That last burst of adrenaline

A few weeks ago, I ran my first in-person half-marathon in just over two years. Despite the fact that it was raining for a good part of it, it was fun and I had a good time.

Added bonus: I always tend to get caught up in the energy and excitement of an in-person race, and this time was no exception. I even ran at a pace a smidge faster than I’m used to; faster than I ever expected to.

So when I got to the home stretch and saw the finish line up ahead, I kicked it into high gear and pushed myself to cross it as soon as possible.

Which I did, I’m happy to say. I’d beaten my expected finish time by about 12-15 minutes.

Suffice to say, I spent the rest of the day feeling pretty good about it.

(I also have a strong suspicion I won’t be able to duplicate that feat anytime soon, but you never know…)

This brings me to my current writing project: a rewrite of my animated fantasy-comedy.

Although progress has been a little slower than I would have liked, I’m currently working my way through Act 3, and making what I consider to be some solid strides. If I can keep my output steady, there’s a good chance I could be typing FADE OUT by early next week.

Even now as I develop, plot, outline, and then actually write each scene, the excitement of “Almost there!” continues to build.

There’s definitely something be said for how a writer feels as they wrap up a draft. I’m already aware of changes/edits/tweaks that will have to be made, so when I’m done, I’ll stash it away for a few weeks and shift to another project (of which there is always a few). Then come back to it with fresh eyes and a red pen, read it through, marking it up as I go.

All part of the process.

-Shameless self-promotion: my book GO AHEAD AND ASK! VOLUME ONE is available in both print and ebook. Want a signed copy? Let me know.

AIC mode – re-activated

The past few weeks have been quite the whirlwind of activity on several fronts.

First and foremost, after much work and effort, I released my book GO AHEAD AND ASK!, VOLUME ONE. Responses have been enthusiastically supportive. Plans already in place for Volume 2, which is tentatively set for a late June/early July release.

In case you were wondering, there wasn’t any post last week due to traveling to help the inimitable Ms V wrap up her freshman year at college and transport her home. This also included my running my first in-person half-marathon since February 2020. Finish time of 1:59:06, which was much better than expected – especially considering how much it rained during the race.

But all this activity also meant I didn’t get much writing done, so now it’s time to get back into a somewhat normal routine.

As in – setting aside time to write, or using a phrase I’ve heard bandied about more than a few times:

AIC – Ass In Chair

I’ve got several projects that I’d like to work on, and the only way to make any progress on any of them is to just sit down and do the work.

However much time I can spare each day will be fine, and you can be certain I’ll do my darnedest to get the most out of that time as possible.

The results have already proven beneficial, including a drastic reworking of the latter half of Act Two for one script. This had been nagging me for a few days prior, and it felt great to work my way through to a solution that seems much stronger and more effective than what it was before.

I know all future writing sessions might not be as productive, but I’ll take whatever progress I can get.

Here’s hoping your upcoming AIC times are just as good.

Getting your time to work for you

Most of this week for me has been splitting time among a few projects, with notable progress on each. Especially notable was that two of them had felt somewhat stalled, so to have broken through that wall and kept going was quite the endorphin rush.

Since I was feeling rather accomplished about this relatively minor feat, I put out on social media how nice it was to have done so. A number of writing associates offered up congrats and encouragement, as well as one person who asked “How do you find the time to do all this?”

I’ve gotten this question before.

How DO I find the time? How does any writer?

I guess the simple answer is: I make the time, whenever I can.

Some writers are able to have a designated window of when they work. Maybe they wake up a little earlier than they need to and write for an hour or two before they need to get ready for the day job.

Or they have mini writing sprints at the day job; 10 minutes here or there, during the second cup of coffee or lunch, what have you.

Or maybe they wrap up their day with writing before going to bed.

It really depends on what works best for you.

As much as I’d love to have a big block of time each day to be all about the writing, some days that just isn’t possible, so I make do. I have a little downtime during the day job, so I try to squeeze something in when possible.

But I’m also trying to get in better shape, so a certain amount of my day might involve an hour-plus at the gym or going out for a run. This in turn means I’d have less time to write, but if I don’t exercise, I’ll feel lousy mentally and physically, which in turn won’t help me be productive for the writing. If that means a slight extension of how long it takes to finish a project, I’m okay with that.

(One exception – if I’m on a deadline, all bets are off and it’s all about the writing.)

Sometimes it’s not about how much time I have to write, but how much I plan to write in that time. More than once I’ve sat down thinking “I want to write at least three pages today.” If I write three, great. A lot of the time I’ll push myself to do at least a little more, depending on how productive I’m feeling. Anything beyond the original objective is a bonus.

It’s all about setting up your own goals and expectations. Be realistic. What do you think you can accomplish each day with the time you have to work with? You know better than anybody how you operate, so plan accordingly. Write for an hour and see how far you get? Set an achievable goal (the aforementioned three pages) and see how it goes?

It’s easy to feel negative when you see other writers proclaiming things like “Woo-hoo! Another dozen pages done today!”, and all you could manage was two or three.

Don’t. Everybody runs at their own pace. Like I remind myself when I take part in a race:

It’s the distance, not the time.

It’s more important to do this – and finish – on your own terms, rather than pushing yourself too much and running yourself ragged, resulting in collapse and/or burnout. And I’m not just talking about running.

Know what you want to accomplish, and knowing how much time you have to do it, you can plan accordingly.

Repeat as long as necessary until the damned thing’s finished.

Until the next draft, where you go back and find the time to do it all over again.

Reinforcing the shoestring

For those unaware, I had the good fortune last year to connect with a producer-director seeking a writer for their microbudget feature project.

After hearing their ideas and what they were looking for, I started developing the story, keeping them updated as things progressed at a decent clip.

One of the comments occasionally made during all this back-and-forth was, and I’m paraphrasing here – “Is there a way to cut the costs on that?” Since this is a micro-budget project, it’s imperative we get as much out of every dollar as possible.

Thus the changes and alterations began. A scene originally intended for a hospital room now takes place in somebody’s bedroom. A scene in a restaurant now has the two characters drinking to-go coffee and talking on a park bench.

You get the idea.

As the writer, it can be a bit of a challenge to revise a scene or sequence to accommodate the budget, but it also forces you to dig deeper into that creativity and come up with a solution that works just as effectively, if not more so.

If this were a regular spec, working within a budget wouldn’t be an issue. I’d just write whatever worked for the story. But if that script got picked up and the producer needed changes made, then they would be made.

Looking over some of the revisions, I also realized that some scenes could pack even more of a punch by utilizing sound and lighting (or lack thereof) for emphasis, rather than on just what we see. Leaving things to the imagination – what you hear and don’t see – has the potential to be much more effective.

(For a strong example of this, check out the 1942 classic horror-thriller CAT PEOPLE.)

Taking this “less is more” approach also helped with resolving a story problem in a significant way. A sequence that would already have been challenging to make is now drastically different but would be very simple to pull off, and we’re both very enthusiastic about how the end result would look.

While some aspects of the story and how it’s presented may have changed, the tone remains the same. There’s still a ways to go with the script, but writing it with this kind of mindset helps me figure things out so the story is just as compelling while also getting the most bang for the buck.

The heart of the matter

The past few weeks, part of my writing schedule has involved revising the outline of my animated fantasy-comedy spec. It’s been fun to develop – having a previous draft to work with really helps. The action sequences, the story, the jokes and sight gags haven’t been too difficult, but I’ve been making more of an effort to build up the emotional aspect.

This isn’t to say I’ve never included that. It just hasn’t been as prevalent in the early stages of planning and plotting process.

It’s not enough to just show the stuff that’s happening, you need to show how it’s relevant to the characters. While the plot is about the external goal (what do they want?), there’s also the importance of establishing their internal goal (what do they need?).

Sometimes the internal and external goals work together, and sometimes a character will achieve one and not the other. There’s also the tried and true “they got what they wanted, but it wasn’t what they needed” (and vice versa). It all depends on how the writer wants to the story to go.

To help myself get a better grasp of this, I’ve been reading the scripts for and watching other animated films to see how they approach it. There has also been the occasional “read a few pages of the script, then watch how it plays out onscreen”.

*helpful tip – for prime examples of incorporating emotion into story, you can’t go wrong with well-made animated films. They do a fantastic job of setting everything up as fast and efficiently as possible. Sometimes singing is involved. And as it should be with live-action, each scene manages to include advancing the characters’ emotional arc as well as the story arc.

As more than a few readers have said to me, sometimes my writing is more about what we see onscreen and not as much about what’s happening to the characters on the inside. Hopefully that won’t be the case this time around. Since I’m still outlining the story, I try to include what the emotional impact is in each scene. Does the point of the scene affect the character(s) the way it’s supposed to?

At first, this was pretty challenging, but watching how other films accomplished it, it wasn’t as daunting as I initially thought, plus the more I think about it and plan for it, it’s not as bad as I thought. It’s helping with the overall development because I’m taking that sort of detail into consideration as part of the initial planning stages, as opposed to trying to work it in later, along with avoiding a few unnecessary rewrites.

Since this is a slightly different approach for me, I’m sure it’ll be chock-full of trial and error along the way, but am fairly confident it’ll yield the results I’m hoping for.