Decisions, Decisions

Just got done with my Morning Pages, which I haven’t mentioned here since this blog is all but a ghost town. I’ve been doing them since… I think late May. Originally it was all on looseleaf paper, though now I have some permanence with composition books. I do it the vast majority of mornings — definitely every weekday — though I’ve had the occasional weekend hiccup.

Last week I woke up every day at 6am and started writing. First with Morning Pages, then with a TV pilot I’m working on. I made great progress. It’s an idea I’ve been sitting on for a few years now. I originally saw it as a comic, something darkly humorous but very specific in tone and execution. It was so specific that I could only see one artist drawing it, and though he’s a good friend and offered to do a design whenever I needed it, I never really saw the book coming together without him drawing interiors. So I didn’t proceed beyond my initial notes and direction.

Not too long ago, while bouncing between too many outlines, I realized that was stupid. I should just write it, get it out there, and then it doesn’t have to take up space in my brain anymore. So I started on a more detailed outline for it as a TV pilot. I figured out what needed to be addressed, worked out some loose ideas that gave me enough freedom to improvise on the page and went to work.

I began writing when I had time, which anyone “busy” person will tell you is never. So I wrote at the end of long days, happy when I could even get ten minutes in at night. Sometimes it would be exactly ten minutes, other days 20-30, and some days I’d find an hour or more before I got too tired to continue.

The problem wasn’t how little I was writing — it was how I prioritized my writing. I’ve had such poor habits when it comes to personal writing work that I was happy to be writing at all. Even five minutes, the “short time method” made me feel better about my day and my writing, because some writing is better than no writing. But I decided to make a change.

I used to go to the gym four days a week, getting up between 5 and 6am every day and going no matter how bad/tired/unmotivated I felt. Once I got there and started lifting I was okay, and when I left I felt great. Plus, since it was the first thing I did, I now had the rest of the day to not worrying about squeezing it in and feeling bad when I didn’t. (I’ve been struggling since last Summer with finding enough time for writing and fitness, but that’s another post.)

Surely I could do that for my writing; prioritize it, make it the first thing I did every day (in addition to the Morning Pages I’ve been doing for 2+ months. And again, I thought, It will be great not having to worry about how I feel after working all day or if I have errands to run since I’ve already done the writing. And for exactly one week, five long days in a row, I did exactly that. When my alarm went off at 6am, I got out of bed and turned it off. I didn’t snooze, didn’t crawl back into bed. I got up, fed the animals and went to work.

The first day I was so tired I only managed about 30 minutes of writing. But that was 30 minutes before work. I would have the option to write again later if I wanted — though I didn’t do any that night. I picked up steam throughout the week. I didn’t track page counts but I think I wrote 30-40 pages in 5 mornings before work. And Friday was a crap day. I petered out. The story went as far as the detail in the outline took me, and then the cracks started to appear. I knew it was way too long. Way too long. And I didn’t know what to write next because where I got to all made sense, but to get to the next part I needed something I hadn’t figured out yet.

It’s Thursday morning and I haven’t written on the pilot in almost a week. I haven’t fixed the outline, haven’t figured out what I needed to figure out in order to move forward and closer to FADE OUT. But I figured out something else in the course of my Morning Pages; something I know, want to change, but never do. I write extremely execution-dependent scripts. There’s not a lot of “Guy wants something, someone/something stands in his way, he has to figure out a way to overcome.” There are a ton of moving parts, a complicated plot trying to hide the fact that I really just want to write about people and not plots. Personal struggles, success and failure,¬† will they/won’t they. And the best stories do both, of course, but in terms of my own work, the stuff I write for me, I tend to try and make sure there’s something commercial so it’s not just pedestrian struggles — though there are plenty of great stories about every day life when the characters are rich enough.

Call it problems of scale, an attempt to be commercial without being overly high concept, or me just being stubborn. Trust me, in this case, my stubborn adherence to the initial tone of the idea is the problem. There’s an A plot and a B plot that work against one another, and while the A plot should be the thrust of the series… it’s actually something I, and my protagonist, don’t want to focus on. And really that’s what my story problems come down to. There’s the story I want to tell versus the story that should be told based on the dominoes I’ve set up.

So after three frustratingly handwritten¬† pages and this blog post, I have no idea what to do. Part of me wants to stop fighting, scrap the script and make sure I pay off the promise of the premise. Another part wants to charge through, stick to my guns and just get to an ending so I can work on something new. And the third part of me, the coward who doesn’t write enough, wants to toss it in the circular file and just move on without seeing it through to completion. And each part seems completely valid.

I’m standing at the crossroads, knowing the only way out is through, and that I need to be writing right now instead of distracting myself with this. But even if I open the doc and sit down in front of it, I don’t know what’s next. I suppose I could write out of sequence, get to the stuff I know works and come down and fill in the (current) problem area later (even if there’s plenty in the preceding 67 pages that doesn’t work — did I mention it’s probably going to be 100 pages…?).

Guess the only answer that really matters is that I need to put in the time, no matter what the result.

I(TM)WT – 5/14/09

Today’s Interesting (To Me) Writing Tidbit is that my process on this one-shot I’m writing has never felt more scattershot. Because I had a better idea of the complete plot than usual, I wanted to do a page-by-page breakdown and then tear through the whole process of writing the actual script. So I ended up doing a looser breakdown of the pages, then started on the script.
I wondered, going in, if I should try laying down all the dialogue first, then the action. From page 1 it didn’t feel right, so I went my usual method. Now that I’m a ways into it, what I’ve discovered is that I had to skip a page because I have no idea how to pull it off, and I have one page each of dialogued but not plotted and plotted but not dialogued pages.
I feel like some kind of maniac with the script. Should be able to finish up mid-day tomorrow, but I have the feeling I’ll need another pass or two to even feel like it’s worthy of being turned in. Right now, I have no idea if any of it’s good or utter shit.