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Monday, July 07, 2008

You Are The Architect

They don't teach good time management in school. They should: instead of wasting all that time on stuff we will never ever use (Tangent Ratio anyone?? Okay, maybe if you're an architect or something...), why don't we get taught specific skills that will help us in our everyday lives? (Please note that I am NOT saying all academic stuff or stuff learned-for-learned's sake as a discipline is invalid: I'm a trained ENGLISH teacher, that would make no sense... But can we please just have a few more practical skills in the curriculum as well, maybe?? If nothing else it'll stop the crumblies complaining the whippersnappers can't do *anything* ;).

I'm actually good at managing time. I don't know why this is, though perhaps thinking about it I've never had much time to myself, so I've had to make every second count. Plus as a self employed person, if I don't manage time well, people won't use my services, so the prospect of having no work coming in ever again is a massive incentive for being on time and delivering when you say you will. People make assumptions of you based on how you manage time. If you can do it in time? Great, you're good. If you can't - ooooh, very bad. Simple as, really.

Very often my Bang2writers tell me they "can't" write or redraft something because they don't have enough time. In fact, I am guilty of saying something similar over at Robin's blog only the other day. When faced with the notion of writing a new TV drama series for the Red Planet Prize (deadline Sept 30th), my thought was immediately: "I'm doomed. I cannot possibly squeeze yet another project in. In fact, I can't even think of something I even want to write." I spent approximately twenty minutes not only bemoaning this to Robin via his blog, but also to my husband, all the while plotting the bloody and painful deaths of both Tony Jordan and Danny Stack for coming up with such *ridiculous* competition rules in the first place.

It was at that moment I realised that I had just done THREE things all at once without even realising. If I can treble up on most things naturally, why can't I create a specific strategy that will ensure I get a new project at least written for that all-important deadline? The answer - of course I can. The problem REALLY is, do I want to? After all, dealing with general life and job stuff takes time - do I really want to take even more time up on a project that a) may end up total rubbish and b) sink into the ether even if it's actually good?

The answer is, of course: yes.

As a writer it's easy to feel daunted by the multiple things on your plate and let it affect your creativity. But you can get over these obstacles, just like the heroes and heroines in your script. I approach my life as a series of broken down, smaller tasks and I use this in my writing, too. I have to, else I will never get anything done; there's not enough hours in the day. Yet by breaking elements of my writing down, in the last three years I have managed to write two shorts, four features, a TV script and a TV series script and Bible (there were a couple of abortive drafts of stuff that went nowhere too). Each of my "proper" drafts were not just redrafted once either, they had multiple drafts - if we're not including the notion of just "tweaking" them, but actual full-on structural redrafts, the removal of characters, changing of plot points, polishing of dialogue, etc - each of them has a minimum of 4 drafts and a maximum of about 12. So that's probably about a seventy five drafts all told. Over three years that's 25 drafts a year.

Suddenly seems more do-able? Or is that even more daunting? I suppose it's how you look at it. 25 drafts to me is a draft every two weeks, with two weeks off for good behaviour. Every one of us can write a draft of *something* in two weeks, even if it's a feature.

I'm a big fan of the "ten pages a day method" for features: I write a loose outline, (maybe even just bullet points), then write ten pages of script a day; after nine days (maybe ten) you have a feature. Yes it will most likely be utter rubbish. But first drafts always are anyway. Once you have the words on the page, you can find out what's wrong with your idea. You can change the way you tell it. If that means going back to page 1, so be it. Do it once, twice, three times - whatever. This fatalistic approach to feature writing has got me four features and I think at least two of them are good (they've got me jobs and collaborations on other stuff anyway, even if no one wants to make the damn things).

I write TV differently however. I'll plan to the nth degree. This invariably means I write less drafts - but it ends up the same amount of time, since the original draft time is now made up of planning time. I'll write the character bios, then a pitch doc first usually. I'll mess about with them and as I'm writing and rewriting those first two things, little "fragments" of scenes - dialogue, jokes, moments, scenarios - will occur to me and I'll jot them down in no particular order. Then I'll write a scene breakdown. Once I've completed all that I'll write the script, revising it up to three or four times but never as much as those feature scripts, probably because I had more of a "concrete" beginning.

Yet I love both approaches. I love the excitement of starting a new feature with a loose outline and seeing where it takes me - 9/10 I will end up in a place I never imagined. With TV scripts for me, the joy is in the prep and seeing my characters and stories come to life AS I envisaged them. Yes it's a bit of a contradiction but it works for me.

The thing to remember though is, there's always more than one way to tell a story. I often see writers getting caught up with one scene or a load of dialogue and wanting to keep it no matter what; they may fall in love with a character and do not want to get rid of them. Sometimes they believe their flashbacks should be kept or a voiceover. The thing is, if there's always more than one way to tell a story, you can chuck out any device, character, line, scene, whatever and still make it work. When you're writing a spec, you can do whatever you want! You just have to realise there is always more than one possibility and the world is your oyster - you can solve any plot, dialogue, character, arena or miscellaneous problem if you are willing to try.

End of the day: as a writer you are the architect. Except you don't use Tangent Ratio... And thank F*** for that, never understood it!


MJ said...

Wise and timely my good woman - thank you for a much-needed shove forward!

Paul M said...

I'm just amazed you wrote a Bible in that time also.

Elinor said...

Yes, yes, and yes! Multi-tasking is the only way. I don't even care about doing housework any more, it's good thinking time. I salute your industriousness.

rosamundtearooms said...

I find I write roughly ten pages a day, maybe a little more, maybe a little less. Much more than that and the thing loses focus somewhat. After ten pages I leave the script percolating in my head overnight and pick up where I left off with a good sense of where to go with it.


Geoff Prickett said...

All your advice will serve us all well in the furture. Thank you.

Geoff Prickett said...

That's 'future'.

Tom said...

Cheers Lucy - very motivational.

Lucy said...

Wilkommen, peeps.

By the way - if anyone has any ideas/questions for posts etc let me know.

Geoff Prickett said...

I would be keen to learn if you have written anything that has been professionally produced. (My apologies if you have already mentioned this and I've missed it)

Lucy said...

Well blink and you'd miss my work Geoff! ; )

I've done mostly promo/corporate stuff - we're talking website copy, CD Roms (one was even given away on the front of a breakfast cereal!! Woooh), text message alerts, virals etc. I've written for lots of newspapers and mags, plus there's been a whole bunch of stuff I've been commissioned on & paid for that's never made it into production for some reason or another - even a feature.

Stuff you can still see on the 'net includes all the copy of this website, this short film and this child's game.

I'm hoping to get more work up online and "out there" via some promising collaborations with some great producers over the next year or so, so watch this space! : )

Rach said...

Interesting that you plan the TV stuff in detail and allow your film stuff to flow. I'm the reverse.

The idea of just letting it happen in a feature script makes my control bunny go nuts. (No I do not kill bunnies so don't ask me to.)

Maybe TV being a bit shorter deludes me that I can relax a little. Oh the fool.

Saying that I'm knocking about a series idea for Red Planet and I'm blocking that out. But 1hr x 6 (that's multiplication by the way, that you learn at school) is a bit longer than a feature. Control bunny in overdrive.

Tim Clague said...

I did use trig and Pythagorus earlier this year. So there.

Anyway - my own daily formula is 10 pages, 1 proposal and 1 phone call to a contact. Get that done and I know I'll be ok.

Jonathan said...

Terrific and inpiring stuff, Lucy - I've just finished a first draft for a screenplay by your method and really enjoyed the process. I'm looking forward to planning some TV episodes...