A wee hiatus

by Suw on December 17, 2003

Sorry I've not been overly chatty the last few days here on the blog. I've been working on Screenplay 1 again.

Bizarrely, I appear to be doing things arse-about-face with this screenplay. First thing I did was write a script. From the moment it was finished, I realised that it was god's gift to cinema so I workshopped it on Zoetrope.com, got some pretty good reviews, then let it stew in my subconscious for a few months.

When I decided that the stew was most probably cooked, possibly to the point of already containing some unexpected burnt crunchy bits, I took another look at my first draft and all the reviews I'd received.

Oh dear.

Oh dearie dear.

I mean, no, really, oh dear

Whilst I wasn't looking the script elves had been and turned my god's gift in to a pile of steaming poo. Personally I think the little folk really ought not be allowed to do that. It's not fair. I had been so sure I had an Oscar winner on my hands, but it turned out to be more like Oscar's dinner.

So, I sat and stewed a little more – somewhat discontentedly I will admit – until a rather illuminating conversation with a writerly friend of mine added a little spice and seasoning, and suddenly dinner was served. (By the way, am I stretching this metaphor too thin? I think I see signs of strain… Well, don't blame me if it breaks halfway through and twangs you in the face with a stray adverb. Not my fault.)

Having had my appetite duly (Duck! There it goes!) whetted once more, I’ve spent some time over the last few weeks writing a new outline for the second draft. Except the plot is so different from the first draft that it’s going to be less of a second draft and more of a second first draft.

Somewhat not-so-unexpectedly, I stalled on the prose-based outline and decided to do bullet points instead. I now have a list for each of the three main characters of every Event that happens to them, and their Reaction to it; plus every Action that the character takes and the Result of that action. It’s a great way to see who’s doing what to whom, and of making sure that the protagonist isn’t passively sitting about on her arse waiting for the world to happen to her.

Of course, usually writers work the other way round – they write the bullet point outline, flesh it out into paragraphs then write the script from that – but I always was one for having dessert first.

Apart from the fact that I don’t usually have dessert. Being allergic to ice-cream kinda minimises the number of desserts that appeal to me. Sorbet’s good though. I do like sorbet. The best sorbet that I’ve ever had was the proper Gordon’s Gin & Tonic sorbet, which was heaven on earth. Haven’t seen it available for years though, which is a crying shame. But you know, lemon sorbet’s nice too.

Ok, so I’m not actually one for having dessert first, but if I were, then that would be like what I’ve done with this script.

Yeah, so, SP1 is happening. Second first draft will be done by the end of January, if not sooner.

Steve Kane December 17, 2003 at 10:14 pm

Oh yes, that happens to me and and my novels. Started one novel, got about 25,000 into it, realised I was doing it all wrong, started again, got about 15,000 into that and decided the whole idea was rubbish and I should be writing something else, started a different novel, got about 20,000 into it and realised that I was doing it all wrong, started again… which brings us up to date. Trouble is that I am finally conviced that I am now writing the right book but I just can't motivate myself to get on with it. Whenever I sit down determined to get somewhere, I find that I am having to wrench the words out with a crowbar.

But I have two weeks off work over Christmas so I will make some progress.

Visit me @ http://www.steve-kane.co.uk

Bram Janssen December 18, 2003 at 8:58 am

Suw and Steve [Stw and Sueve -harhar], do I know what you're on about or what?

Usually, my head is filled with ideas, stupid ideas, brilliant ideas, and pretty neat ideas. Every time I start elaborating one, I get a short time of incredibly inspired writing, after which I look back and realise I've created the literary incarnation of a steaming flabber of cowshit.
So, I let the stuff return to dust, then get back at it, start anew with all the necessary modifications, only to realise that I did it again.

I have to find a way to motivate myself, to keep writing and not stop to revise, but to take the notes and get on with it.

And the worst of all inflictions: I can't force myself to write either. When I make a weekly timetable where I say, write every day from 8pm-9pm, I end up stagnated and frustrated because nothing goes, after which I end up hating my story, hating writing, and hating myself for hating the whole damn bag of it. With me, if I don't feel like doing something – even when it's a hobby – it's like running a mile over burning coals.

I think that lack of motivation signals something. Perhaps that I'm not at all happy with my life, more likely that I need some people to impress. Oh sure, there are the people on the Web, but you know… it's not quite the same as having someone saying it to your face and see in their eyes they're meaning it. I'm easily impressed myself, so it's no sport doing it for my own self solely.

ok- your blog, I remember.


Suw December 18, 2003 at 9:46 am

Oh I know that one! Yes, first novel, completed, not sure how many words as I no longer have it in word-countable form, but it was shit. I mean, really shit. Second novel written longhand in mirror writing in old geology field notebooks. Not quite finished, also shit. Third novel 51,000 words, not finished, crap. Fourth novel 20,000, not bad, stalled. Fifth novel, 25,000, not bad, stalled, now forms basis of my second screenplay.

Up until I started writing SP1, I was exactly the same as you, Steve, as you can well see. The idea of writing became more enjoyable than the actual writing itself, which is always a bad sign.

I started my first novel when I was about 19, and although it is shit, it was at least an easy write. Since then, though, I've periodically suffered chronic writers block and have at times thought I'd lost the ability to write altogether. Maybe not the ability to write per se, but the ability to think up things to write about.

However, working as a journalist did teach me a degree of self-discipline, and also taught me that you don’t have to wait for the mood to strike you, you can create the mood yourself. I used to vapourise rosemary oil when I was working and that would be my ‘anchor’ if you like, my way of telling myself that I was working and not faffing. That works quite well if you’re disciplined about it, and really do only smell the smell when you’re actually working. But you have to keep reinforcing the anchor – it’s a sort of self-hypnosis, I’ve recently discovered, something they do in NLP.

Now my oil burner is packed away somewhere so I no longer have that option. Instead, I’ve gone back to meditating before writing, and that seems to work quite well too. A quick 15 minutes in a meditative state, then when I pick up my pen afterwards I find that I’m really into the whole creative frame of mind. I’m writing it all down longhand now, then typing it up the next morning, and for some reason that’s helping with the motivation too.

I learnt to meditate years ago, actually when I was going through a crisis point with my writing when absolutely nothing seemed to come out and I was finding it extraordinarily difficult to even write commissioned features. Since then, I’ve used the same technique to get me to sleep at nights, to see me through some horrendously stressful periods and to stave off depression. It seems to be an all-purpose technique – whatever issues you want to deal with, you can deal with via meditation. I’d highly recommend it.

As for the whole ‘oh, I start it, then I realise it’s crap’ thing, well, yes, I get that too. I think every writer does. But again, it’s a matter of learning to silence those little inner voices that criticise your work in progress, at least until you’ve got the first draft done. Ignore your inner critic, tie him up, gag him and dump him in a corner until you’ve finished your first draft.

I do think, though, that there’s a tendency amongst creative people to expect their work to be perfect first time round. We read stuff all the time that seem pretty bloody good to us, and we expect our first drafts to look like that. Ain’t ever going to happen.

Every creative person, whether they’re writing or painting or drawing or sculpting or making films, whatever they’re doing, has a learning curve that can only be climbed by doing. Reading about doing is fine, being told about doing is fine, but you won’t learn about doing without doing. And that means that you’re going to have to do a lot of crappy things whilst you’re still at the bottom of the learning curve in order to get to the really good things that you know you’re capable off, once you’ve climbed a bit higher.

It’s like Robert Rodriquez says, everyone has ten crap films in them. You just have to make them and get them out of your system, then you can get to the good ones. Same deal. You may think that your short stories are crap, but unless you finish them and get all that out of your system, you won’t learnt what you need to learn in order to start writing the really good stuff.


80% shit, 20% genius. Except you have to work your way through your 80 to get to your 20.

Of course, the other thing is that what you consider to be crap may not in fact be crap at all. Learning to be objective about your work, and learning not to become emotionally attached to it, is very hard work and something that many creative people never manage. You have to learn to take a step back, look at what you’ve done objectively and honestly and then, and only then, can you start the critical processes that will allow you to improve the work.

Hm, well, that wee response was a bit longer than anticipated. Could almost be a blog entry in and of itself. 😉

Btw, though, Bram, you write as much as you like in the comments. Yes, it’s my blog, but please feel free to wax lyrical as much as you fancy. And why don’t you join Zoetrope.com – they have a short stories section there, and a lot of short story writers who’d be only to happy to give you feedback on what you’re doing. I’ve found Zoers to be a nice bunch, on the whole, and the site to be very useful.

Steve Kane December 18, 2003 at 10:45 am

Yes, Zoetrope is full of nice people like me! Er… actually, that might put Bram off joining…

Perhaps I should try meditation. I have been finding it incredibly difficult to relax over the last few months. The last time I went for a check-up at the doctor's my blood pressure was up – not dangerously so but it was higher than it should be – and I can't remember the last time I was able to chill out and focus on any one thing for any length of time. I'm always a bit on edge. It doesn't help that my sister and her fiancé with whom I live aren't the quietest couple on the planet. I love them to bits but sometimes I just want to yell at them to shut the fuck up.

There are, however, some things that help kickstart the creative moped. If I am void of ideas I find that reading science books can be a goldmine of inspiration. For example, I've been stuck on the first chapter of the current rewrite of my novel but just haven't been able to get into it. It's a satire on modern sexual mores and a twisted bastardisation of a romantic comedy/drama. It is set in a parallel universe where love is literally treated as a mental illness, sex is but a hobby activity like going to the gym and marriage is nothing more than a strict business arrangement. I am waiting for the release of a new book in February which is all about the science of love; that is, what physically happens in your brain when you are in love. I figured that I could press on with the basic plot and characterisations and leave the science stuff until later. But I haven't been getting anywhere.

But I have this other book on my shelf called 'Why Is Sex Fun?' Not a porno but a book about how human sexuality is completely abnormal from every other animal on the planet and the possible evolutionary reasons of how our sexuality came about. It's a speculative book but it is all based on evolutionary and scientific principles. Point is that after reading barely ten pages my brain was buzzing with potential ideas, gags and plot developments.

So 'Yay!' for science: a great aid to the creative process.

Visit me @ http://www.steve-kane.co.uk

Suw December 18, 2003 at 11:18 am

Yes, I think learning to meditate is a good thing to do, almost regardless of what you feel you need to learn it for. There are loads of techniques, but the one I use is possibly the simplest.

Firstly, sit or lay down somewhere comfortable, and preferably quiet until you've learnt the technique. Then it's all breathing – take a slow deep breath, hold as long as you can, exhale slowly, hold as long as you can, etc.

Be aware of thoughts, but don't dwell on them. They're like passing clouds in a summer sky – they come, they go, but they don't hang around. It's difficult to actually empty your mind of all thought so I don't try. I just don't allow myself to dwell on any given idea.

Once you feel yourself starting to relax then I stop holding the breaths and start to just breath very slowly.

At this point there are all sorts of visualisations you can do, but a good one is to breathe in light (adding in any positive connotations you like, such as 'creativity' or 'relaxtion') and breathe out, well, in my head it looks like soot! That's all the negativity, doubt, depression, all that crap. If you visualise yourself filling with light, and getting rid of the negative emotions, then when you come out of the meditation you hopefully have captured the positive emotions and ditched the negative ones.

When you feel like you're ready to come out of the meditation, just speed your breathing up a little, and let yourself 'wake up' from it slowly. Don't rush. Take a while to orient yourself, then off you go!

Like I say, this is only one technique, and i'm not an expert by any manner or means, but it does work for me.

Regarding science books – I couldn't agree more! I often find myself coming up with scifi ideas whilst reading the New Scientist.

Like the sound of your new novel though – if you need a volunteer reader at any point, send it my way! 😉

Steve Kane December 18, 2003 at 12:13 pm

Bizarrely, despite drawing a lot of inspiration from science, I have never written a sci-fi story. Well, there was one kinda' sci-fi story I wrote after reading a little about quantum physics about an 'irony bomb' being accidentally detonated in central London. I tend to extrapolate certain scientific ideas and apply them to very human, commonplace settings so that the story becomes a metaphor for a scientific principle rather than being about a scientific principle… That doesn't really make a lot of sense, does it. I guess my mind works in a mysterious way.

If I ever manage to get through a complete first draft of my novel, you are welcome to have a look. I have to warn you that it does evolve (descend) into something altogether disturbing and unsavory towards the end… Let's just say that I have come up with a rather nasty equivelant to electric shock therapy for somebody suffering from love.

Visit me @ http://www.steve-kane.co.uk

Suw December 18, 2003 at 4:18 pm

Doing what you do, taking an idea from one discipline and applying it to another, can only be a good thing imho. Gives you a breadth oft lacking in much fiction, I think.

I tend towards writing scifi/fantasy because that's what I grew up reading. I went straight from Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys to Van Vogt, EE Doc Smith, Arthur C Clarke, all that lot. I distinctly remember the day I realised that there in fact is not a manned base on the moon – was very disappointed.

I look forward to seeing your first draft. Particularly the disturbing and unsavoury bits at the end. 😀

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