Friday, November 03, 2006

Choking on the Art

Unlike some of the other participants in National Novel Writing Month - I'm guessing, just an impression I get from visiting the online forums, that many of them are university students or twentysomethings, with no kids - I didn't stay up late on Hallowe'en so I could start writing at 12:01:01 AM on November 1st.

In fact, all of November 1st was a wash - along with the rest of my office, I did a volunteer day with Habitat For Humanity, and as someone who usually pilots a desk, I was definitely not is any condition to do any writing that night.

So my big launch was last night, November 2nd.

The story so far?

1,065 words. Well below the 1,725 per day I'll need to hit to "win" (anyone who makes the 50,000 words in a month goal is considered to be a winner).

A couple of things held me back, I think - I had to start writing a little later than I'd planned because of another commmittment. But more importantly, performance anxiety was rearing its ugly head once again.

I get the impression that many NaNoWriMo participants are more focused on their goal than their results - that, while they're working to write actual prose that makes narrative sense, they're open to running with anything that works within that broad mandate to help them reach their 50K.

But I went and had a Big Idea.

A bunch of experiences, feelings and interests came together in a story that I just have to tell. A story that has to be a novel, which is another first for me. So, I went in worrying about getting it right, rather than getting it done.

It's old news to anyone who's been following this blog, and a long-standing writing habit of mine. I get worried about every tiny little detail - as though that mattered in the first draft - and get hung up on wordsmithing, when I should be getting the words in my head onto the screen.

1,065 words isn't a bad start. But I'd really like to hit that 50K. I hear you get a t-shirt if you win. And I need to relearn that the first draft is for the broad brushstrokes. Getting the ideas and the words out there. It's for passion, not perfection.

So tonight, I take a deep breath, refocus, and give my inner critic a swift kick in the nads.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Xeno's Arrow On Modern Tales!

Xeno's Arrow, the science-fiction comic book series I co-created and co-wrote with Greg Beettam, launches today as a webcomic on Modern Tales - one of the most well-known and successful professional webcomic sites in the world!

Our new home will be in the Longplay section, which is reserved for completed, long-form comics work. This struck us as a perfect opportunity to use our existing material to reach a new audience.

You can check us out at

As I said, this is archival material, starting with issue #1 of our self-published series. We'll be publishing new installments on the first Monday of every month - about half an issue's worth, depending on story breaks, so the first half of issue #1 is what's online right now.

So, is there anything new for those of you who've read the story before? Yes. You may only get half an issue, but it's in full colour.

On the web, it costs the same to publish in black and white, purple and chartreuse, or with the whole palette, so Greg decided to take advantage of the opportunity. And speaking as the non-artist, may I just say wow. Wow. WOW. Gorgeous.

Check us out today, and on the first Monday of every month.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Season Premiere

Back from my summer hiatus. It's the new fall season, and it's time for the premiere of Season Two of Back From Erstwhile.

A bold new direction! More thrills, more chills, more laughs. And I've added an adorable wise-cracking kid to the cast, so you know I haven't jumped the shark yet, babies.

Whew. Sorry. I was channelling the annual NBC preview specials from my childhood. I'm better now.

But yes. I'm back. Back to Back From Erstwhile. (Upon reflection, that's a pretty clunky title, isn't it? Still evocative, though. I think I'll keep it.)

So, I can imagine you asking - assuming that anyone is actually still checking for updates - have things been happening?

To quote J. R. R. Tolkien, "Lots, and none at all."

Not a lot of writing has happened - the screenplay, for instance, remains incomplete at exactly the same 84 pages it had achieved some four months ago. Nothing seems to have come of the spec work.

What have I been doing? Well, working and taking care of my family, of course. But I've also been clearing the decks. Getting my ducks in a row. Pick your metaphor.

The kids are now both in daycare, which you wouldn't think would make a huge difference in my life, since I work full-time, but the impact has been profound. Basically, the kids are sleeping better. So Sarah (my wonderful partner) and I are sleeping better. So everything is better. I actually have the physical and emotional energy to use my creative faculties again.

Also, over the past two months, exciting new opportunities have opened up. Details are pending, but there are two very interesting projects, both of which have a much better chance of panning out than the spec work did.

(One is basically a lock, and I expect to be announcing it here before the month is out.)

I feel like writing again. I feel alive again. I feel renewed.

I have that sense of imminence. That things are about to happen.

So watch for updates. There are going to be some interesting ones.

Welcome to the second season.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Fiscal Year King - Part One

I sit in the quiet cool of the air-conditioned board room, waiting for the axe to fall. Around me, the others, awkward in their suits and ties. It could be any of us. It will be only one of us.

The Chairman sits in silence, looking at the papers in front of him, once in a while glancing up at us. He looks bored. The bastard.

Beside him, the man we call The Executioner when he's not in earshot. The right hand. That's how it goes: The Chairman picks a head, the Executioner swings the axe. My tie's too tight. I fight the urge to tear at it.

Johnson's on one side of me, stinking of the sweat that's rolling off him. He got screwed on the Barcelona deal, and everyone knows it.

Torres on my other side, slouching in his plush leather chair, wearing a half-smile and looking like he doesn't give two shits. Like the Chairman. He's got the look down pat. But it takes more than that to be the best of the best, you sack of crap.

Monday, July 17, 2006


As I said, I signed what amounts to a confidentiality agreement regarding the material I was working on last week, so I can't get specific. This I can say:

I was working to develop and hone ideas created by someone else - taking some general notes and making them specific, so that potential buyers can see a sample of how the idea could actually work. Any real payment or further participation is pending support from buyers. Spec work, basically.

So, Karol asks (see her comment on my previous post) specifics aside, how did it feel?


I love collaborative work. I have a knack for it, maybe because good ideas get me charged up, no matter whose good ideas they are.

I love trying to find the heart of something so I can help to improve it. I love taking something that's roughly hewn, finding the good in it, and smoothing away the extraneous.

It's an amazing rush.

I love my own projects (I'll be going back to the screenplay now that I've got my material in to the creators), and working alone has unique joys that collaboration doesn't fill.

But wow, did it feel good to jam on something again. I'd forgotten how much I liked it. I'd forgotten how good I was at it.

I'd forgotten how much I missed it.

Of course, I may find out tomorrow that the original creators hated every single idea I came up with, threw out my contributions and now spit when they hear my name. It was still fun.

I'll keep you posted.

Friday, July 14, 2006

I Could Tell You, But Then I'd Have To... Oh, You Know The Schtick

So, things have been on the quiet side here, lately.

The past couple of months, that's been because I haven't written any writing to write about.

Well, that's no longer the case. For the past week, I've been doing some interesting work on a very interesting project.

But I can't talk about it - signed a confidentiality agreement and everything.

At this stage, it's a lot of fun, and draws on a lot of my strengths as a writer - but it's way to early for anyone, including me, to get excited about it. Like many projects in their early stages that involve confidentiality agreements, this one could turn out to be nothing, or it could turn out to be big, or I might not be in it for the long haul. Could go a bunch of different way.

But I am writing. Just wanted you to know.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

My Subconscious Is A Real Geek

Apparently, when I can't make the time to write on a regular basis, my subconscious steps up to fill the gap.

But it seems that my dreaming mind writes fan-fiction.

Last night, in a crossover of universe-shatteringly epic proportions, the characters from Star Trek: The Next Generation travelled back in time to save Jean-Luc Picard, who had been erased from history by a malevolent cosmic entity.

To accomplish their mission, they teamed up with the "Scooby Gang" from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, who were attempting to save Buffy Summers from a similar fate - but the first order of business was to rescue Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy (of Law & Order - my subconscious also likes procedurals) from a car accident arranged by the cosmic entity in an attempt to kill the heroic prosecutor.

They had saved McCoy by the time I woke up.

My waking theory is that killing Jack McCoy would have ensured that Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy was never born, but I'm afraid to take it any farther - writing an ending awake to fan-fiction my brain cooked up while I was asleep is a little much, even for me.

Still: Coolest. Dream. Ever.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Has It Really Been Two Weeks?

Yeah, it has. Two weeks since I've posted. That's really annoying.

There has, in fact, continued to be rather a lot going on. My daughter started day care. My wife had surgery. I was so wiped out following the big conference at the Day Job that I a) got sick and b) actually fell asleep in a public waiting room at the City's Day Care office.

So I've been pretty sucktacular at finding time to write. But I'm getting together with my dear friend and former screenplay-writing-partner Nicole over the weekend, and we'll be kicking an idea or two around, so there should be something more interesting to report shortly.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Life: It Keeps Happening


Work - my Day Job (tm) - is returning to a more measured and predictable series of demands on me and my time, now that our big annual conference is over.

From this weekend forward, I should be able to do some more writing. I need to get back to my daily updates. And finish the screenplay. And there are other irons in the fire.

There have bit a lot of irons in the fire, lately. Personal irons, family irons, professional irons. A lot has been happening.

It's a Time of Change.

I've often thought - and I know I'm not alone in this - that whether it's literally true or a function of perception, changes in our lives seem to occur in rapid, clustered bursts, interspersed by longer periods of relative stability.

It's like the evolutionary theory of Puncuated Equilibrium - well, it is, in the same way that Social Darwinism or Moral Relativism are like evolutionary theory or the work of Einstein.

(In other words, not really like that at all. But it makes a good metaphor and provides a vocabulary.)

So the changes are coming fast and furious right now. Many good, some not so much. I can see resolution - stability - on the horizon. Coming in stages, incrementally, but coming all the same.

And bit by bit, in stages and increments, I'll be able to devote more energy, and more time, to my journey back from erstwhile.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Life On The Front Burner

Work has been taking up a lot of time and mental energy this week, as has family - we've had company because of my son's birthday. So, this week has been light on the writing.

I'm going to try to regroup a bit and write over the weekend (although I'm working on the weekend, so we'll see if that happens).

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, May 29, 2006

(This Post Has Been Redacted, For Good But Dull Reasons)

Nothing to tell, really. I just near to hear back from someone about something. Details as they happen and stuff.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Moonbeam and Mizzenmast

I woke up in my brand new body. Sat up. Looked around.

But if you've taken the trip to the Moon once, you've seen all there is to see. The transmat equipment, the matter assemblers, the rows of people waking up, the people who've become other people and not-people and just plain whatevers for the holidays.

I accessed my onboards, did a quick self-diagnostic. Body built exactly to order, tall and lean, dark and powerful. Neurons and synapses firing and connecting as they should. Fractional but functionally insignificant memory loss.

Functionally insignificant?

I dug a little deeper. Looks like I'd lost my fifth birthday party, something to do with a petting zoo, and the smell of my father's cologne.

That, in exchange for everything the Moon had to offer? No contest.

Hell, losing a memory of Dad? I should be thanking them. Take it all, with my blessing.

I stood. My garb was there, at the foot of the bed. I picked it up.

Black shirt. Black pants. Black boots. Black hat. Black mask. Black belt. But the sword, it was all of silver, elegant and deadly. Just what I'd wanted.

The thing standing next to me glanced at my blade. He, maybe she - well it obviously had quite an imagination. It looked at bit like a freshly-flayed and very oversized bat. It smiled after a fashion.

"Going my way, Sailor?" it hissed.

"I'm afraid not. I've got a solo charter."

Even a flayed bat can look surprised, as well it should. It looked at me again, knowing that I was either independently wealthy or had just gone into several centuries of debt for the sake of one vacation.

I smiled, then pulled on the mask.

"I believe," I added, "That my guide is here."

He could only have been my guide. He stomped up the the aisle towards me, on one leg and one peg, a hook raised in greeting. His coat and hat were weather-beaten crimson, and a cutlass, curved and heavier than my rapier, hung at his side. His old-ivory grin was a little too wide for comfort.

Good. I hadn't ordered comfort.

He stopped. Glanced at the bat-creature without interest, then turned back to me. "Be you Captain Black, him that men call the Dragon?" he asked.

I nodded. "And you, sir?"

"Why, I be exactly what ye asked for. As requested. The fiercest and the fieryest. The best and the baddest. Deep as the briny, deadly as a shark, wise as a whale and wilder than a hurricane."

He paused. Drew himself up. Doffed his hat.

"I be the Madmiral of the Luna Sea, at your service."

In Other, More Important News...

My son turns one year old today!

Happy birthday, Darwin.

Some Days You're The Roadrunner, Some Days You're The Coyote

My new plan gave me that all-fired-up energized feeling - so I went back to the screenplay last night. Wrote almost 5 pages, bringing me to 82 pages total.

That puts me within striking distance of finishing a feature film screenplay. It feels like I'm getting very close to the climax, so I don't think the script is going to run to 120 pages. Something between 100 and 110 - so, between 18 and 28 pages to go.

Part of me wants to throw caution to the wind and make a big push to finish by June 1st.

Part of me is afraid that the light I see at the end of the tunnel is an approaching train.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Writer's Dilemma: MYOB vs. WTF

It was the dissonance of the scene that really fascinated me.

A butchily-androgynous figure, short and stocky, with hair in an army-short buzz cut.

Jogging up Bay Street.

In a t-shirt and scanty panties.

And when I say scanty, I mean lacy-frilly front - with reasonable coverage, to be sure, but still clearly underwear - and a thong-tacular nothing-to-the-imagination back.

(Of course I looked. I mean, I pride myself on being cosmopolitan and all, but come on. You know you would have too.)

As I said, I pride myself on being cosmpolitan, and while I'm seasoned pretty mildly myself, my circles include some far from vanilla flavours of wild. Any one of those elements, and I wouldn't have given it a second thought.

But the androgyny, and the panties, and the jogging up Bay Street at 9 in the morning?

That was worth a second thought. And a second look.

And honestly, my second thought was "This has to be some kind of put-on." Because the scanties, they just took the whole scene over the top. Hello world, this is my ass.

I figured there was a hidden camera.

And the other side of the cosmopolitan coin is being jaded. Cynical. Blasé. So I muted my reaction. So as, you know, to look cool.

In a way, I regret that. Not that I should have rubbernecked like I was in the stands at the Naked Tennis Classic, but I wish I'd had the not-cosmpolitan, not-cool, not-just-minding-my own-business-no-eye-contact reaction to say, "Hey, if you've got a minute, I'd love to know more about you, and what you're doing. For instance, did you know that you're not wearing pants?"

I didn't do that, because it would have violated the urban code. And that code is important. Minding your own business when other people are doing no harm is vital to getting along in a city the size of Toronto. Two and a half million people can't always be saying, "Hey! Who are you? Explain what you're doing! What's with the panties?

Now if I want to know who androgynous-panty-jogger was, what his or her motivations were, I have to write them. And I'm not alone. Almost all artists who work in narrative forms and media feel this compulsion - to fill in the blanks. To tell the story.

Was there a hidden camera? Was she trying to provoke a reaction? Was he just an exhibitionist? Did she lose a bet? Was he testing us? Testing me? Did I pass or fail?

I wonder if the writing, the narratives, that comes from city-dwellers is in one way or another all about filling in those blanks. About finding stories to fit the characters. About answering the questions we aren't allowed to ask.

I've decided who that was, jogging up a busy downtown sidewalk, underwear-clad and ambiguously gendered. Have you? Tell me a story...

Looks Like Rain

I think I'm emerging from the drought.

I've been sleeping better - my son's schedule is shifting back towards him sleeping through the night, and when he sleeps, I sleep. And that means I'm not too tired to write after the kids are in bed.

It's still been hard to fit in, but I managed two straight nights over the weekend - and for the first time in a long time, I just grabbed a notebook and scribbled away, instead of sitting down at the computer. Liberating, albeit hard on the back. And the following night I managed about 2 1/2 pages of screenplay.

So, I can make it happen again. This is good. My original goal - to have a first draft of the screenplay done by, let's see... last weekend? Well, obviously that's not going to happen. I also won't be done by my fallback position of June 1st. But I'm writing again.

One unexpected fringe benefit of the drought, and the resulting low rate of blogging, has been that people have had a chance to get caught up on my posts. This has lead to two interesting comments.

The first was from Sarah, my amazing wife/co-parent/partner-in-crime. Her first thought on reading recent posts was, "You don't get very personal." Until now, that has been true. I've been reluctant to get too into details about life, family and friends, out of concerns for their privacy.

But I obviously have Sarah's permission to talk about her. And it's been getting increasingly awkward to refer to everyone else as "a colleague" or "my former collaborator" or what have you. So, I'm going to get just a little more personal - and I'm going to start using names.

First names only. Nothing confidential, of course - if you can figure out who I mean from first names only, you already know us both and have already heard the story.

On that understanding, I had an interesting conversation with my friend Tara over the weekend. She mentioned that my variations-on-a-theme-of-Blah-I'm-Not-Writing series of posts was getting a tad tedious.

Tara suggested that I change my ground rules a bit, and try to write and post a short piece every day. Now, blogging what I write is a bit different from blogging about my writing - the latter is what I didn't want to count towards my daily writing target.

But there's no reason I can't do both. This is still going to be a process blog. I'm just going to be posting the results of the process more often.

This does not mean that I'm throwing in the towel on the screenplay. Again, no reason I can't move forward with that while I'm building up the old thinkmuscle.

What I'm going to try to do, though, is write a 250 word piece - non-fiction, fiction, essay, brain-dump - every day. 250 words isn't much. That's a single page, typed and double-spaced.

I don't have a dowsing rod or a trick knee, but I have a feeling that the drought is over. Today, it looks like rain.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Progress Report Will Be Issued...

... But not until there's progress to report. We are well past "Argh!" to words that I'd rather not post.

My son's sleep schedule has shifted. He's waking up more in the dark, cold pre-dawn hours. Fun for him - he can nap whenever he wants. I, on the other hand, have a day job.

The resulting exhaustion has had a huge and terrible impact on my productivity.

I'm going to try to at least do some writing - my original goal of 250 words of whatever, if nothing else - even if I don't have the energy or focus to work on the screenplay. And I'm going to look for times and places that I can write when I'm more awake, like when I'm on the subway.

Thanks to everyone for the support. I'll be keeping you posted.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

From Blah to Argh!

Well, last night did have "less on the go" than Tuesday night did. But I wasn't taking the post-Tuesday-night exhaustion into consideration.

So: I didn't do any writing last night.

This is starting to really frustrate me. I mean, other things come up, there are priorities and responsibilities that come first - like my children. I understand that. I understand that there will be ebbs and flows to the cycle of craziness, and that I'm just in the middle of some busytime.

But it still bugs me, especially because I'm really feeling the momentum on the screenplay. I want to get down to it, get it done, and then start fixing it. I itch for this.

Which, view in the abstract, is a good sign - I'm feeling the need, which means I'm well on track to habitual writing - but that doesn't make it any less frustrating.

Argh is the word, all right.

If I can write every day for the next week to ten days, with average or better output, I'll be done the first draft. I know what I want to do. I can see it.

Now I have to write it.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


No writing last night. I should be able to get back to the desk tonight - there's less on the go.

I always suspected that problems would start to arise after I was about two or three weeks in to my program - I was basing this hunch on similar experiences I and others have had with starting to work out.

Sure enough, that's when I started hitting personal and other-commitment obstacles to sitting down and writing.

The fact that it wasn't surprising doesn't make it any less frustrating, though.

Blah, indeed.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

There's A Reason This Isn't A Math Blog

Four pages and a bit last night, bringing the total to 74.

Yes, 74 - I hit 65 on Saturday, 69 on Sunday. The screenplay's getting long enough that I occasionally forget the actual page count. That's sort of cool, in an innumerate kind of way.

I'm still worried about having enough plot complications to sustain the story, but there's been no sign yet of running out of steam. I'm going to have to watch myself, though - being over the half-way mark has me wanting to race ahead to the finish line... and that's exactly how to under-write!

My mantra for today: Plot complications are my friend.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Firing On Most Cylinders

I wasn't three for three this weekend. But I'm still pretty pleased.

I missed Friday - it was a very stressful day, and the end to a very stressful week. But I managed almost 6 pages on Saturday, and 4 on Sunday.

The screenplay now stands at 65 pages, which puts it over the half-way mark.

I'm trying to focus on moving forward with the first draft, but it's hard. I'm already rewriting in my head, thinking about scenes that need to be moved earlier or later, characters that need to be more or less present, elements to emphasize more or less.

I'm also a little concerned because I'm now into the second half of the middle, and I have an unfortunate tendency to under-write the middle of a screenplay, so they run short. I'd like to avoid that problem. I think I have enough potential complications to keep my characters busy for a full 110 or 120 pages.

We'll see.

More on this problem later; it's related to screenplay structure, which I may end up doing an overview of after all, so we're all speaking the same language - and more importantly, as a refresher for me.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Looking Through A Frame With Two Sides

Last night: 5 pages, bringing the total to 59. The screenplay is at least half done.

And you know, I'm starting to see the shape of it - and where it's going from here. It's exhilarating.

Of course, now that I see the shape - the frame - I look back at what's already been written, and I see what doesn't fit. There are elements that I'll have to finesse into the frame, and elements I'll just have to saw off.

But that can wait. I'm going to finish the draft first, and revise later.

This not some profound insight on my part - it's a generally-acknowledged truth that you'll find in many books and courses on writing, especially screenwriting: Don't go back and revise until you're finished your first draft.

To try to move forward while revising on the go is the path of madness, or at least of endless fiddling (almost the same thing - ask Nero). Each change sends ripples throughout the draft, and trying to smooth out the ripples makes more ripples. Better and easier by far to finish, then look back on the work as a whole.

There's no point in trying to make your work fit into a frame that only has two sides.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Come to think of it, that hot dog vendor did have shifty eyes...

No writing last night - far too wiped out. Damn you, food poisoning!

I blame Tuesday's lunch - I don't think I'll be indulging in more street meat any time soon.

I'm feeling much better - and tonight I try, once again, to get back on track.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Too Sick to Think of a Clever Title

This will have to be brief - I've got what feels like a mild case of food poisoning.

"Mild." Ha. Like there's a gentle, sunny, zephyr-like version. It's better than severe food poisoning, but several orders of magnitude more sucky than my preferred alternative, which is not having food poisoning.

Fortunately, the symptoms didn't kick in until well after I finished writing last night. Last night's total: About 6 1/2 pages of the screenplay.

Given that I don't know whether I'll be up to doing any writing tonight, it would be premature to say that I'm back on track. I'm going to see what the day brings.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Not Quite Back on the Horse

Last night was the first time since I set my goals that I sat down to write, but failed to hit my target: I managed 2 pages of the screenplay.

I started at a reasonable hour, but had seriously underestimated how tired I was. I think I was nodding off at the keyboard by the time I realized that what I needed to do was sleep.

So. Not quite back up to speed, yet. To answer's Karol's question - in yesterday's comment - it's more like I tried to get on the horse, and didn't make it, and fell, but my foot got caught in the stirrup and then the horse drags me around the corral. Hilarity ensues.

Tonight's goal: 4 pages, and I start writing early enough that I finish before my eyeballs try to crawl out of my head.

Monday, May 01, 2006

I Fell Off the Wagon, So I Need to Get Back on the Horse


That was not a productive weekend.

I did no writing on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Three days without even sitting down to write.

It was a very full weekend. That's going to happen, sometimes. It's going to be interesting to see if I can recapture the momentum of the screenplay. I think I can, and will.

Tonight, back on the horse.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Backtracking to Move Forward

Four more pages last night, bringing the total so far to 44.

Last night was also my first "you can't get there from here!" moment. A one-page scene I wrote just didn't, couldn't connect to what needed to happen next. I had to backtrack and write something new, something that fit the flow.

But it was a good scene. Full of things that needed to happen - just not then.

So it became my first "floating page." It's forging ahead in advance of the leading edge of the screenplay - right now it's page 44, but it doesn't connect to the story as a whole yet.

I think I know where that scene will fit. I'll need it shortly, and when I do, it'll be there.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Thromedy? Comiller?

Last night was productive: 6 1/2 pages of the screenplay.

That brings the total page count to 40.

The screenplay still doesn't know what it wants to be when it grows up; unfortunately, there's no portmanteau word in the vein of "dramedy" to describes a script that is both a comedy and a thriller.

Perhaps I'm inventing a genre. Or I might be Frankensteining an abomination. Maybe both!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Short Laughs or Long Thrills?

Last night, just over four pages. The screenplay now stands at 33 pages, about a third done if it runs short, over a quarter done if it runs long.

Here's an interesting issue: Generally speaking, comedies are expected to be shorter, while dramas are longer.

That is, with an eye to the guideline that one page of screenplay equals one minute of screen time, comedies usually clock in at closer to 100 pages, while dramas run more like 120 pages.

In fact, many comedies are even shorter than that, while we can all name a half-dozen recent event movies that ran well over two-and-a-half hours. Hypothetically, those screenplays would have been 150 pages or longer.

So, what should be my page-count goal for a thriller where the defining relationship - between the two protagonists - is comedic?

The obvious answer is "As long as it takes to tell the story."

But a story can be told many different ways. I need to figure out whether the energy that propels the story forward comes from the thriller part, or the comedy part.

The choice is meaningful.

There's latitude in comedy. Plot holes can be papered over with jokes. Ridiculous degrees of coincidence can cause, exacerbate or solve any and all major plot complications. Events are compressed to serve the need for coincidence and the high energy and rapid pace of comedy.

A thriller needs to operate like a elegant clockwork machine. It can be a Rube Goldberg device - serving no purpose other than to make us marvel at its baroque intricacies - but all the parts have to fit together. Logic and precision must not just underlie the thriller, but be on display for all to see - that's the point.

(Exceptions? Plenty. But many of those get by on an innovative hook or sheer style. )

I know that the answer to this will become clear as I move forward with the first draft, and into the second. The path I follow will determine whether this is a comedic thriller, or a... uh... thrillulent comedy.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Dreaded "Then What?"

This is something that I've been trying not to think about, and I think, for me, it's going to be one of the most difficult parts of getting back from erstwhile.

I'm writing again. That's good. As far as I'm concerned, it's wonderful - the feeling, not the results, which I haven't really gone back and analyzed yet.

But what happens next?

For starters, I have no idea how I'm going to integrate editing, revising, or rewriting into my process. I've been improvising, which is good - I work well when I'm improvising, and it stops me from endlessly waiting to have just the right plan before I act.

But editing and rewriting are very different from writing a first draft. It's a different process that requires a different kind of thinking and has different benchmarks for success.

I actually have confidence that I'm going to figure that part out, although my ideas on the subject are still very amorphous. It's the question of what happens after that that's looming in the distance, all ominous and scary. Like there's an elephant in the corner - and it's a vampire elephant!

Basically, assuming that I'm successful, I'll have written and revised a screenplay until it's a thing of beauty.

Then what?

I've been out of the game for about four years. I never had many connections in the film and TV industry. The ones I had are long-cold. Which means starting the painful - to me, excruciating - process of networking and building connections again. With no produced work to add any credibility.

I have the same problem with the comics medium. My connections in comics are more numerous, but mainly with people who are very, and happily, busy with their own magnum opuses.

And there is only so much that a writer who doesn't also draw (or, in the case of film and TV, produce and/or direct) can do alone.

Unlike prose, where the work can go to the market - if not the final audience - directly from the writer, screenwriters and comics writers can't reach the market without negotiating many intervening stages and passing many gatekeepers. Comics need to be drawn. Never mind getting producers, a director, actors and the funding - studios won't even open the package containing a film or TV script that doesn't come from an agency, and I don't have an agent anymore.

I want to write, and I'm glad that I am writing again. But I also want writing to be my career. I want to reach an audience. And then to realize that I could write a brilliant screenplay, or a superlative graphic novel, that sits on the shelf because I can't make it happen alone...

It's intimidating. It's hard to give myself over to the creative process if I think that my efforts are going to be futile. Worrying about "then what?" has been a huge internal obstacles.

So my solution, for now, is not to think about it. To focus on the work. And to stay positive. There will be opportunities that will emerge, opportunities that I can't even perceive yet, because I'm not in that headspace.

The key, I think, as with the whole process of de-erstwhiling, is targeted adaptability - being focused on my destination while being open to opportunities, detours and scenic routes along the way.

I'm sure that I'll have a lot more to say on this subject once the screenplay's done. Until then, I think I've exorcised this particular demon.

Oh - just under five pages of screenplay last night. The progress, it progresses.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Surprisingly, Results of Flying Blind Not 100% Positive

It was a weekend of fits and starts

Friday was tough, but I scraped out four pages of the screenplay. It was hard, and afterwards, I thought about why it was hard.

And I realized that I had a problem with the story. Because nothing was happening. Oh, the two leads were still lots of fun. But there just wasn't enough plot to go around.

So, I knew I needed to fall back and regroup. I didn't want to get bogged down too much in details, but I did want some kind of roadmap.

That's what was going through my head on Saturday. When I didn't get any writing done. I didn't even sit down to write.

I'm not going to beat myself up over this. I got back up on the horse - more about that in a minute - and I need to acknowledge that days like Saturday are going to happen. It wasn't a horrible day. It was just a full day. And it kept me from sitting down and getting the writing done.

Not something I want to happen again. But I'm running 15 to 1 for days hitting my target versus days not. And most importantly, I think I'm developing the habit. Not writing didn't sit well. The exception seems to have proved the rule.

Sunday was regrouping night. I pulled back, looked at the screenplay, and mapped out where I want to go with it. This will involve some back-tracking - there are elements I now know will need to be inserted into, or between, scenes already written.

I definitely didn't want to do anything as detailed as a treatment, or even a formal outline. I just gave myself some key points. Obstacles the main characters will encounter. Things that need to happen. Scenes I want to write.

The whole thing certainly didn't come to 4 pages - which is moot, since it wasn't screenplay format. But it was over 250 words of prose. So I'm counting Sunday as a success.

Tonight: Back to the screenplay itself. 4 pages a day is once again the target.

At that rate, I can still have a first draft by mid-May. That's my goal.

This is raising some related issues for me, about some of the other implications and obligations of de-erstwhiling. I hope to blog about them this week.

Friday, April 21, 2006

As Elegant as a Brick

I managed, just barely, to hit my four-page target last night, although a lot of that is dialogue that I suspect will get trimmed in a second draft.

It's funny. My inspiration, as I mentioned before, was seeing Brick (which may or may not be playing anywhere near you - it's in limited release, so only one theatre in Toronto is showing it).

Brick is a hard-boiled film noir detective story, set at a suburban southern California high school.
I thought - inasmuch as I had anything about the project planned at all - that I was going to be writing some sort of noir-influenced detective story. That's certainly what started coming out when I first sat down at the keyboard.

But at some point between Page 1 and Page 19 - which is where I left off last night - there was a very noticeable shift.

Remember when I said that the two main characters were bickering entertainingly? Still true. Their relationship seems to have become the driving force behind the story. And that's not noir at all. Banter in hard-boiled detective stories tends to be fraught with danger, and bickering leads very quickly to violence.

I've always loved writing dialogue. And almost everything I write contains a strongly comedic streak. (Well, it amuses me, anyway.)

And that's really where we come back to Brick. Because what really impressed me about the writing in Brick was the dialogue. The seamless, elegant, effective adaptation of the machine-gun paced, sharp and stylish language of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe to the milieu of alienated SoCal adolescents.

Good writing makes we want to write something good. And the dialogue in Brick is very, very good. My screenplay won't be a film noir. It won't be hard-boiled. But I'll try to make the dialogue sharp, smart, elegant. And effective.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Going Where The Spirit Movies Me

One thing that I've been trying hard to do is not second-guess the process.

That's hard for me. My tendency is to over-think, and to let that analysis take the place of action. But that, of course, is one reason that I've been an erstwhile.

And Rachel is correct in her insightful comment on yesterday's post. My plan is supposed to be freeing, not limiting. The goal is to write, not to find another reason not to write.

So last night I forged ahead with the screenplay.

In this particular format, word counts don't accurately convey progress. The basic unit of measurement has to be the page, each of which can have a radically differing word count depending on whether it contains more dialogue or more description and action.

So, while I hit my target at over 800 words, those 800 words - more than I wrote for the screenplay on either of the two previous nights, amounted to slightly fewer pages.

The screenplay now stands at 14 pages, which puts it at about 10 - 14% done, and near the end of Act 1 for those who adhere to traditional 3-act screenplay structure.

I can expand on this if anyone's interested, but screenplay structure is a widely-covered topic, and almost any introductory screenwriting book will explain it.

So: My goal for the screenplay is going to be four pages a day. If I can do that, I'll have a completed first draft in less than a month.

This is a bit audacious of me. This is going to be quite a ride.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Back From... Easterwhile?

Back from my extended Easter weekend (my office takes off both Good Friday and Easter Monday as statutory, and therefore paid holidays, and I used a vacation day on Tuesday to be at home with the kids while Sarah, my partner, got through a day of carefully-scheduled appointments.)

Anyway, I wasn't blogging, but I was writing.

I was on target Sunday night - 500+ words - and finished the first draft of Creeping Murmur. It was quite a rush to finish something, something I'd kept working on for several days. It was another incrementalstone.

That said, I think I'll set it aside for now; I'm still working at the sit-down-and-write thing, and I'm not really in the headspace to edit or rewrite. I think, despite many, many problems and weak spots, that it does deserve at least a shot at a second draft. I like the characters and the sensibility.

And since Karol asked, I will go into the story in more detail later. For now, I'll just say that the title is from Shakespeare. First person to post a comment correctly identifying the play it's from will win my public congratulations in this forum, and the resulting adulation of your peers.

Monday and Tuesday were... interesting. In a good way. The writing was productive, but I'm starting to wonder what I've gotten myself into.

You see, on Monday I saw a movie. In a movie theatre. I had popcorn and everything.

It's been months since I did that. Last summer, or maybe it was last September. Sarah and I saw The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

(Your collective condolences are noted.)

But on Monday, I saw a good movie. I saw Brick.

I recommend it highly, although not unreservedly. It's a very dark film - hey, it's a modern film noir set at a suburban California high school, so dark was pretty much a guarantee. But solid performances (it takes real talent and craft to pull off the stylized language and rhythm of film noir), solid direction and excellent writing.

The problem is, it inspired me.

I sat down on Monday night, not sure what I was going to write. Maybe a movie review? Maybe some automatic writing to empty out my accumulated subconscious detritus?

What came out was the beginning of a screenplay.

A screenplay is a bigger project than I was expecting to launch in these early innings. A feature film screenplay is expected to run at least 100 pages (because of the industry convention that one page of screenplay is equal to roughly one minute of screen time).

But I started on Monday, and banged out over 700 words (which, because of the formatting of a screenplay, was over four pages). I couldn't stop on Tuesday, and wrote another 700+ words, bringing the page count to nine-and-a-bit.

Now I'm about 10% done a feature film screenplay. The problem is, I wasn't planning for this. I don't have an outline, or character notes, or more than the vaguest sense of where the plot is going. But the main characters are bickering engagingly, and that energy is carrying me forward for now.

It is sometimes said that the heart of screenwriting is structure. It has also been said that this is a crock, that the heart is story, and that structure is best used later - in rewriting - to serve the strengths of the story.

Looks like I might be about to find out.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Night Owls Are Not What They Seem

Well, something clicked last night. I don't know if I was hitting my stride, or if starting earlier or better rested gave me the energy I needed. Or maybe I just got to a part of the story that I really wanted to tell.

Probably it was all of those things.

I got back to the short story last night - it actually has a working title, so I'm going to starting using it: Creeping Murmur and the Poring Dark.

889 words. Still not quite sure how I managed that - but that character I like was talking a lot, which probably had something to do with it as well. Definitely going to need some editing if the story's going to get a second draft, but his energy is infectious.

And did ever feel good to start and finish at a saner hour. In their comments on an earlier post, Rachel and Karol both expressed some amazement at the late nights I've been pulling over the past week as I made a start of the writing.

Well, I knew I couldn't keep that up for long. It's really not sustainable. Really, really, really not. (Good thing I had the long weekend to recharge.)

The late nights were partly a question of time management - learning again how to fit writing into my day, and partly is was working at building the habit. Also, I felt that it was important, having made the committment, to not let obstacles and excuses get in my way - including being tired.

One of my goals for this week - Week Two! - is to better integrate the writing into the rest of my life. To not have to work at 1:00 in the morning. Because the ultimate goal isn't just to write, but to write well. For that, I find that it helps to be awake.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Laughter Through The Blears

Whew. Last night started out like chewing glass. I was very, very tired - two kids plus a full time job plus all those late nights were catching up with me.

I still haven't gotten back to the short story. Last night I could barely see straight, and I certainly couldn't get back to the narrative that I've been developing. I was seriously considering the idea of free associating onto the keyboard, just to make quota.

Fortunately, I'd been annoyed earlier in the day.

An exchange of emails with someone had brought up some issues. Not with the other person involved, we sorted it out and we're cool. But there were some things I hadn't said. Some points I hadn't made. Something I needed to express.

So I found a thread to follow. And I followed it for 565 words last night.

And 553 more tonight.

Tonight, I'm still tired, but it's not as insanely late. And I'm finished. I hit my target. And I learned.

I learned that I can spread writing a passionate screed across two days, when I'm less passionate the second day. I learned to work in my writing earlier in the evening. I learned that I can stop writing and start again over the course of an evening without losing too much energy or direction.

Tomorrow's experiment: Can I jumpstart the short story after setting it aside?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Sleep is for the Weak, I Used to Say

Everything feels very heavy today - especially my eyelids and my brain.

There was a lot going on last night - to the extent that I couldn't sit down at the computer until about 1:30 in the morning. As you can imagine, mental and physical energy was at a premium.

I stared at the short story for a few minutes, then realized that I could barely read it, let alone write it. I needed to do something else.

Well, I'd been talking to my friend Nicole earlier that day. Nicole has been trying all sorts of interesting ways to experiment with her own writing, and she told me about an exercise she picked up from The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron. I haven't read it (although this idea was good enough that I'm going to check it out) but Nicole has been finding it very valuable.

This is what I used to kickstart myself last night. It starts very simply:

Write down your 5 favourite movies.

(Last night, my 5 were The Princess Bride, The Muppet Movie, Star Wars, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and The Seven Samurai. If I wrote the list again now, I bet at least two of those movies would be different.)

Now comes the interesting part: Find the thread that connects them all. What do those 5 movies all have in common?

Honestly, I barely remember what I wrote on the subject - it was 2:00 in the morning. But it got me going, and kept me going for 411 words. I'll have a look at what I wrote again tonight, to see if it's coherent enough to post.

And now I know that I can hit my target using a brain that's barely functional. Thanks again to Nicole - and Julia Cameron! - for the idea.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Hearing Voices, Making Choices

I went back to the now definitely-going-to-be-a-short-story (if it merits completion; we'll see) last night. Once again, the voices were all over the map.

My attempts at straight prose - rather than scripts for comics, film or TV - have been few and far between. Perhaps because I wrote that way so rarely, the results tend to be interior pieces, very inside the protagonist's head. Reflection, internal monologues, more agonizing over what to do than doing it.

Well, that wasn't working for me last night. I'd spent the two writing sessions prior inside the main character's head, and as I said, I couldn't pin down his voice.

So I moved the conversation outside of his head and brought some other people into it. Four other characters. The result was a bit shaky - his voice still shifted, and I don't know that there's really enough personality in the dialogue to spread across four more characters.

It doesn't even read like prose. It reads like a script, mostly dialogue with brief descriptions of expressions, actions and reactions.

Something else that'll need a lot of fixing if the piece every ends up in a second draft.

But for me, last night, it worked as a change of pace. 814 words.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

What Happens In First Draft STAYS In First Draft

A bit more of a struggle this time out - I decided to try picking up where I left off with the probably-a-short-story. To see if this way of writing works for an ongoing project, rather than a one-off.

And it was harder than I expected to get back into it. I struggled to find the voice again - my voice in the story, and the voice of the protagonist. I couldn't quite do it.

I realized, finally, that I had to just accept the change. That's part and parcel of a first draft and, to quote yet another trite-sounding but fundamental principle of the process, "writing is re-writing."

Which doesn't mean that I'm thinking about editing and revising just yet. This is early innings, and I'm still focusing on just doing the writing. When, if I finish probably-a-short-story, I may find that it doesn't merit being rewritten and polished.

But for me, part of rebooting the writing process is remembering that not everything has to be perfect right from the get-go. That what matters right now is getting the words out of my head and onto the screen.

Excessive wordsmithing, especially while trying to get the first draft down, is a condition that I'm particularly susceptible to. Trying to strike a balance between moving forward and cleaning up after myself has been a struggle.

Which is why I decided to allow myself to move forward last night, ignoring inconsistencies in voice, infelicities in phrasing, and even jumping tenses several times within the same paragraph.

The result was awkward, jarring, riddled with mistakes basic and subtle. I'd never show it to anyone. But it was a result. I can rework, revise and polish later. It's okay. It's allowed. It's the point. Writing is re-writing.

Last night's total: 494 words.

Monday, April 10, 2006

It's All About the Reps

I was thinking, last night, about when and how I'm going to move into the second phase of de-erstwhiling. The first phase, of course, consists of writing every day - what my friend Rachel (in her comment on Sunday) called "the time-honoured 'Butt-in-chair' technique."

Now, I'm not going to roll out Phase Two of my diabolical scheme just yet. Partly because this is a process, and I don't know yet if the path I really end up following will be the path I foresee. But mostly because I'm just not ready yet.

I'm still in the Honeymoon Stage - sitting down and writing each and every day is exciting and new, and it doesn't feel like a chore. But it isn't a habit yet, and there's going to be a time, between Honeymoon and Habit (which sounds like a great title for something - wish I knew what) when it will be a chore. A slog. A misery. When I will hit the wall and have to peel myself off and Just. Keep. Going.

And this got me thinking about habit-building. There's a pop-psychology meme floating around, and it suggests that there are a specific, scientifically-established number of times that you need to repeat a behaviour for it to become a habit. But here's the thing - the sources don't agree on what that number is. 21 and 28 get thrown around the most, but that's not the whole list by any means.

A little quick Googling only served to reinforce my suspicion that this idea is utterly bogus. It's clearly connected to one of the key principles of marketing, that "people need to hear your message 7 times before they take it in." It's also probably derived from the self-help industry, which makes a pile of money from the Quick and Easy Steps to Weight Loss/Financial Success/Better Sex/Making Friends racket.

The truth is, it all depends. What habit are you trying to build? What reinforces you in building it - is it pleasurable? If not, does it have tangible results? Does it fit within your lifestyle? Your aptitudes? All these factors play a role in developing a habit.

The magic number is whatever.

Whatever works. However long it takes. Conscious behaviour does become unconscious habit, with time and repetition. You - and I - just have to keep working at it until it comes naturally. There's no secret known only to the Highly Effective People. You'll know it's a habit when you realize you've been doing it without thinking about it, and that'll happen when it happens. Until then, it's just about doing the work.

Huh. You know, at this rate, I'm never going to get a big fat contract for a self-help book.

But I am going to get back from erstwhile.

Two Down, An Indefinite Number To Go

Not much to say about this one. Just over 700 words. I won't be posting it yet, because it's still in progress - I think it wants to be a short story, but we'll see.

However, as promised, I am posting the results of my first time up to bat, last night. In your face, performance anxiety!

Here it is:

To Be As Strong As A Baby

Not so very long ago, I watched as my baby son put the pieces together and figured out how to crawl. He made his way, shakily, bit by bit, from the living room all the long way into the kitchen. Eight, maybe ten whole feet. By himself.

And he sat up in the kitchen, and looked around. And his expression was pure joy, and he let out a squeal of triumph.

And looking at him, I realized that being a baby, actually being aware that you have passed a developmental milestone, must be like being a mad scientist: "I am the most powerful thing in the universe! The power of motion is mine to command! I'm free! Free! FREE!!!"

I hadn't quite realized, before, how much I wish I could remember doing that.

As adults, our milestones are subtler, and our learning both more constant and more low-key. We forget that every single human being gets to experience those "Eureka!" moments, those life-changing great leaps forward.

Almost no one remembers infancy. Our brains aren't wired that way. My earliest memory - and it's just a vignette, without much context and no profundity - is from not long before I turned two.

I wonder what kind of people we would be, if we could remember being babies. How would we think, what would we do? Imagine actually remembering that despite huge obstacles and with incredible focus and determination, you tamed your own body. Learned to walk. Mastered the intricacies of human communication and cognition. Learned to talk. Went from perceiving the universe as an extension of yourself to developing relationships with people and objects and the world.

I think people who remembered being able to do that, people who really remembered it instead of understanding that it happened in a sort of abstract, intellectual way, wouldn't be the sort of people to lightly or casually turn from a goal. They wouldn't be afraid to try something new and worthwhile because it was hard. They would be constantly striving to improve, to learn, to grow, to perfect themselves.

Imagine remembering, when you faced some difficulty or obstacle in your life, that you had already done the hardest things you would ever have to do, before you were a year old.

Imagine that. And try to feel it. Because whether or not you remember it, it's just as true for me, and you, and all of us, as it is for my son.

Feel it, feel your own strength, and courage, and perseverance, and be unafraid. You can walk and talk. How hard can anything else really be?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Making Every Word Count?

Those of you who, as I did, learned the esoteric art of counting words in the days before word processing was entirely ubiquitous may have noticed something odd about my struggling-with-writing (and drive by Ayn Rand bashing) example of a couple of posts back, of slogging ahead by typing "A is A" 83.33 times.

"Wait a minute," you're thinking, "Since when do words comprised of only one or two letters count towards the word tally?"

Yes, as I learned it, way back when we were impressed by 64 whole K of memory, when you're counting the number of words in a project, you ignore words that are made up of fewer than three letters.

Well, I don't know when the convention changed, but when Word counts words, it includes all of them, even "A" "is" and "A."

But two points spring to mind: First, I learned the Fewer-Than-Three-Letters-Doesn't-Count Rule from my parents, both of whom were and are journalists. And that's a hint why the rule is obsolete - it existed mainly to facilitate typesetting. But typesetting is extinct in professional publishing. When the page can be laid out electronically to maximize space efficiency, counting one- and two-letter words doesn't throw anything off. It just makes more sense to have a word count that includes everything.

But that's really a tangential issue. The second, more important point is that I set a word-count goal to give myself a target, something to try to achieve, not something else to worry and fret about.

And that's vital, for me, in trying to develop, or re-develop, the habit of writing: Not worrying about things that will just slow me down.

Before I sat down to try to meet yesterday's target, I thought that today would include a post about throttling your Inner Critic. About shooting the mean little man who sits on your shoulder and tells you that what you just wrote isn't good enough. "Just do it!" I was going to declaim. (Derivative, I know. Give me a break - I'm getting back from erstwhile!)

I would probably have concluded with something like, "I forged bravely ahead, without regard to my inner critic. I ignored the urge to wordsmith. That's the way to move forward."

Which would have been great, albeit pretentious and self-congratulatory. If that's what I had ended up doing.

The fact is, while I did try to ignore the critic on my shoulder, I couldn't always do it. Sitting at the computer, I would look at what I had just written, and worry about something that didn't read quite right. That I could have expressed more simply, or clearly, or strongly.

So I found myself stopping. And worrying. And worrying about stopping and worrying! I quite literally sat there fretting about whether I should stop and edit, or if that was cheating. Or counterproductive. Or something. Instead of writing, I was worrying about the rules that I had invented to help motivate me to write!

And I realized that I could not let worrying about the Rules be one of the things holding me back. I was just replacing the Little Writing Critic with the Little Back From Erstwhile Rules Critic. I was generating obstacles to my own success. So I stopped worrying about the rules. I edited on the fly. I wordsmithed. I did what I needed to do, to get unstuck and move forward.

And that was liberating. If the process is what matters - and right now is all about the process - then I can't let worrying about the process be something that inhibits the process. I will always try to keep going, to meet and exceed my target. Sometimes that will call for charging ahead, and sometimes it will call for doubling back. I will find the best way that I possibly can to just keep going.

At least 250 words every day. No matter what. To build the habit of writing. That's the goal, not adhering to some arbitrary rule about whether I should be editing or not.

But I do still need to throttle my Inner Critic. To that end, I've decided that I am going to post what I wrote last night. But not now - this has taken quite long enough already. (Today I learned the hard way that copying-and-pasting from my version of Word into Blogger does not work. Retype my whole post? That sounds like a great time sink! Sign me up!)

What Do You Call A Fraction Of A Milestone?

It's not a milestone. It's much, much smaller than that. In metric, it would be a millimetre-stone, at best. But I did it.

Tonight's tally: 435 words.

Tomorrow, I may post the results if, upon reflection when I'm fully awake, what I wrote doesn't totally suck. Plus a quick note on word counts and some thoughts on the process of just sitting down and doing it.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Plan? I Thought YOU Had The Plan!

An old friend from my days in the comic book self-publishing trenches sent a quick reply to my first post, and by doing so became the first-ever person to fulfill one of the roles I envision for my blog and the people who read it: Keeping me honest.

My friend, who described herself as "equally Erstwhile and unhappy about it" said that she hoped I'd share my plan, my roadmap for this journey.

Well, as my co-writer Greg and I once wrote, in a line that unfortunately never made it into the pages of our comic,
"Don't you need to have a clue before you can have a plan?"
At my Day Job, the whole office just did a big workshop on logic models as they apply to project management, and it left me with a keen sense of the breadth and depth of thought that goes into really planning a project. So it feels a little presumptuous to call what I have a plan.

I think what I have can most honestly be described as a goal, and a committment to pursuing that goal. I suspect that there's going to be a fair bit of stumbling and flailing around at first, as I try to find my way.

But, thanks in part to my friend and fellow Erstwhile, I am beginning to see what this process is going to entail. It's not a plan yet, and may not even be a clue. But it is a start.

Step One: I have to write.

Looks really, really trite, doesn't it? But it's true. I have to re-train myself to write. I have to make writing something I do, every day.

When I first started working out - and there's another area where I qualify as an Erstwhile - it took a lot of thought, a lot of mental as well as physical effort to overcome my resistance and reluctance to exercise. But I continued to do it. I saw results. It became something that I wanted to do. Then it became habitual.

And then it became a need. (Remind me to relate my story about exercise and 9/11.)

As every authority on the subject will tell you, it's exactly - exactly - the same with writing. I need to build up my flabby writing muscles, and shed the fat between my ears.
"A writer writes - always!"
So, with apologies to Billy Crystal, this is the first goal: I am going to write every day.

I am going to pick up my pen, or sit down at the computer, and write. At least 250 words, and - at first - nothing matters but actually sitting down and doing it.

Quality? Doesn't matter right now.

Good ideas? Forget that.

Spelling, grammar, making a vestige of sense? No. Not yet. That comes later.

What's important, first and foremost, is developing the habit of writing on a daily basis, so that a chore becomes a desire becomes a habit becomes a need. And you're going to help me. Remember what I said about keeping myself honest? You're going to get daily progress reports on whether I matched, exceeded, or failed to meet my goal. You have my permission to mock me with merciless zeal when I don't measure up. Now that's motivation!

Oh, and here's another rule that I'm setting for myself: Blog entries don't count. The 713 words that comprise this post are just icing on the cake. Why? Well... Remember when I said that wanting to write isn't writing? Neither is writing about wanting to write.

Don't expect any excerpts, especially at first. This isn't going to be finished work. Some of it's going to be stream of consciousness. Some of it's just going to suck. I fully realize that there are going to be days when it's going to be such misery, such a slog to get those 250 words written that - after banging my head on the desk for an hour or three - I'll just end up typing "A is A." 83 1/3 times.

Hey, I think I just explained Ayn Rand!

More importantly, I think I might just have a plan after all. For the first chapter in this story, at least.

Check in tomorrow for a progress report.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Getting Back From Erstwhile

Hello, I'm Stephen. I'm an erstwhile writer.

I used to write. I was a writer. It was never my sole - never even anything close to primary - source of income, but I was a professional writer.

I wrote. I wrote comic books, screenplays, movie reviews, occasional essays and even short fiction.

I wrote all the time.

And then I stopped.

Not all at once. Gradually.

One partner and I fought to succeed in the world of comics publishing during a major industry downturn, and wore ourselves out swimming against the tide. We stopped.

Another partner and I learned the True Meaning of "And the Writer Got Screwed" when a dispute with a producer sent screenplays that we had laboured on for months and years way, way past development Hell - into permanent limbo. We stopped.

And I became a father. I took some time away from my day job to be a stay-at-home parent. I went back to my day job to provide for my family. I changed diapers, washed dishes, read storybooks, cuddled and hugged and kissed. I slept very little.

Writing? I stopped.

I never stopped feeling the need to write, the passion to create. But that need never found expression in action, because I was just too busy, and too tired. And wanting to do something isn't doing it.

I never stopped thinking, never stopped having ideas. I occasionally noodled in my notebook or on the computer. But I never finished anything - I barely started. There was never time. And having ideas isn't writing.

And one day, when describing myself in an online profile, I referred to myself as an "erstwhile writer."

Erstwhile. A very writerly, five dollar word that means I don't do it anymore. I'm a former writer. An ex-writer. I'm not a writer.

I'm living in erstwhile.

I don't like it here. I don't want to be one of those people who goes through the rest of his life talking about what he used to do. I want - and I need - to write.

I want to - and I will - get back from erstwhile.

This is going to be where I chronicle my journey, step by step. Stay tuned.