Sunday, October 14, 2007

[Process] - The Writing Headspace (a list of insights)

This is a collection of direct quotes, culled from the last 3 years of my script-writing diary. At the moment, I've arranged it into sections and left it. Once I've finished doing this for every section of my script-writing process, I'll come back and refine these notes. What I want to create are a list of general principles, common problems and their solutions, and examples of how I write. It's all stuff that will (hopefully) give me a leg up on the next script I write.

The sections in this post are:

-- Procrastination.
-- Gaining Motivation.
-- Making progress.
-- Relaxing.
-- Rewards
-- Handling distractions


PROCRASTINATION:

I think I've found a way to overcome my first-day-back syndrome. It's a 5-step process: First I ask myself why I'm writing it, then what the absolute best case scenario for when I've finished it could be. After that I brainstorm a whole bunch of ideas, organise them and figure out what I have to do next.

- My standard first day slowness where I get my head round the fact that I’m in a new phase of the project continues.

So, back to my three days on after one day off. And yet again, I find that first day back goes a little slow. I thought it was only when I started a new phase of a project, but maybe it's after any type of break.

I was feeling frustrated, angry and a little depressed. Probably due to my impatience at not making progress on the script.

So now, let's see if I can use that impatience to overcome my first-day-back syndrome.


While the pitch currently is good for the purpose of timing, I have to accept it doesn’t plausibly convey this sudden shift. So I have to re-write it so it does.... and that's made me stall out.

It’ll be hard work but probably not anywhere near as hard as I’m imagining. In fact, I’ll probably spend longer procrastinating than I will in re-writing it.


Finally [started writing]. I was a little freaked out about starting to tackle it - but decided to break it down into a manageable bit.


I wasted a week by coming up with reasons not to write. The reason was: I wasn’t inspired by what I was writing.


And then I got disillusioned because this all felt like a sterile, mechanical exercise. So, a week of avoidance.

Then I started trying to vividly visualise the scene. I remember I tried this before, with Trace outside Forster’s farm. And so far it’s working. The scene is fun to work on again.


I was finding the mis-direction scene a bit difficult. Coupled with my now consuming desire to FINISH something, I spent Thursday through to Saturday morning writing a playtest draft of my new RPG, The Luck of the Joneses.

After that, I came back to the scene I’m been blocked on and finished it in a couple of hours.


Spent Wednesday procrastinating about writing the script. I felt like I had to do two things at once: come up with cool new stuff AND rigorously proof read the script.


I told myself to get a good night's sleep and try and settle back to my daily routine of exercise, writing and everything else. That took a lot of the pressure off and at some point I was able to just say to myself, "Don't proof read. Just write."

From there, finishing the script - which had seemed such a huge deal the day before - was over in a matter of three hours. My goal became to create something that was readable for others as opposed to getting it perfect right now. That took a lot of the pressure off


There was much procrastination this morning. "IT'S TOO IMPORTANT!" screamed the editorial static in my head. "I'm scared of getting it wrong."

Eventually I plunged in (after working up bits and and pieces of ideas in layers over a couple of hours).


I’ve been procrastinating a little the last couple of days. Working on a dialogue scene, trying to find Taine's voice. But I may have just had a break-through with how the parents find out Taine's gone missing - I can visualise it very clearly, so that immediately puts it at the top of the list of all the ideas I've had.




I mentioned a 'breakthrough' a couple of days ago? Yesterday I realised the ramifications of it meant a HUGE rewrite of the script. First I was angry, then panicky ... then, slowly, I calmed down and am now gunna look through it methodically, seeing exactly what would need to be changed.


I have been getting less than an hour of work done on The Limit every day. I may even just not use the internet at all - after all it is the timesuck of doom for me.


I’ve mapped out this rewrite on four A3 pages – and today I crossed over into the fourth and final page. Once again, I slowed down - kind of freaked out & scared – and began a massive blast of procrastination.

Then I remembered how angry I am at this script. How much I want to finish it so I can get it out of my life and do something new. That anger’s built through the day until now I am fully focused on bring this thing home.

Taking a day off to let my mind refill with creative goodness & get some distance from it.


I always take a long time to ramp up to full-writing-speed when I start a new draft. One of the causes (I’ve just discovered) is that it takes me a while to regain the confidence to make rapid decisions about the writing – as I start getting back into it, I’d prefer to fluff around paralysed by the choices I could be making rather than commit to something & lock it down.


I think I'm facing a psychological block - I need to make a change that has big ramifications for the rest of the film. It's a simple change, but I think its implications are stopping me from going ahead with making it. Instead I'm analysing.


Unlike working on the 48-hour competition, there is no immediate pressure on me to make a decision about a line of dialogue or an approach to the scene. This leads to perfectionism - which is my curse & the reason I've been working on this goddamn project for what seems like most of the decade - and this two-page scene for the last four days.


A realisation that I'm trying to make this perfect, which leads to procrastination. I should make rough, necessary changes, and complete this draft.


I started to procrastinate / freak out about finishing, again. So after letting that happen for a few minutes, I bit off the smallest part of the very next problem I had to solve and tackled it. Which worked pretty well.


I find that if I'm blocked on a script, I actually get a lot of work done if I take a train up to the Kapiti Coast. The secret is to not bring anything else to read or do . There's something about boredom that really forces me to write.



The more important I think a scene is, the longer it seems to take me to write. Thinking of something as "important" makes me freak out, because I need to get it "right".

But at this stage of the script, every scene should be important. Every scene needs to contribute. Every moment, too.

That means I'm going to have to develop some way off de-freaking-out. Being a full-time writer would be good too (more dedicated time to solve problems and get into a groove). Unfortunately, I may have to let that ambition go for a while, and content myself writing on the bus.


GAINING MOTIVATION

It’s that sense of mission that gives me most of the drive to work on it. And more and more, it’s getting to be not work but play.


Thought I'd try kicking my energy back up by pitching it again and again, letting the edits come naturally, through performance, not writing. At first my brain blocked me ... but when I finally did it, I broke through!



[W]hat would happen if you treated your screenplay-in-progress like someone you had recently fallen in love with. What if you courted your story, wooed it, gave it your very best, and loved it madly?

Our conclusion was that if we were willing to throw ourselves into falling in love with our work, risking heartache, holding nothing back, the inner muses responded in kind.
"


Cynthia Whitcomb
Writer’s Guide to Writing Your Screenplay

"Going slow & devising solutions that convince me" is a good goal, but I think I'm starting to feel the lack of that obsessive quality, the need to get it finished by a certain goal.

[*** Obviously, I've needed to feel almost mono-maniacally passionate about a project in the past in order to work on it. What conflicts with this is my analytical hesitation about deciding whether any given project is the 'best' use of my time.]


The home stretch. Less than 20 pages to go. Decisions are easier to make now.

The rewriting got faster and faster as I went through.

I got sick of taking notes and preparing to do it - so I've just launched straight in [to the final rewrite].


1. Be passionate. You have to love something about the show, whether it's the situation or the characters. This love is a big part of what will get you through all the hard work ahead. I used to have the following phrase taped above my computer as I wrote - "The Goal is to create a world I completely believe in and care about." That's not a bad starting point.



HOW TO MAKE PROGRESS

I decided that if I was going to build this confrontation scene up in my head as something big, tough to conquer, then I was going to approach it with rock-climbing-like determination. So at the start of today (yes, after my sleep-in), I set the goal of finishing the scene no matter what ... and set up base-camps at certain sections of the scene that I would reach, rest and then move on from.

In this one early scene I kept re-finessing details. So I forced myself to keep moving - and in the process clarified what the two leads have in common.



Thought I'd try kicking my energy back up by pitching it again and again, letting the edits come naturally, through performance, not writing. At first my brain blocked me ... but when I finally did it, I broke through!



Yesterday I wrote a terrible version of a crucial scene and I don't care. Writing a feature film on spec means having the time to make sure a scene works.


Unlike working on the 48-hour competition, there is no immediate pressure on me to make a decision about a line of dialogue or an approach to the scene. This leads to perfectionism - which is my curse & the reason I've been working on this goddamn project for what seems like most of the decade - and this two-page scene for the last four days.

Next film I write, I'm getting myself a year to complete it. One year, and then I'm getting out no matter what state it's in.
Next project, I'd like to do something shorter form, with a development process that is completely out in the open, and it's driven by attitude and immediacy.


RELAXING

- My ‘enjoy myself’ philosophy seems to be working. I’m very comfortable writing until my body tenses up or my brain gets logjammed – and then just doing something else, relaxing until this signal in my head tells me it’s time to go back to the keyboard.


Finished The Limit’s rough outline. I promised myself three days holiday after this - and by holiday I mean dabbling on some other writing projects - but I am keen to keep pushing on. So:

Do I keep my promise to myself or follow my current inclination?
Do I stick to the plan or stay in the moment?

[...] Yesterday's decision turned out to simple. I've already had a holiday in the lead-up to Xmas and I really want to write, so I'm going with the flow. Restarting things on Thursday.


Feeling stressed out at the thought of trying to finish all of Act 1 today. So I've set myself a couple of small goals.

Quite often when I'm starting a dialogue draft, I won't shave until the story has quickened and the dialogue is coming naturally and rapidly out of me. (The beard, unfortunately, stops me from sleeping well).


REWARDS

I love finishing short, cool bits of writing. Achieving rocks!

I’d forgotten how good it feels to just write – solving problems at a dialogue level, trying to figure out character and get the scenes to do their jobs. Also, I’m loving the pace. I have a deadline, but I also have enough time to reflect on how to fine-tune scenes. It all feels very contemplative.

Today was That Day where I started to get enthused about the work again. I love That Day.

When I finished making changes to The Limit last night, the sense of quiet satisfaction I felt seemed exactly the same as what I feel when I finish any project - of whatever magnitude. To be specific, finishing the script after seven years gave me the same amount of satisfaction as working on a 48-hour film, writing a role-playing game, or locking down a well-constructed sketch.


  • I found the writing process itself to be rewarding - challenging, sure, but satisfying and worthwhile
  • from working on hopeless, I'm aware that there are many moments that you celebrate during the life of a script (including realising you're filming a scene that matches up to your imagination; seeing a cut of the film that finally works; and the Premiere)
There wasn't some big Hollywood rush of triumph. It was a quiet moment. If anything, I would call it contentment.



DEALING WITH DISTRACTION


my bugbear – attempting to focus on completing one idea while I’m continually coming up with new (fresher) ideas



AS-YET-UNASSIGNED OBSERVATIONS

[from working on lovebites]
What does 'enough' mean?

I’m disturbed at how little craft I applied to Act 3. Basically I burned through it today, wanting to write from the heart and follow my old outline rather than re-break the scenes by Stakes and Conflicts.


I get sucked into the emotion I'm writing about.

Taking a break between drafts means ideas are popping into my head all the time –scribble down images & snippets that’ll flesh out scenes. Guess I’m refuelling.


I'm enjoying the writing. It's starting to go faster - and I'm expecting to keep up that pace until I hit the big re-writes in Act 3.


For the first time with the Limit, I'm not that sure what edits I'd like to make to it. I've had that feeling before - with other scripts - and it's usually indicated that further tinkering tips the story over the edge and starts to break it.


Two Saturdays ago - I finally read through the script myself. My emotions went through two phases:

  • 1) the actual reading, where I thought that the script was terrible. Unrealistic, badly motivated, lame writing. It totally didn't live up to the ideal in my head and I was pretty much devastated by the end;

I took a week off, where I couldn't face reading or thinking about the thing. I drew some solace from a book on script-editing where another writer was described as adopting the fetal position for two days, curled up in bed with a hot water bottle. I was not that bad.


I feel like the script is now 'telling' me what it wants to be. It's like there's an ideal version of this draft that I'm chiselling the unnecessary material away from.


I need to relax and have fun while I'm writing, and b) the scene didn't need to be perfect - I'm going to go back, read the script aloud when I've finished this re-edit, and make adjustments.

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