write as if you don’t know.

If you want to go deeply into knowing (and not knowing) the essential skills of screenwriting,  I’m running one of my favourite workshops very soon – the ScreenPLAY Advanced Summer School – so called, because you learn by role-playing.

Essentially you pick up techniques in the fastest and most effective way, by working like a studio screenwriter – purged of all the myths and half-understood rules that you thought you knew. For three days, you’re plunged into the atmosphere of a professional writers’ room, working on a series of short commissions, each of which is designed to lead you to unlearn a bad habit and learn a new skill.

It’s a very powerful way to become a solid confident screenwriter, with the techniques to deal easily with the daily demands of screenwriting – and be free to discover what you don’t know.

It’s in London – Friday July 27 to Sunday July 29 – full details here.