The most important writing lesson I ever learned was not in a screenwriting class, but a fiction class.
This was senior year of college. Most of us had already been accepted into grad school of some sort. We felt powerful, we felt talented, and most of all, we felt artistic.
It was the advanced fiction workshop, and we did an entire round of workshops with everyone’s best stories, their most advanced work, their most polished pieces. It was very technical and, most of all, very artistic.
IE: They were boring pieces of pretentious crap.
Now the teacher was either a genius OR was tired of our shit, and decided to give us a challenge. Flash fiction, he said. Write something as quickly as possible. Make it stupid. Make it not mean a thing, just be a quick little blast of words.
And, of course, we all got stupid. Little one and two pages of prose without the barriers that it must be good. Little flashes of characters, little bits of scenarios.
And they were electric. All of them. So interesting, so vivid, not held back by the need to write important things or artistic things.
One sticks in my mind even today. The guys original piece was a thinky, thoughtful piece relating the breaking up of threesomes to volcanoes and uncontrolled eruptions that was just annoying to read. But his flash fiction was this three page bit about a homeless man who stole a truck full of coca cola and had to bribe people to drink the soda so he could return the cans to recycling so he could afford one night with the prostitute he loved.
It was funny, it was heartfelt, and it was so, so, so well written.
And just that one little bit of advice, the write something short and stupid, changed a ton of people’s writing styles for the better.