Tim Burton (born in 1958) is one of the most gifted and visionary directors of all time. His incredible films include Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns, Ed Wood, and Big Eyes.
Here are five amazing quotes he has shared over the years about the creative process!
1. I’ve always been more comfortable making my decisions from the subconscious level, or more emotionally, because I find it is more truthful to me; Intellectually, I don’t think like that because I get uncomfortable.
I’ve always found my next short story, my next novel, from an emotional place deep inside of me, never from an intellectual place. To decide on your next piece from an intellectual place might mean death to your writing. To intellectually think, “Okay, I should write this next. This might bring me praise, might make me money. This character in this genre. Let’s try it.” Especially if you’re going to take on a novel project for a year or longer, you simply have to go with a story that moves you in some way. A story that only you can tell, and that you want to tell with every fiber of your being.
What I have often found, particularly when I have three or four novel ideas and can’t decide which one to go with, is that the one that I feel the most emotionally tied is the one I end up writing next. It’s not the one I think is going to be scarier than the rest, or the one I think will be the most entertaining. There’s usually an emotional aspect to it I respond to more than the others… and I want to start writing it as soon as possible.
Always go with your emotions. You’ll find your best work that way.
2. A lot of things you see as a child remain with you… you spend a lot of your life trying to recapture the experience.
I think one of the most powerful things you can do as a writer is take something that really happened to you when you were younger, something that stuck with you for years or even decades, and somehow translate that experience into a work of fiction. Whether it’s the main story, or a side story, or even just a scene somewhere in your story.
It’s amazing how many memories from childhood stay fresh in your mind well into adulthood. There are memories I have — my first kiss with a girl, the first time I was bullied, the first time I wrote a short story — that feel so familiar it’s as if they all happened yesterday. Twenty-five years later, even thirty years later, and I can remember some things from childhood better than I remember what I did yesterday.
Use those memories in your writing. Be creative with them. Allow them to bring truth behind your characters to the surface.
3. Visions are worth fighting for. Why spend your life making someone else’s dreams?
If there’s one thing important you can do as a writer — of course, besides the big ones like writing every day and finishing what you start and writing what compels you — it’s fighting for your vision each and every day. Unless you self-publish everything you write, you’re going to need to fight for your visions and fight for your stories from time to time. You’ll have literary agents and editors and beta readers try to get you to change aspects of your story, both in small ways and big ways.
You can’t say no to every little thing others want you to change. If an aspect of your story does need to change, and you know that, then don’t fight that battle. Fight the battles where someone advises you to change or rewrite an aspect of your story that essentially ruins your entire vision. Where things might get more watered down. Less original. Where you find yourself compromising your vision just to appease someone who exists between you and your book’s potential publication.
You’ll need to make compromises here and there, but always fight for your vision.
4. Most people say about graveyards: “Oh, it’s just a bunch of dead people. It’s creepy.” But for me, there’s an energy to it that it not creepy, or dark. It has a positive sense to it.
You can of course take this quote only literally. That Tim Burton thinks differently about graveyards than most people, that he believes them to have a kind of positive energy, not a negative one. I actually feel the same way about graveyards. I’ve been in them many times before, to shoot a scene for a short film once, and to do research for my novel writing. I do find them to be a kind of peaceful place, not somewhere you should necessarily avoid whenever possible.
But I also take this quote a step further into meaning that one thing you should do for your writing at times is look at something in life that most people think one way about… and then approach it from a different way. Whether it’s a character, or a setting, or a genre, or an action sequence, or a scene of dialogue. Whatever it is, put your own spin on it. Surprise the reader.
Don’t deliver everything a reader might come to expect. Find the unusual in life, find angles on subjects that have never been explored before.
5. Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Not necessarily in that order.
The thing about writing is that after you do it a lot, you begin to recognize traits that you litter in your fiction over and over again. There might be a character you sort of repeat from a previous novel you wrote a few years ago, only bothering to change the name and physical characteristics. There might be a story idea that’s a touch too similar to something else you wrote in the past.
And then’s the way you begin and end your stories. Sometimes we get into these routines where we always start a story on a hook and end it in a way that pays off something that was planted before. Sometimes we start at the end of the story way, then start at the beginning in chapter two.
One way to get creative in your writing is to not necessarily see your latest story in terms of its beginning, middle, and end. Don’t always make everything linear in terms of the structure. Sure, sometimes it’s best to start with your main character, introduce the conflict, and then raise the stakes all the way to the finale, where the character wins and achieves everything he or she wants. But other times, it’s important to loosen up and get creative and try new things.
Tim Burton is right: sometimes the beginning, middle, and end can be thrown out of order, and your story might be all the better for it!