I tried. I really did.

bulldog flop

To say the past few weeks have been interesting is putting it mildly. Like pretty much everybody else on the planet, many parts of my life are a lot different now. Adjustments are being made. I sincerely hope you’re doing everything you can to stay safe and healthy.

One of my constants during this time has been to write. Unfortunately, with everything going on, I haven’t been able to be as productive as I’d hoped.

Remember way back to around the beginning of this month when I said I was going to really push myself to have a completed new draft of the horror-comedy by the end of the month?

Side note – that was just a few weeks ago. Feels MUCH longer than that. Oy.

Full disclosure: ain’t gonna happen. Not even close.

A LOT of time was spent revising the outline. Copious amounts of cutting, editing, and idea-developing took place. Since a big part of this was to reduce the potential budget to make it more financially appealing to anybody interested in actually producing it, large swaths of scenes and sequences were ceremoniously shown the door.

The number of characters and locations were drastically reduced to as few as the story would allow. Emphasis on drastically.

Keep in mind that all of this was going on as the tendrils of COVID-19 continued to spread across the globe at a rapid pace. My sweetie’s office shut down until further notice. Ms. V’s school closed, first for two weeks, then another two. (Fortunately, all of her classes are continuing online.)

I’d even been sent home from work for a non-corona condition, and was then told to stay home for the next week and a half. I was back in the office this week, but management opted to keep everybody safe and set us all up to work from home. You’d think this would be a golden opportunity to see some major productivity, writing-wise.

Wrong again.

Still had to work the day job, but just from home. The rest of the day involved dealing with a lot of the everyday routine, albeit very, very modified. Writing time had become very limited, sometimes practically non-existent.

But I did what I could. Even just writing a little is better than not writing at all.

As the days went on, my output had seen a significant decrease. I had to face the sad truth: this script was not going to be ready when I hoped it would.

Disappointing, but you gotta admit we’re all operating under some totally new circumstances. I don’t think anybody had “productivity down due to self-isolating during a global pandemic” on their list.

Even with a few minor details in the outline still in need of figuring out, I wanted to feel like I was moving things forward.

So I started on pages, knowing I’d be going back and rewriting them anyway – which has already happened with some minor edits and tweaks within the first 10.

I admit I would have absolutely loved to announce on March 31st that I had a completed draft, but that won’t be happening. Instead, I’ll say there’s no need to rush and that this thing will be done when it’s done.

In the coming weeks, as I settle into my new routine, I’ll do what I can to ramp up my output. This thing WILL get written.

It’ll just take a little longer than I’d hoped. Normally I’d say “last day of April”, but it’s probably better to not stress myself out over the idea of NOT hitting another deadline.

Before I forget – an added bonus of all this – once again reveling in the sheer joy of writing something new.

Well, almost new. But you get the point.

Can’t stress this enough. Stay safe and healthy, chums.

Now go wash your hands.

Advice, suggestions, and everything in between

“When someone tells you it isn’t working – they’re almost always right. When they tell you how to fix it – they’re almost always wrong.” – Neil Gaiman

Many, many years ago, when I was just starting out in radio, I’d put together a demo tape of some of my on-air material and asked some of the veteran DJs at the station if they’d give it a listen.

One guy had several positive things to say, but also pointed out ways of how I was demonstrating my still-green abilities. He made some suggestions about how to fix that, which would, in theory, help me get better. They did.

The second guy started with “It’s good, but here’s how I would do it.” I honestly don’t remember anything he said after that because I simply didn’t care how he would do it.

There’s a very similar approach to how one gives notes on a screenplay.

When I give notes, I read what’s on the page and offer up my opinions of how it could be potentially be improved (from my perspective). A lot of the time it involves questions like “Why is this happening?” or “How do we know that?”

Or if something doesn’t work, but I understand what the writer’s trying to do, I’ll ask “What if you tried THIS (different approach) that yields the same results?” They may not take that suggestion, but it might trigger something new and unexpected.

I totally get that this is their story, and my only interest is in helping them make it better. By asking questions that only the writer can answer, the responsibility of coming up with and applying any fixes falls squarely on their shoulders.

I also make a point of trying to be objective. I may not be a fan of your story’s genre, but that doesn’t mean I’ll automatically be negative in my notes. What I will do is approach it from a “does it tell a good story populated with interesting characters and situations?” perspective.

And then there are the notes that want to take your story in an entirely new direction. The ones that take it upon themselves to change your story because “that’s not how they would do it.” I’ve gotten quite a few of those.

But what if how you would do it is different than how I would?

Sometimes it’s a suggestion that runs counter to the story you’re trying to tell, or it might have absolutely nothing do with the story at all. I’ve even received the always-appealing “This was great, except for this one small thing I disagree with/don’t like, which ruined the rest of it for me.”

Everybody’s going to have their own opinion, but the one that counts the most is yours. Even if it doesn’t feel that way now, only you know what the script really needs, and you’re going to get all kinds of responses when you seek out feedback.

Some of it will be very helpful and insightful, some definitely won’t be, and in the end it’s really up to you to decide which notes you think provide the most guidance to helping make your script better, which will in turn help you become a better writer.


Getting a feel for the tactile experience

That's not ink. It's writer's blood (or at least it sure feels that way).
That’s not ink. It’s writer’s blood (or at least it sure feels that way).

The early drafts of my western spec all clocked in at 132 pages. “Way too long!” I was told.

Tips and suggestions on how to tighten things up were provided and implemented. 126 pages. “Still too long! Cut more!” they demanded.

Sleeves were rolled up. Knuckles were cracked. The pounding of computer keys continued. 122. “Keep going!” was the response.

I slaved, toiled and labored until I couldn’t take it any more. 117. “Almost there!”

Feeling rather drained, I took the most effective step of all: I printed out those 117 pages, armed myself with the almighty red pen and got to work.

For some inexplicable reason, when I edit a script on paper, it’s much more effective than working with a digital copy. Lines of text I’d always ignored would suddenly pop as something to cut, modify or move around.

I’ll scribble out an alternative line of dialogue. Try out an impromptu reorganizing of the scene. Cross something out, then change my mind and write ‘keep’ over it. Use my finger to literally block out a line to figure out if the scene still works without it.

Just the other day I cut out half the dialogue in a scene with no significant impact. Would I have been able to do that if I wasn’t working with actual pages? Hard to say, but I’m inclined to believe “probably not.”

As I worked my way through the script, I found more and more opportunities to cut or edit. Of these 117 pages, there’s at least one red mark on just about every page, which includes the plentiful use of red lines through words and/or sentences, and lots of circles and arrows (as in “move THIS to HERE”).

Exhausting as it was, the red pen portion of the process is now complete.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to digitally apply these edits for a couple of days. The US is currently in the middle of a big holiday weekend, which means extra work shifts for me. Love the holiday overtime, but it’s also less writing time.

I’m not concerned. It’ll happen soon, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the new page total will end up being, as well as the subsequent responses.

It goes without saying that “Yes!” would be ideal.

Find what works for you

I offer information. What you do with it is up to you.
I offer information. What you do with it is up to you

Way back when I was working behind the scenes at various radio stations, trying to break in on the air as  DJ, I would approach the on-air personalities and ask for their thoughts on my aircheck tape.

Did I sound okay, or at least have potential? What needed work? How could I improve?

A lot of them had very insightful comments and helpful suggestions.

Except one guy. What he had to say wasn’t negative, but it wasn’t necessarily helpful either.

After listening to my tape, he started with “Here’s how I would do it.” Everything after that I totally ignored.

I don’t care how you would do it, because that’s you. My way is not your way. Everybody has a different approach.

I only bring this up because I’ve recently been reading the work of some writers who’ve asked for notes and feedback.

I’ll make suggestions about how a script could look better (less text, more white space) or ask questions only they can answer (what’s a different way this could happen? how do we know this? does this play a key part in the story?), but I will never, ever tell them how I would do it or how they should do it.

It takes a while for a writer to find their individual voice. Don’t let somebody else tell you what it should be.

A work in progress

gotta start somewhere

After weeks of stressing out and adding more gray to my hair, I had my illustrious debut today on radioslot.com with my new show about writing and movies, with a working title of…The Script Adventurer! (exclamation point included).  Why that?  Because writing is an adventure in itself.  I also thought it sounded fun.

In retrospect, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be, except for the dry mouth in the beginning, occasional cough and having to rehydrate every once in a while.

I will also add that it’s a really good thing I had a lot of material to work with.  When it’s just you talking for 45-50 minutes out of an hour, you go through a lot of topics.  But I think I did okay.

The show as it stands is still a little all-over-the-place, but I have a few ideas for future segments and topics, so it should become a little easier.  Having guests will also help.  I’ve got two lined up, and am working on a few more.

I still have to set up a link on this page, but for now, the show ‘airs’ live on Mondays, 1-2PM PST on radioslot.com with a few rebroadcasts in the week between shows.  Feel free to listen in, and if you have a question or comment, you can call in at 415.735.SLOT (7568) or send me an email at paul@radioslot.com.

It was a bumpy start, but I’m off and running with this thing.  Want to come along?