Wednesday, June 21, 2017

BLOG REWIND - THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

As it's National Writing Day today, here's a blog post from 4th February 2015 about rejection, handling it and why writing is so flipping awesome.

There have been times in my career when I've seriously considered packing it all in and walking away for good. Where the promise of a regular income and a steady job seemed a whole lot better than the continuing struggle to get anyone to like my work, surviving on nothing but a few pennies a week.

Yesterday (03/02/2015) I read Lisa Holdsworth's excellent blog on rejection - read it HERE - where she nailed what it's like to be a writer and how we deal or fail to deal with rejection. Every one of her points hit home and at the end of the blog post I was actually sniffing back tears.

She actually got me, got what it means and feels like to have my work rejected, and for once I felt I wasn't alone. That's the hardest part I think, the feeling of being alone and isolated with your 'shame' and 'anger', knowing that your family and friends, even though they mean well, don't really understand the crippling effect of being told 'NO'.

All writers face rejection, it's an occupational hazard. Every writer will at one time or another have to face it. But whether it's a project you've been working on for months that gets rejected or you're dumped from a project in favour of someone else, the mark of a great writer is that they learn to deal with it and move on. Yes, the bad times can hurt as much as a kick in the fluffy bits - I've even had to sell my book collections and DVDs just to be able to eat on a couple of occasions when money was so tight - but I've learnt that nothing is forever.

Sometimes as writers I think we set up ourselves for most of our falls, happily telling everyone that will listen about a possible new project that physically and emotionally excites us, only later for it not to go ahead. It's hard not to share our excitement over possible projects with others. We see people so rarely that when we're asked what we're up to the temptation to blurt out every little detail is overwhelming.

Some writers are better at keeping things to themselves than others. Personally, I'm crap at it and I'm sure it makes the rejection harder to deal with when you're asked..."What happened to your Vampire vs Robots project you told me ITV were interested in?" and you have to inform them ITV decided not to go ahead with the idea.

But it's not all bad. Us writers wouldn't do this for a living if it was.

There are days when you feel like nothing can dent your armour, that you're invincible and everyone loves you and what you do, when you just want to sing from the rooftops and tell everyone how well things are going. Those precious moments when a development exec says, "we really love your writing and we'd love to work with you," are the highlights that have us punching the air, strutting down the road as if we own the world. And for those few treasured moments, we do.

We are giants! We are superheroes! Our words are platinum! Our ideas genius! And the world is a beautiful place once again..!

Happy writing!

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS

As I've said many times before, it's advisable to read as many screenplays and screenwriting books as you can to improve your writing. Learning and constantly topping up your skill set helps keep you one step ahead of most new writers. However, sometimes you just have to trust your instincts.

Thanks to the hard work I've put into my blog over the years, I'm lucky enough to have publishers send me screenwriting books to review. There's a pile of about eight sitting on my bedside table at the moment, waiting for me to find the time to wade through them. Some have been sent to me and others I've bought because they interested me. Since January I've read four books. But I've just decided not to read another one for a month or two because I'm finding they are becoming a bit of a distraction.

Over the last week, I've been plotting a new feature. But it's been slow going, not because the idea doesn't work, but because I've found myself trying to implement various techniques I've read about in those four recent books. I've spent more time thinking about hitting turning points, growing character arcs and some other less conventional writing methods than actually just writing down the plot and seeing what I have.

I'm lucky in that structure and character arcs usually come quite naturally to me, more so than dialogue does, that's for certain. Sometimes I forget to trust that natural instinct of mine, to just get on with the writing and not over think things. Just seeing what I come up with, without dissecting every little detail, is very liberating and helps me to get on at a much quicker rate.

So I've stepped away from the books for a while to let my instincts take over again. I'm not saying these how-to

books are a bad thing, they're not. They're essential for keeping your writing on the right track. I'm just saying that sometimes too much of anything is a bad thing and the occasional rest does you the world of good.

Learn to trust your instincts, they may not be as bad as you think.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

FIRST DRAFT - FINISHED DRAFT

As stated in my previous two blogs, my aim this year is to write one script a month for a year. Fellow writer Sally Abbott questioned whether this was a good idea. She pointed out that if I wanted my screenplays to sing then I should invest more time in them. So who's right?

The answer is both of us.

My aim is to write twelve first drafts, not twelve finished screenplays. The rewriting of those twelve first drafts will come later. For now, I just want to get twelve new ideas down on paper and see what works and what doesn't. After all, it's easier to rewrite a pile of poop, than it is to sit and stare at a blank page waiting for the perfect words to come along. If you have sixty pages of poop, you still have something to work with. If you have sixty blank pages and only an outline in your head, you have nothing. Getting it written is the most important thing.

Lucy Hay suggested I write treatments instead, as it would save me some work. But if I'm being truthful, I hate treatments. I only write them when I'm asked to. For me, getting that first draft down on paper helps me to work through my ideas and puts me in a better position when I come to write the second draft, much more so than if I write a treatment first. The first draft gives me a better picture of what I have and what I need to do to get where I want to be. This is why my first drafts are the equivalent of most other people's third or fourth. However, Lucy is also right. Treatments work very well for some people. But everyone writes differently. It's important to find out what works for you.

Going back to Sally's point, the majority of the work is done in the planning stage. For me, this usually equates to about 60%. 10% is then spent on the first draft and the remaining 30% is rewriting it until, as Sally says, it sings out and shines. But the thing is you can spend 90% of your time preparing and still find your idea doesn't work when you come to write it. Sometimes things just don't work on the first attempt.

My latest script took a bit longer than I wanted. It was partially down to some of it not working, partially because I realised I was giving out too many clues too early and partially because I took several breaks to reassess how I wanted the first episode to work. In truth, I probably spent five to six weeks actually writing the draft, rather than the twelve it appeared to take, or the four I actually wanted to complete it in. And thanks to this I have something that is now more advanced than a typical first draft. I also know the next draft will be bloody awesome.

Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards. You shouldn't be afraid of this, you should embrace it.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

GETTING IT FINISHED

Earlier in the year, I challenged myself to write a new screenplay once a month for a year. Added to this I also planned to rewrite another screenplay each month and write my first novel until it was finished.

January and February went well - one new spec TV drama pilot was completed and also a rewrite of a sitcom. Then it all went a bit tits up (it's a technical term)!

March started well. I had the spec TV crime drama pilot all plotted out in three days and the first act flew from my fingers onto the page over the next couple. Then I stalled. A week went by and I worked on nothing but my novel. Then another week passed with no work on the spec. I went back to it in the fourth week, rejigged the first act and managed to get another twenty pages done. Then I went on holiday to Spain for a week... massive mistake.

On my return, it took me a further week to catch up on my emails and get back into the swing of things. By the end of April, I had both the first and second act done and was about to start on the third. It was then I realised my problem. I should have spent more time plotting.

The first two weeks of May were spent going over what I had written and replotting it and the last week and a bit rewriting like a rewriting ninja on speed (Dear Police, no actual drugs were taken in the writing of this screenplay unless you count tea and coffee and the occasional chocolate digestive). Today, finally, the first draft will be finished.

So why did I have such a problem with this screenplay?

It's my first multi-protagonist story. I've never written one before. There's a lot more to think about. I tied myself up in knots trying to get it right. I also didn't know my characters well enough. I struggled. But I learned fast. And now I'm confident when I write the next one I won't have a problem. Sometimes, things take a little longer to get where they're going.

And the novel progressing brilliantly, even if I have no idea how it ends.

Writing surprises you constantly. It's one of the things I love about it.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

BREAKING IT DOWN

They say that everyone has at least one novel in them. I don't know who 'THEY' are, but they sound like idiots who don't know what they're talking about. And that's what's I've been trying to do... write one novel... for the past eleven bloody years.

I read somewhere recently that Mark Dawson (author of the John Milton assassin series) has written twenty-five novels in the last five years. Sounds impossible, doesn't it? But is it really? Let's break that down.

Twenty-five novels over fives years - that's five novels a year - if they average 60,000 words each, then that's 300,000 words a year - or 25,000 words a month - 5,769 words a week - if you're writing only five days a week, that works out at 1,154 words a day - in other words, just over two pages of writing a day.  Even if you're a really slow writer, it shouldn't take you more than a couple of hours at the most. Doesn't seem so much now, does it?

Yet I've had several failed attempts at writing my first novel and can't seem to get beyond 17,500 words. It's a bugger, I can tell you. I have the first three acts plotted, but the fourth has a nice fat gap of nothingness between its start and the end of the novel. The last three months I've been sitting staring at those blank index cards (five of them) refusing to restart the novel until they are filled in. Stupid! Why don't I just get on with it? After all, I have three-quarters of the novel plotted. So really, there's no real reason not to get on with it. Am I scared? Am I an idiot? Or am I just lazy? I genuinely don't know.

Yesterday I decided enough was enough. If Mark Dawson can write twenty-five novels in five years (two and a bit pages a day), then I can bloody well write one in a year (that's just under a page a day). So I've rewritten the first chapter... it was easier than I though. And I enjoyed it. I'm determined to get it finished by Christmas, if not before. I will! I will! I will!

I guess the message of this week's blog is this: Stop titting around and get on with it! As 'THEY' also say - Writers, write! Talkers, talk!

Which one are you?

Happy writing!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

READ, WRITE AND LEARN

READ

Usually, when I'm about to start a new screenplay I'll hunt down and watch TV episodes or films in the genre I'll be writing in, to get myself reacquainted with their format, how and why they work and how quite often why sometimes they don't. This helps me to avoid common errors and write the most interesting, original screenplay I can.

The next feature screenplay I'm gearing up to work on is set mostly in one very claustrophobic space, where two people will face off against each other. This is quite different to anything I've written before, so research is vital to ensuring the tension and conflict are gripping enough to hold the reader's attention for ninety pages. To help with this I've downloaded and printed off three screenplays - PHONE BOOTH by Larry Cohen, LOCKE by Steven Knight and BURIED by Chris Sparling.

Two of these films I have seen, which means I can directly compare how scenes were written in the script and how they played out on the screen. A valuable insight into getting the best out of my own screenplay.

Of course, this research is just to help get the tone and feel of my screenplay right, not to steal scenes or ideas from other screenplays. That would be stupid and lazy and very wrong.

It's also worth mentioning that whatever level of writer you are, you should be continually reading all sorts of professional screenplays, at the very least one a month.

WRITE

Writers write! If you just talk about it then you're not a writer. You don't have to write much, a page a day will do, just make sure you do something every day. We learn best by doing after all.

Rewriting is also very important to improvement. I've known writers write one draft and think their screenplay is good enough to send out. And they wonder why they get rejected every time.

The more you write and rewrite the more your writing will improve. It sounds so simple... and it is. The more you write (and read), the more you'll recognise what doesn't work and what does. Gradually over time, you'll learn to distill and refine the words you write, to the point you will eventually learn to use the minimum to make the biggest impact. Words are power after all.

LEARN

This is something I bang on about repeatedly. To learn screenwriting you don't need to go to university (although you can if you want to), you just need to do the two things above and read as many books on screenwriting your grey matter can absorb.

Eventually, after reading a few, you'll naturally take what you need from each to shape your own voice and the way you write. No one book offers the RIGHT way to write. What might be right for someone else might not work for you. So read as much as you can, take what you need and forget what you don't.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

FEAR

Following on from my post two weeks ago, I thought I would take another look at networking and specifically the associated fear and how you cope with it.

THE SCENARIO - YOU'RE AT THE LONDON SCREENWRITERS FESTIVAL AND A TV PRODUCER YOU WANT TO CONNECT WITH IS STANDING JUST A FEW FEET AWAY.

(A) HOW YOU WOULD LIKE IT TO GO:

You stride over with confidence and a smile, say hello, introduce yourself, tell them you loved the last thing they produced and then ask them what they are working on. Ten minutes later you're laughing and joking and talking about your shared TV/FILM likes and swapping business cards. "Send me something," they say to you and you promise to keep in touch.

(B) HOW IT ACTUALLY GOES:

You want to go and talk to them but you don't know what to say. Your palms are sweaty. Your mouth is dry. You stare at them. They spot you staring at them and are a little bit freaked out by it. But you can't help yourself and continue to stare at them with an air of desperation. It's now or never, but your legs just won't work, let alone your voice. Your hesitation stretches from seconds to minutes and then when you finally decide to make your move someone else beats you to it. You go home beating yourself up, because it was an opportunity missed, even if you are secretly relieved.

Why does it have to be (B)? Why can't it turn out like (A)? The thing is it can.

I'm not going to write a three-hundred-page post about how you can get rid of your fear and become the most confident person in the world, I'm no self-help guru, I'm simply going to explain three truths about fear instead.

1 - Fear is a good thing. It prevents you from behaving like a twunt.
2 - Everyone feels fear, even the producer you're staring at. He's there to meet writers like you and is currently wondering why you haven't come over and introduced yourself.
3 - The majority of fear we experience is utterly wasted.

The last one is so simple and yet the one most people (including myself) overlook. I came across a great video on Facebook a few days ago that sums up number 3. You can find the link to it HERE! It perfectly illustrates how and why we spend far too much time worrying about stuff rather than just getting on with it.

Feel fear when you need to, not when you don't. Then when you do feel the fear, use it and go and do the thing that scares you anyway.

Jump in! Be awesome!

Happy writing!