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.