Tag Archives: re-writing

Jogging On

What I love most about this time of year is that cherries are now in season. At our local market, they sell them by the boxful and there’s nothing like being able to graze on them by the handful, knowing they are not only delicious, but, unlike chocolate, more or less guilt-free.

May-time delight

May-time delight

Which is just as well, as I’ve been feeling guilty a lot over the past week – about the state of the house, about not doing more with the kids over the half-term break and particularly about my negligible work-rate and general lack of focus.

I’ve been trying to produce pieces to meet the briefs for various writing competitions, but as a result, it feels like it’s a long time since I got my teeth into a larger, more meaty project. At times it feels as if I’ve lost my way. I’ve also been struggling with my identity as a writer – can I really even call myself a writer? I’m not sure. And what it is I really want to write about anyway, what is it I want to say?

When I started out, I had an idea for a story that presented itself so powerfully that I felt no real need to ask myself why I was drawn to try to tell it. That was some years ago now, and the path that seemed so broad and straight has become narrow, obscure and fraught with pitfalls.

Even more damaging, I frequently find myself drawn into making comparisons with others who are treading the same path seemingly far more confidently and successfully than I am. It’s not that I’m jealous; I genuinely believe that the more good writers there are, the greater appetite there’ll be for high-quality writing.

Belgian crime writer, Georges Simenon – scarily prolific

 

Success engenders more success for more people. I don’t wish successful writers ill. Rather the risk, for me at any rate, is of being rather too over-impressed, and subsequently overwhelmed with a sense of my own inadequacy.

I feel I should write more, and be much less bashful about putting my stuff out there, but am not always sure how to go about doing this. Is it a good idea to enter competitions, when you’re up against so many others? Maybe I should just focus on writing feature-length screenplays – the most pleasurable format for me, but the hardest to sell. Or should I write short films that are quick and easy to make? Or what about radio? I like the idea of writing for radio, but again am not sure about how to break into it. What I need is a proper strategy.

Writing – a marathon, not a sprint

I guess the main thing is to stick at it, put my head down and keep going. When I look back at things I wrote a few years ago, they make me cringe. I know I’ve learned a lot since then and that my writing’s much better now than it was. Maybe the point is just to keep jogging on, and not worry so much about where it’ll take me.

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Starting From Scratch

I confess I haven’t done very much writing this week. This is partly because I’ve just finished the first draft of one project and am now leaving it to settle for a bit before coming back to it and re-reading it with what I hope will be a fresh perspective.

This can be a bracing, even shocking experience. It takes a certain period of time to be able to read something objectively, ie with enough distance to realise that your lovingly crafted masterpiece is in fact pretty much a load of old cobblers. With any luck, there’ll be a few nice turns of phrase, a couple of decent lines of dialogue that really do reflect what you were trying to achieve in the first place and which give you enough to build on as you start on The Rewrite.

It’s an accepted truth among the screenwriting fraternity that the first draft of anything will be crap. Not being much of a prose writer, I don’t know to what extent this holds true for novels and short stories but it’s certainly the case for screenplays. It’s quite common even for well-established writers to find that it isn’t until they’re on the fourth or fifth draft that they really begin to get a proper sense of the story they’re trying to tell.

There are innumerable tales of scripts that were re-written again and again – literally dozens of times – as their creators did battle with the detailed specifics of character, theme and plot in order to create a story that would really resonate on the big screen.

Emma Thomson spent five years working on the screenplay for Sense and Sensibility and is alleged – though I can’t vouch for it – to have written in excess of ninety drafts before shooting began.

Blog pics

Mind you, it’s brilliant and manages to remain true to the essence of Jane Austen’s original novel while making it relevant and true for a modern audience too. It quite deservedly won an Oscar.

Real writing is damned hard work and there’s no getting away from that fact. I was at an event for TV writers yesterday during which there was a panel discussion with Toby Whithouse, who wrote Being Human and No Angels and Richard Warlow, who created Ripper Street and Mistresses. Both spoke about the years that it took to get these projects off the ground.

Asked about his writing methods on Being Human, Toby Whithouse talked eloquently about the pages and pages of preparatory material he produced – every detail of each character and relationship, documents scoping out the entire world of the story and examining every possible permutation of the plot. This is what it took for him to feel that he knew story well enough to start actually writing the script. It took months and months and no-one but him ever saw or read these notes.

Being human

As an aside, it was interesting to hear that the original idea for the series was that it was about an ordinary flatshare, and it took several drafts for Whithouse to realise that none of the protagonists were alive!

Perhaps the biggest irony of writing for the screen is the amount of sheer effort it takes to produce what? A couple of hours of idle entertainment on a Saturday night. It’s all too easy to dismiss out of hand what may have amounted to years of someone’s life, something they’ve sweated blood to create. I don’t for one minute pretend that all films are good, but I do try to give proper thought and consideration to what the writer and director were trying to achieve, even if they haven’t completely succeeded. As a fellow sufferer, I owe them that at least.

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Filed under Film, Screenwriting, TV, Writing