Bit of a shorty today, and the subject itself is the reason why.
Let’s talk time management.
As much as I’d like to devote a big portion of my day to writing, that just isn’t the case. I’ve got other responsibilities, so I do what I can to make that limited timeframe as productive as possible.
A key part of this – planning ahead. Making a list. Designating time specifically for certain activities.
Think “achievable objectives”. Things you know you can get done.
Reading scripts (both professional and writers within your circle)
Queries (including verifying recipient’s info)
And of course, writing (includes outlining, editing and polishing).
(Imagine how much more is involved with the actual production of a film. For today, it’s all about the script and the things connected to it.)
You could do all of these each day, but that would be exhausting. I find three to be a safe and productive number. Results will vary.
The important part to remember is how a steady repetition of all these little things can eventually add up to big results.
If you can only manage one or two, that’s okay. Do what works best for you. You’re the one in control, and this is definitely not the sort of thing you want to rush through.
Another helpful tip – avoid social media/wandering around the internet. Or at least severely limit your participation. Allow yourself a few minutes, then redirect that focus back to your project.
A writer wears a lot of hats, always having to switch them out because there’s always something that has to get done. But if you stay calm and try to be organized about it, the switching out of hats will get a little easier as you go along.
One of my biggest and constant issues when I engage in a rewrite is HOW MUCH ACTUALLY GETS REWRITTEN?
As much as I love the previous draft, my ability to simply discard that which has come before always gets a solid and thorough workout. I usually start out thinking “I only need to change these few items”, which naturally quickly changes to “Keep this, this, and this, and get rid of everything else.”.
The more I work on the overhaul of the pulpy sci-fi spec, that latter thought is becoming more and more prevalent. Just a handful of parts are being kept, while others fall somewhere in the range between “totally discarded” to “hold onto that for later”.
I went into this knowing it wouldn’t be a light project, which it most definitely hasn’t. It’s very safe to say it’s rapidly become a major operation, both in the medical and organizational senses of the word.
And as far as I can tell, significantly for the better all around.
The more I work on this, the more it becomes noticeably different from its predecessor. This is probably an appropriate place to say that even with all of the changes, the key story elements and plot points have remained the same. As was my intention.
Quality notes from my circle of trusted colleagues have played a major factor throughout the whole process. Many enjoyed the story, and each person had valid comments that raised some important questions and comments: could the hero’s backstory be more original and less cliched? What if the antagonist’s motivation also involved _____? And the always popular “You do realize that’s not scientifically accurate, right?”.
(Full disclosure on that last one – yep. I did. But it works within the context of the story, and this definitely isn’t the kind of story to be nitpicky about.)
With so much of the previous draft being torn down and tossed away, the rebuilding process has been slow, but steadily productive. It’ll most likely take longer than expected, but I’d rather spend the time now figuring things out than find out later that they don’t work and have to go back and do it all over again.
One of the most encouraging comments from the notes was “Words to sum up the script – Big. Fun. Action.”
That’s been my mantra for this whole process; just amped up a bit.
Bigger. Funner. Actioner.
Even though “actioner” is technically a noun, in this scenario, I’ll assume you get the gist of what it’s implying.
The early months of this year, or at least the first one – for now, are all about taking some of the scripts I worked on last year and doing what I can to make them better.
Based on some notes, a quick polish was completed on the dramedy. I like how it turned out.
Next up was the pulpy sci-fi. It was a total blast to write, so a new draft felt in order, and inevitable. This seems to fall square in the category of “genre stuff I’m good at writing”. You can imagine what a shock/surprise it was to discover the last time I’d worked on this script was late summer of 2017, so it’s had plenty of time to simmer.
I don’t know how it is for other writers, but after I complete a draft or two, the story as it reads on the page seems a bit more…maybe “cemented” is the proper word? It’s tough for me to change things up. Tough, but not impossible. If I can come up with something that does the job better and in a more creative and original way, that’s fine by me.
I wanted to really change things up for the better with this story – especially regarding the protagonist. The most prevalent comment from my readers was “more depth”. The way the hero is written now just isn’t enough.
The gears began to turn, and my self-imposed resistance against changes, especially drastic ones, began to fade. As much as I like the current draft, why shouldn’t I challenge myself to make it better – no matter what that required?
I’ve written before that you can’t force creativity, but sometimes you can at least give it a little nudge in the right direction. Start the ball rolling, so to speak. I find the best way to do this is simply by asking myself questions, such as…
-The protagonist is LIKE THIS. What would be the total opposite of that? Or something unexpected?
-Here’s an important STORY POINT, but its current form just isn’t as effective as it could be, or have the impact it should. What’s another way to present that? What would be another way from that one?
-Several readers commented how they felt the protagonist’s backstory seemed incomplete, and could really use some reinforcing. Rather than clinging to what’s there now, what if a 180 approach was taken, and THIS happened instead?
The number of possibilities continued to grow – for the better. Previously unobtainable solutions were becoming easier to find, and would then be shaped and molded to fit within the contest of the story.
A stronger, more relatable and most importantly – original – way to achieve the desired results for the protagonist’s development was forming, and the added bonus of some great opportunities to show the hero’s emotional arc!
The fuse had been lit.
More and more questions were posed, pondered, and answered, including an alarming number that could be summed up with “that’s good, but not good enough”. Combined with my willingness to jettison parts of the current draft, a totally new approach began to take form.
As expected, this will require an openness and willingness to totally jettison and replace big chunks of the current draft. Rest in peace, my darlings. (There’s a good chance a few instances of reincarnation may take place somewhere down the line)
Suffice to say, I’m absolutely thrilled about all of this.
When something really clicks for a writer – and I mean REALLY clicks – it’s as if a tidal wave of adrenaline and endorphins are flooding through your system.
That being said, my process of plotting, rewriting and revising is well underway. It’s a big job, but I’m feeling quite confident about how this rewrite is developing.
Consider me definitely ready and eager to take it all on.
The daily churning-out of pages for the first draft of the horror-comedy continues – still in Act One as of this writing – and now that November is underway, if I can maintain my current output of approximately 3 pages a day, there’s no reason the typing-out of FADE OUT couldn’t happen by mid-to-late December.
I’d probably be a little further along if it weren’t for my ongoing desire to keep going back and editing/revising what I’ve already written, which is a lot more tempting than you’d expect. But doing what I can to just write a scene and move on to the next one. Once again, the more you do it, the easier it gets.
And since this is supposed to be a horror-comedy, I’ve also gotten into the habit of trying to make sure each scene features some element of each genre – something scary and something funny. Trying being the key word here. This is a much bigger challenge, but again, doing what I can. Also helping – recent touch-up work on my two other comedies.
With one of the definitive screenwriting mantras being “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”, I don’t have any problems with taking an evenly paced and semi-methodical approach. There are some writers who can sit and crank out a draft in record time, but I’m not one of them. I lean towards the “hope I can hit my page goal today” camp.
But most importantly, I’m just trying to not stress about it and enjoy the whole process. It’s a fun story, and I like the concept, so why not make it a positive experience rather than fret and obsess? That way, it seems a lot less like work and more like “here I am having a blast being a writer and stuff”.
With the outline for the horror-comedy simmering away on the backburner, all attention is now being directed to a rewrite of the sci-fi spec. I was fortunate to get some solid notes on it, so the rebuilding process is well underway.
A big part of this involves cutting scenes and sequences, along with a whole lot of moving stuff around. Even with a hard copy of the previous draft in front of me and the current draft’s skeletal outline on my laptop screen, it requires a lot of planning things out along with a constant going back and forth between the two. To say the least.
Keep this scene? Or how about this one? Would this one work here, or here? Wait, do I even need this sequence anymore? Jeez, I totally forgot about that new scene that would set up the protagonist’s internal goal.
(Not my actual inner monologue, but you get the idea)
Simply put, there’s been A LOT of twisting, readjusting, manipulating and something comparable to “square peg + round hole + sledgehammer” to get this thing more streamlined and functional.
Going through all these motions has also revealed non-essential moments, or at least parts of them, dialogue that initially seems like it should stay in but really doesn’t need to, and a decent amount of literary fat that can easily be trimmed away. No fuss, no muss.
Despite the statements in the preceding paragraph, a majority of what’s already on the page still works. It just takes everything I’ve described, plus a little more, to get into better shape. A slow but effective process. As is usually the case for me, initially insurmountable, but gradually not too bad, and eventually being classified under “that worked out better than I’d expected.”
With any luck, the producing of actual pages will also go relatively smoothly.
One can only hope.
-Through September 30th, the fine folks at LiveRead/LA are offering the discount code MAXZ15 for 15 percent off their script services and the fee for their contest where your script could be one of two read live by professional actors in Los Angeles in October. Following the read (30 pages max), feedback will be provided, including from an Industry Insider (last time was actor Jason Alexander. This time it’s veteran production exec & producer Debbie Liebling – Comedy Central, Fox, now working with Sam Raimi). Writers from everywhere are encouraged to submit. The event will be livestreamed, so if your script is chosen and you can’t attend, feedback will be provided live via Skype.