Oscar-winning writer-director Sofia Coppola (born in 1971) has given us some terrific films including The Virgin Suicides, The Bling Ring, and my personal favorite, Lost in Translation.
Here are three fantastic quotes from her that will help you in your writing life!
1. With writing, I need a lot of time to sit around and do nothing. But now that I have kids, I just don’t have that luxury. I have a babysitter for three hours a day, which is how long I have to write.
I’ve talked a lot about how you need to find time to write every day by any means necessary. Some of us have more time in the day to write than others. I’m lucky right now, for example, to be able to devote most of my day to writing. I can sit around and do nothing if I want to come up with new story ideas. I can take a long walk with my dogs and think about what I want to write about next, what stories I might be compelled to explore.
Doing nothing really does help inspire your creativity. We spend so much time on our phones and staring at screens that it’s hard to quiet the mind and just let the ideas come. Lean into boredom, and you might find an amazing idea hit you from out of nowhere!
Of course few of us have time to do nothing. Sofia Coppola has gone as far as hiring a babysitter to give her three hours a day of peace so she can focus on her creative work. I feel like giving some time to yourself every day to write and ponder and create is absolutely necessary.
Three hours is actually perfect, I think. Three hours a day is typically enough.
But even if you can only manage two hours, or one hour, or thirty minutes, I still think it’s important to carve out that small window of time every day for you to work on your writing. Whether it’s in the morning, afternoon, or night. It doesn’t matter. Just find that time and keep it for yourself as best you can every day of the week.
2. That’s the way I work: I try to imagine what I would like to see.
There’s this moment before I start writing a new novel that I have rarely talked about on here. It’s not something I even recognize I do sometimes, but I know I did it for my most recent novel, and I’ve certainly done it in years past, too. Of course you want to spend some time figuring out who your characters are and what your story is about. You should figure out what you want your opening scene to be and how the ending might go, although that latter element might change as you go along in your manuscript.
One other thing I like to do in the days leading up to the writing of my novel is just sitting for a little while and think about what I would like to see in the story. Thing I want to see that don’t necessarily connect one idea to the next. Things I want to see that don’t have a clear role in the narrative yet. But I ponder my core concept and the characters and then I think to myself, what are some scenes I could conceive of that I’d really, really like to see.
For example, the two main female characters of my novel didn’t originally have a scene where they interact until the very end of the book, and I decided early on that no, I needed one scene around the halfway point where they’d have an encounter with one another… and now I can’t imagine the book without that scene!
Don’t focus at first on how exactly a scene you want to see in your novel lines up with other scenes you’ve already come up with. Just keep daydreaming, keep imagining, and eventually these things work themselves out. I mean, the film North by Northwest is the best example of this. Hitchcock wanted to make a film where a chase ended on Mount Rushmore… and then he told a writer to come up with the rest!
Sofia Coppola has even said how much Bill Murray was a muse for her when it came to the writing of Lost in Translation. She wanted to see that specific person do things in her movie… and so the beautiful story she ended up crafting has a lot to do with those hours she spent initially daydreaming the kind of movie Lost in Translation could ultimately be.
3. It seems that the greatest difficulty is to find the end. Don’t try to find it, it’s there already.
Endings can be so difficult, am I right? Even when I take a considerable amount of time coming up with the ending for my latest novel writing project, I find that almost always that ending changes at least a little by the time I reach the final few chapters of the manuscript. Endings are so tricky because you really do need to stick the landings in your stories or your readers might feel disappointed or cheated at the end, which is never a good thing.
One thing that was hard to learn for awhile but is absolutely true is that sometimes the first ending you come up with for your latest story isn’t necessarily the best one. I’m definitely guilty of coming up with an ending in years past for some of my novels that worked fine, that made sense, and then I just tacked these endings on not really thinking twice about them.
But sometimes it’s worth taking an extra few hours, maybe even an extra few days, to think long and hard about what you want your ending to be. Is there something you can come up with that might be more surprising, more impactful, more satisfying for the reader? Is there a new direction you might be able to go in that isn’t so predictable?
The great thing about writing is that you can always rewrite the ending later if you feel you need to. I’ve definitely done that before. My new middle grade novel now has a new ending in its fifth draft than it had in the first draft. The ending for my MFA thesis novel changed twice over a two-year period. You may not get the ending right the first time, and that’s okay, too.
Don’t panic if you’re not in love with your ending. Just finish your manuscript anyway, and then in the weeks and months to come you can always write a different one if you really want to.
And keep in mind what Coppola is saying here, too: usually you need to stop thinking so hard when you’re in the early part of the process. Because the ending is already there, in a sense. If you get a strong handle on your story and your characters and your themes, the ending will come to you eventually. It’s already there, just waiting for you to discover it when the timing is right.
Whether it comes to you early on before you’ve started drafting, or it takes until the fourth or fifth draft to recognize exactly how your story needs to reach its conclusion, always remember the importance of the ending to every story you write. It may not be the most important aspect to your story, but it’s definitely something to pay close attention to!