What cycle are you trying to break?
It works and I’m happy with it. It’s not perfect, it’s not my favorite script of mine, it is not profound or full of insights on the human condition. But it has one huge thing going for it: it’s done.
It has been a good exercise and hopefully a step forward for me. But now it is time for me to move on to the next one.
In grad school I TA’d for a film production instructor who told his class something very important. This was back in the days of 16mm film and non-digital editing and analog mixing sessions. With the structure of school, it took a semester to make a short (or write a feature), and after a while you started thinking of short films and screenplays in those terms: they were big, slow, time-consuming projects that took months to complete and consumed most of your waking life. Your semester grade was on the line, not to mention your pride, and since this end-product was what you showed your friends and parents and colleagues, people acted as if this was their one shot in life to make a movie, their one chance to fulfill all their goals and dreams, their one time to put down and justify their very identities for all to see.
This instructor said this was stupid and a huge flaw with film schools. It’s a movie. It’s a script. You’re supposed to make/write these all the time, because they’re FUN, not bureaucratic requirements. Yes, you do your best, and put in as much of yourself as you can. But if you’re a filmmaker, you make films. If you’re a writer, you write stuff. Not once in a lifetime, but over and over. You just keep doing it. Over and over.
The way you get better at this is by practicing, by doing, by moving forward. Psycho Ex is done and I will show it and send it out and put it out there. But it’s done. Time to move on and dust off that TV show idea.
All my life people have been walking up to me handing me vegetables. Some lettuce here, a tomato there. It’s random and annoying. I just take these idiots’ onions and stupid cucumbers and throw them over my shoulder with disgust, throw them away, and continue on my lonely impossible search for a salad.
I think of myself as an “idea guy.” Why? Because I’m certainly not the alternative: the “work really, really hard sticking with it and writing multiple drafts until it’s the best it can be” guy.
Ideas are fun. Ideas are easy. When they come, they come. When they don’t, it’s not your responsibility. And when they turn into real work, well,… that’s usually when I get my next big idea.
Just this week I woke up with a fully formed idea for a TV series. This had never happened to me before. I was psyched, completely energized. Within hours I was Read the rest of this entry »
The blog has been quiet but I’ve been writing. Trying something new.
I’ve never attempted writing short stories before, but this year I’ve finished two. After years of training myself to shape any ideas into feature screenplay length and density and structure, it’s refreshing to just get an idea and follow it wherever it goes, without concern for page length or any of that stuff. Short stories can be smaller. Deeper.
The amazing thing for me is that I can let them stop where they stop; I can explore one idea – just one idea – all the way and then I’m done. It’s shocking how satisfying that is.
In both cases, I’ve literally woken up one morning with the whole thing there. I get to do the work of fleshing them out and trying this or that, but the scope is already there. Or it can change if I feel like it, no big deal. And that’s the point: it feels… free. Easy.
They have been very short so I can carry them around in my head, complete and whole. I can change the whole thing on a dime. I can work on them during down-time at the day job. Maybe it’s just me, but I get bogged down with this with feature scripts. There has to be enough there to carry the weight of 100 pages. They’re too big and have too much mass for me to change quickly and breezily. I can’t start thinking about them during down-time at work, because by the time I get my head wrapped around the whole thing the down-time is over. I just get frustrated.
But writing short stories has actually been… fun.
Are they any good? Who knows. I put the first one up on zoetrope in February and got some nice comments. I’ll put the second one one in a few days when I’m happy with it. Are they any good? Who cares?
This is good for me because I have some projects in the queue. I’ve been talking with a friend about a picture book since December – she’s made 10 or 12 paintings and she’s handed them off to me to tie together with a story. While thinking about this I got an idea for a kids’ picture book that I’m playing around with that I might finish and then hand off to her. Plus my son reminded me of another (incomplete) bedtime story I started telling him and my younger son a few months back. AND a couple of working actors and I have been trying to bang out a sitcom pitch/premise for what seems like forever…
So these are keeping me engaged. Will these short stories amount to anything, or are they just experiments? Or just practice? Either way, they’ve gotten me back into the flow and kept me there. Reminded me that I can play, I can open up, I can change on a dime. It’s much more about this than the finished product. Good stuff.
After an embarrassingly long gestation period, a first draft of Psycho Ex (with a name change) has finally gone out to its first round of readers. I should get feedback Tuesday after the long weekend.
This always feels weird. I am happy and satisfied and exhausted and not convinced it’s really happening – like the first week after college finals.
But there is a whole different additional dynamic at play with this one than usual, because – due somewhat to the original “Challenge” – it is much more an exercise than a passion project. Don’t get me wrong, the story was my idea, and I take its execution very seriously, but now that a draft is complete I feel “outside” the thing more than I ever have.
The thing I love/hate about writing is that when I work on something this big and all-encompassing, I get overwhelmed and lost inside it. I fall in love with it, and I don’t know if this is a blessing or a curse. It’s wonderful because I think/hope it adds heart and soul to the piece, but it’s terrible because I lose all objectivity and get lost. For long periods. With almost every script, I can vividly remember THE EXACT MOMENT when everything shifts and I come up for air, when I get back “on top of it,” when I get back outside and un-consumed by it and I start cutting and shaping and whacking at it with no emotional attachment whatsoever. This is when the work really gets done. But this is also when I feel guilty, like I’ve stopped loving someone simply because it is no longer the pragmatic thing to do.
I don’t think I was ever in love with this one. I spent a lot of time in the depths with it, don’t get me wrong, but it was never a passion project like Aftershocks was or Dead Guy is. I was more objective with this one all along, so there are parts of it (Act Two hopefully, Act Three definitely) that I think are better executed than my usual output. I would say I’m very happy with the execution on those (this Act Three is probably the best I’ve ever written). But it never took on a life of its own really.
Does this mean it will be less “alive” than it should be? Than it could be? Does this mean there won’t be enough “there” for the reader?
Will the reader know that it has less of a “soul” than it could have had? Or will it just be me?
Or have I finally shaken off the indulgent crap of falling in love with your material? Have I finally got on with the real business of writing?
Update: Just got my first feedback (thanks Tammy!). The weekend is off to a good start…