As mentioned in the last post; I recently went on a holiday where I envisioned writing my way across Scandinavia; and then didn’t write a word. I’m not too upset by that fact, partially because I did get a bunch of good ideas during the trip, which are always worth their weight in gold (or maybe my weight as an idea doesn’t have mass and I managed to gain some holiday weight), but also because I returned refreshed and determined to write more.
Admittedly, about once a week (and usually after a coffee) I get the same manic determination to write more. I tell myself “this week is the week, just get on that computer and let the words gush out all over those blank white pages. Fill those pages up, and then fill up some more! Write for hours, no, days, at a time! Be so proficient that your friends will be annoyed by how much stuff you get them to read. Throw pages of writing at them until they beg you to stop. That’s how much you’re going to write! Yes! You will! You will be a master writer!” Then the coffee wears off, I get tired, and I tell myself I’ll start being a master writer next Monday; followed by a few hours of wasting time, after which I hate myself. It’s a fun little cycle.
The difference this time was that I didn’t just come back determined to write more I also came back determined to write smarter. Or in other words, be more organised with my writing. I’m usually an extraordinarily organised person (you should see my inbox, it is gloriously clean), yet somehow when it came to writing I was doing it sloppy. That just won’t do.
So I laid out a plan:
First was to recognise that research and outlining are hugely important parts of the writing process, parts that I had been neglecting. I’m all for smashing out an idea out in one glorious and messy draft, but realistically that draft needs to be considered ‘Draft Zero’, with the first draft coming after the aforementioned research and outlining. I decided to reorganised my brain to include these two steps as “writing”, so that when I tell myself to do some writing it would include completing these steps. I’m hoping this will cause me to save time when it comes to the actual writing as I should produce better structured and more informed writing rather than just stare at a blank page with no inspiration to draw on.
Second, organise my projects. I had a bunch of raw ideas, some more developed ideas, some half finished scripts, and no plan for any of them. One writer I admire is Brandon Sanderson; a fantasy novelist, an expert of writing magic systems, and the most prolific writer I’ve ever seen. This guy churns out quality books like a conveyor belt churning out cheap plastic toys, and has for years. I honestly don’t know how he does it. One thing I do know though is that on his website he has a percentage/status bar for all his projects. His website is www.brandonsanderson.com, and while the status bar is no doubt a way to keep his rabid fans satisfied that progress is being made on their favorite series, it’s also a great way to keep track of all your projects while also motivating you to keep working on them. So I stole it. I stole it like a thief steals cheap plastic toys off a conveyor belt (admittedly not my best metaphor). I listed and categorised all my current ideas and projects, decided what step they were at, and gave each one a percentage. Most were low, some are getting higher.
Third, set times when I’d get writing done. I have been writing most days, but how much time differed greatly; some days I got a nice chunk done, other days involved me writing for five minutes, patting myself on the back, and calling it a day. I’ve decided to think about it as a marathon, in order to run a marathon you need consistent, structured, training. Currently I’m the person who puts on activewear, drinks a coffee, and fails to actually do anything active. Training for a marathon involves not just running on the days you feel like it, but running when you don’t feel like it and running well past the point of comfort. It just happens that training for this metaphorical marathon will never be complete. Bring it on.
I wrote out a timetable for when I would write. I would get up earlier on my work day and get one full hour of writing done before work. At work I’d try to get another hour (or more) done. I work full time but if I write during my lunch break and during quiet periods throughout the day (thankfully I get a few of these) this is actually achievable. Once I’m home I’d write for another hour. Then I’d put aside three hours every weekend for me to write in. I would work those writing muscles hard; I would cause myself pain and fatigue, and sweat words.
Lastly, continue my education. There is always more to learn on any subject, and while I read scripts regularly I haven’t been doing much to continue to educate myself on the actual craft of writing. I’ve decided to start reading more blogs (mostly from writers I admire), and collate some of the great resources for craft skills out there on the internet. Also to re-read all the great screenwriting books I read years ago when I started this endeavour, as well as the ones I’ve never got around to reading.
I’ve been doing all this for only a week and a half now and already I’m producing more content than I had been previously. I wrote a pilot script for a sitcom last week and it’s one I’m happy with. In order to do this I researched advice for writing and structuring sitcoms, I wrote up an episode breakdown, character profiles, and then the first draft, which came in at twenty nine pages. It will of course need a second draft (a bunch of readers are looking over it now in order to help me do that) but it’s a hell of a lot more than I had a week ago. It feels good.
Admittedly a week does not a writer make, but if anything the progress has made me more motivated than I was even a week ago. The training is working, now I just need to stick at it.