An Old Typewriter – Lessons from Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin

A Golden Globe nominee, The Social Network screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is being featured on one of this month’s issues of The Hollywood Reporter. Sorkin, who gain some notoriety from the Hollywood spotlight¬† back in 1992 when A Few Good Men hit the big screen, is working on The Politician, which he plans to be his directing debut. Following are two insights on his life and technique:

Index Cards – A Screenwriting Approach

“[Sorking] likes to use those cards, tacked to a large corkboard, to keep track of the key elements. Social Network‘s pivotal moments are still up there, with notes that read, “Mark and Erica in bar,” “Mark walks back to dormitory,” and “Mark begins drinking, blogging, hacking.” (The Hollywood Reporter, January 2011)

I find it particularly fascinating to see such a crafty writer working with such a rudimentary technique. The truth is, index cards are not a secret. In fact, they are incredibly popular, but I’ve met people that neglect them. If you have a foolproof method for writing screenplays, by all means, ignore this. But for those that struggle, index cards could be a nice improvement.

Not only are they a convenient way to outline and organize ideas, index cards are also easy to store. Your main ideas can be visible in a board. But your vague thoughts could be stacked together and wrapped with a rubber band. While some people like to lay them out on the floor or a table, Sorking uses a corkboard.

The principle behind index cards is that the writer can see all the major beats of a movie at a glance. How is this better than a bullet-point outline? Well, with index cards you can rearrange the order hassle-free. Furthermore, you have the back of each card for additional notes and vague ideas. Give it a try.

An Old Typewriter – Exploring Horizons for Self-Fufillment

During one of the most agonizing moments of his life,¬† Sorkin, then a struggling actor, had to work among other stuff, handing leaflets dressed as a moose. Referencing a specific episode when his friends were away and his TV was broken, Sorkin says, “It was one of those Friday nights where it feels like everybody’s been invited to a party and you haven’t.”

It was in this situation that Sorkin shifted his thoughts to an old typewriter a friend had entrusted him with. With rusty fingers, Sorking wrote a play. He said it was the first time he wrote for pleasure. That uneventful night, in which poor Sorkin was ditched by all his friends, turned out to give him the key to unlock the gates to show business.

Could you imagine where Sorkin would be today if his friend hadn’t entrusted him with his typewriter? Or if Sorkin’s TV wasn’t broken? It is indeed intriguing to think that there was a chance Sorkin could still be handing leaflets dressed as a moose.

I think the lesson here is to be open-minded and mindful of the doors life open to you. Our lives are filled with “old typewriters.” They are a blessing in disguise. Although Sorkin wanted to act, it was writing that made him famous and rich. Don’t be narrow. Consider other possibilities and explore further horizons.

Are you open to an “old typewriter” as well?

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