Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Embrace your displacement tendency

The marvellous 2000 AD serial Fiends of the Eastern Front by Gerry Finley-Day and Carlos Ezquerra has just been released as a hardcover graphic novel, complete with a stunning new cover image. You can see how to order it from Amazon.co.uk by clicking the headline above. It's a great little yarn and worth a read if you haven't see it before. That 44-page yarn has led to me writing a trilogy of novels and I'm currently scripting an eight-part FOTEF serial for the Judge Dredd Megazine.

I spent yesterday doing anything I could to avoid writing episode seven of Fiends of the Eastern Front: Stalingrad. You name it, I did it - sorted out the pile of clothes that was growing to Everest-like proportions in the bedroom; laid out all the things I want to take on holiday [four days before we leave the house, instead of my usual four minutes before we leave the house routine], paid this month's council tax [£175! That's nearly as much as our monthly mortgage payment, FFS!], got myself a heat pack to speed the healing on a muscle I damaged playing cricket more than a week ago, burnt some CDs to take on holiday... The list goes on. And on. All the avoid starting to write a simple six-page script.

Time used to be I'd beat myself up about this level of procrastination. I'd get so much more written if I could only knuckle down to the task in hand, rather than muck about with work displacement activities. But I've slowly come to realise that all these avoidance tactics are my subconscious telling me I'm not ready to start. If I know how I'm going to write something, I dive in and start. Hell, I wake up early in the morning with my opening sentences already forming in my head and my fingers twitching for the keyboard. When I'm ready, I'm ready. Yesterday, I simply wasn't ready.

In the past I've been guilty of writing scripts and stories too fast, not giving myself enough time to find the best way of telling the story. As a consequence, I often produced work that wasn't good enough in my haste to finish a job and collect the fee. That's the road to hackwork and I've done my fair share of it. Now I'm trying to set my sight a little bit higher, taking my time and endeavouring produce work that's a little bit more considered, more polished, more professional.

Of course, there's a danger in embracing your subconscious displacement tendency. Some days you really are simply being a lazy git, mucking about and pissing your life away when you should be writing. The tyranny of the blank page is a terrible thing, but you've got to be capable of recognising when you're ready to write and when you're not. A couple of weeks back I heard about the Write a Screenplay in 14 Days challenge. It's designed to get procrastinators off their arses and motivated enough to write a 90-page screenplay in a fortnight. Nobody expects the finished work to be Casablanca or Citizen Kane, but finishing a project to such a strict deadline does generate a palpable sense of achievement.

I seriously contemplated having a go, but decided against for two reasons. Firstly, my overdraft tells me to concentrate on some paying work before going on holiday. Grud knows doing the MA Screenwriting course at Screen Academy Scotland is making enough of a hole in my finances. The last thing I needed this month was a two-week holiday from earning followed by an actual week on holiday. There's a tax bill looming at the end of July - to pay that, I need to earn money during June.

Secondly - and most importantly - I didn't have enough time to prepare. A few hours here and there is not enough to get you ready for writing a screenplay. Dive in with a great idea and that might get you to page thirty. Hell, if you're stubborn enough you might even finish the damn thing - but chances are it'll be a piece of crap. I'd rather give myself a chance of doing a decent job, something with the potential to be developed further, a script that might one day work as a calling card for what talents I possess. Excreting 90 days for some imaginery deadline is not for me, not right now. So I decided against flinging myself at the challenge.

Every now and then I'll see an opportunity to get a foot in a door somewhere, an opening for writers trying to break in. Sometimes I'll pursue these, like the radio drama writer's mini-lab in Dundee I got accepted for last July or the MA Screenwriting course I'm on now. Other times I'll decide against, simply because I won't have a submission ready in time that I believe is strong enough to represent me. I'd rather not throw my hat in the ring at all than present a half-baked, thrown-together effort.

Last year Channel 4 announced it was involved with The Play's The Thing, a search to find a new play for London's West End. I thought about having a go, but decided against. As much as I enjoy the theatre, it's not when my writing passion has sent me. But I enjoyed the first episode of The Play's the Thing on Channel 4 last night and hope to catch more of the four-part series, holiday permitting.

Here's another opportunity for fledgling playwrights in Scotland that's just been announced: EMERGING WRITERS - The Traverse is looking for up to 20 of the most promising writers to take part in a 10 day residency aspart of the inaugural emerging artists season at the Traverse Theatre. Each writer will be offered a fully paid residency with script development, masterclasses and mentoring by leading playwrights. CLOSING DATE Fri 14 July 2006, 10am. If you want to find out more, paste this URL into your browser: http://www.traverse.co.uk/jobs.html

Again, that's not for me - but for all those who do decide to have a go, break a leg!

Finally, an update: last month I posted about applying for a mentoring scheme whereby writers based in Scotland can be mentored by an experienced scribe in their chosen field. I got shortlisted for interview and gave it my best shot. Happily, I've been offered a place on the mentoring programme to further develop my screenwriting. The identity of my mentor and how the process will work has yet to be confirmed, but the email offering me a place with a lovely surprise at the end of last week. I've already got an exciting idea [or four] I'd like to develop as my project with the mentor, whomever they are.

Best of all, I can't wait to get started on it - perhaps my subconscious is trying to tell me something?

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