Saturday, July 26, 2008

Why I Write: So I'll be able to write my other ideas

I'm working on three scripts: The Gap, Run, and Utopia. I've been working on these ideas for over a year now (going on two years in one case), and still haven't got a proper first draft of any of them.

But I absolutely need to start finishing them! Because bubbling under and starting to sing to me are:
  • Two seasons of a TV series I've been tentatively calling The Kingdoms
  • An uncompleted Katherine Mansfield script
  • A teenage horror movie called The Devil You Know
  • An untitled horror project about the great advantage of being able to die.
  • An abandoned fictional future documentary called Only Human, which is now re-surfacing after seeing the wonderful Guy Maddin 'documentary' My Winnipeg.
Arggh! Too much!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Why I Write: To compete

One of the main reasons I got into writing was to show other people that I was the best.

Writing was one big competition, with all my fellow writers as contestants - not that I'd ever admit I was competing (of course). But all of us were in a race to achieve the elusive crown of respect and achievement. And there could only be one, and that was going to be me (of course).

Competition is invigorating. It's helped me put pen to paper. But it has a pretty big dark side for me.

Jealousy has been a reoccurring experience for me as a screenwriter. I've found myself seeing the industry as a zero-sum game with extremely limited opportunities. Another screenwriter's success has deprived me of my rightful dues by squeezing me out of the frame.

I'd look for factors beyond my control to explain why this writer has 'succeeded' and I hadn't (ah, it's because they know such-and-such). And God knows I haven't approached their work fairly or with a positive attitude - I've been eager for them to fail.

Particularly galling is the success of a friend or someone I know. Then I have to congratulate them while secretly envying them and wishing for them to stumble.

Well, that's the dark side of my soul. But it's not the attitude I try to approach things with now. It's taken me a long time to turn it around, and sometimes it creeps back in anyway. Jealousy is a very strong emotion.

But I've tried to turn this around for me, because my jealousy hurts no one as much as myself. I'm the one who gets all worked up about the success of my fellow writers, and all that's doing is distracting me from the thing that counts - getting my work good enough so that others will be excited enough to help make it a reality or watch it. And therefore reaching towards achieving those successes I've been so jealous of.

Besides, I like helping people. I don't want to be the person dragging others down. And I believe the screenwriting industry, or whatever writing environment, isn't a zero-sum game. It can grow it, and I'll do it my part of that through achieving good work. Which will open up more opportunities for myself as well as others.

I believe that. It makes me happier believing that. When I slip away from that the jealousy creeps back in...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Why I Write: To get it perfect

Perfectionism is one of my own little hells.

Perfectionism for me means:
1. Avoiding committing anything to paper before I've gotten it just right, and therefore not writing anything, or
2. Never being happy with what does hit the page and therefore never seeing an end in sight for a project.

How do I know I've got a script or idea 'perfect'? I never can, because the next time I look over the idea I start to become unhappy with what's there. There's always something to change. I've spent years being trapped in projects because of my perfectionist streaks.

Particularly deadly is a streak of perfectionism coupled with a growing sense of ambition. This allows me to shift the goalposts for a particular work as I'm working on it. Which allows me to chase my tail in search of perfection forever.

I think the worst problem about perfectionism for me is I eventually end up giving up on scripts, and to some degree myself as well, and moving on to something else that seems easier and brighter. I never quite finish because it just becomes too hard to finish.

What I hope I'm moving towards is a place where I can stop working on scripts and be satisfied with what I've accomplished. To really finish things rather than have the process aborted in some way or another - which includes having the script made but still not being happy with it. Which is yet another kind of perfectionism I suffer from...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Why I Write: For an audience

If my writing isn't working for an audience, it isn't really working, regardless of whether I like it.

To return for a moment to my previous post, it's taken a long time for me to accept the idea of writing for myself. All that matters is I should be happy with a script, and it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks of the script as long as I like it.

That's a worthy impulse as far as it goes, and it's certainly good when it comes to actually writing the script, when I don't need a lot of internal distractions.

But ultimately I am also writing for an audience.

I don't chip away for years at scripts (or ideas for scripts) simply for them to end up in a bottom drawer (or a box on top of the closet in my case). That's where they often end up, but that's not what I intend for them when I start on them.

I do get something out of these scripts or ideas that never see the full light of day. I get a huge amount out of them. But not everything that I hoped for them.

Part of what drives me onwards into the next script is the idea that this one will really get made, and an audience will get something out of it.

I use the words 'an audience' rather than 'the audience'. Not everyone needs to like or relate to everything I write. It's taken me a long time to accept that as well.

But someone (and preferably a lot of someones) have to get something out of what I've written. Otherwise frankly the script isn't good enough. That's why it's living in a box.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Why I Write: For me

If a script that I'm writing isn't working for me, it isn't really working, regardless of whether other people like it.

I've noticed this effect when writing in group or for others - the desire to accept the opinion of others that something's good even when I know it isn't working for me yet. Sometimes others will be happier with stuff I've written than I am - or they'll be more willing to move on.

In those kind of situations, the temptation is very strong to leave something alone. And in some situations, factors such as time pressure or producer edict may mean that I do.

But I know the writing process, and probably the writing itself, is better if I feel happy with it. That way I can own it. That way it really comes from me, and I feel I have written for me.

Screenwriting can turn into a bit of a factory where no one really owns the finished product. And I instinctively rebel against that - I want to be able to own something I've written, or have participated in writing.

I believe that if I totally gave away writing for myself, then I'd be giving away a piece of myself - the piece that cares. And I'd be what I call a hack.

For me, that term doesn't mean someone who writes for money or whatever. It means someone who doesn't care about what they're writing and doesn't care what happens to it. I have had one encounter with a fellow writer who gave every impression that this was how he felt about his writing, and that encounter turned my stomach.

I don't want to give it away.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Why I Write: To have a cool job

I've liked being able to list 'Writer' as my occupation on the electoral roll.