Saturday, July 08, 2006

Chronicles 27 - Passion v. Procrastination

I've met a number of screenwriters either in person or on-line who have told me that they "love writing", are "passionate" about writing etc., who's very idea of an ideal day is to be stuck in a room for 8 hours doing their 'scrivener thang'.

I always feel a pang of inadequacy, insecurity and guilt when I hear this. Why? Because more and more as time goes by I feel that writing is the LAST thing I want to do when I get up in the morning. By writing I mean 'down and dirty' screenwriting of course, not blogging which for me is just another excuse to avoid the hard work of plotting, structuring etc.

Whenever I hear these words from other writers I have to ask myself, well, "are you passionate about writing?". I think the answer to that is, yes, when I'm actually able to overcome my ever increasing resistance to sit down and write, when I'm in the flow, when I'm in 'the space' and a witness to the 'creative flow', then yes, I am passionate about writing.

Once I enter fully into that world and that mercurial process takes over it becomes a 'moment of clarity', almost a Zen-like state where you are doing and not-doing at the same time. There is no action of 'writing' taking place, the words are being written. It's passive not active. That's when you hit creative pay-dirt. When I'm in the flow then I can (and do!) happily sit in this quasi-meditative state for hours.

Okay, now that I've got 'all philosophical on your ass' and shared my Campbell-like, "follow your bliss" metaphysical experiences with you, you then may reasonably ask, "So what's your problem? Why don't you just get on your butt, pound the keys on that Underwood and churn the pages out?".

The answer is I'd love to, I do love writing but unfortunately writing invariably turns out to be not about writing, and in the case of screenwriting, even less so; it is about plotting, researching, outlining, constructing almost mathematical wave-like structures. I mean, look at McKee or Snyder for God sake, they even use the language of calculus! +, -, < and > symbols for scene dynamics. Dude, I just want to write cool dialogue! Sorry, not as easy as that.

I think people who start screenwriting don't realize how many plates you have to spin simultaneously to make this thing work. Research, character biographies, plot points, mid-points, goals, tasks, the list goes on. To the astute reader the screenplay is a very unforgiving form. If there are holes, weaknesses, 2-D characters, lack of conflict you will be found out - sooner rather than later!

The upshot of all this is that writing screenplays is hard work and a lot of that prep. work that goes into outlining, character bios, research etc is a far cry from the romantic muse-driven, writer-in-the-garret, Byron-like, let-it-just-flow-scribe image. It's just bloody hard work, and, in my case along with the usual fear-of-failure, "can I pull this one off?" the hard graft is a major cause of the inner groan when I contemplate writing a new and somewhat challenging screenplay.

Don't get me wrong, there are diamonds in the dirt, all that prep. work can also be fun too, you can make great discoveries along the way, especially in research but unless you are really writing 'what you know' based on characters that you know with a fully formed plot in your head then you are going to have to roll your sleeves up and get your hands dirty.

So, to avoid the hard work of plotting, outlining, character bios etc I have developed elaborate ways of procrastinating. Here are a few that come to mind, please feel free to suggest others. ;-)

1. Reading books about writing/screenwriting/producing - no shortage of these books these days, right?
2. Writer forums like Done Deal where you can spend hours wasting time discussing the merits of moving or not moving to LA.
3. Blogging, a GREAT method, this way you can convince yourself that you are actually exercising your writer muscles, (since you are actually writing!) and therefore not really procrastinating. Well, umm, actually - you are.
4. Updating your blog, adding links, blog maintenance etc. Has to be done right?
5. Checking the stats on your blog. Thanks NP!
6. Reading other blogs! The good news here is that I'm finding new screenwriting blogs almost every day! With a bit of luck I might never have to write another script again!
7. Tidying up the desk. An oldie but goldie. When I first started writing I prided myself on being able to just start writing, even if the room was a tip, now, increasingly and worryingly I'm getting this urge to tidy up before I get down to work. I'm becoming a cliche!
8. Writing unnecessary emails to other writers just to avoid writing and justifying it as 'networking', keeping in touch...The end result of this is that you end up writing more about what is not happening in your life than what is happening, "still waiting for so-and-so to get back to me", "so and so is interested but yet to hear back as to ...".
9. Okay, let's try and get some round numbers here. I need two more. Oh, yes. Watching films instead of working on that script because all the screenwriting gurus tell us that you can't write movies if you don't watch them, right?
10. God, I'm surprised how easy it was to write this list. So, what else? Oh, yes, of course I forgot, I'm a writer-producer! So a great way to put off actually writing is to chase people on the phone, have meetings, send scripts off, fly to film festivals etc., after all I can't do all that AND write, can I?

By now, I'm feeling nervous. I know this blog is coming to an end, it's bright sunshine outside so I can't watch a video, I've emailed everyone I know - damn, I'm going to have to get down to work here.

Guess it's time to start writing the treatment I promised a producer and continue working on my comedy-heist script, but then again, maybe I could just ...

See Chronicles 26