Sunday, 30 November 2008

Stock Taken

Well, I have to keep being a scriptwriter to a bit longer. Firstly, because otherwise Jason Arnopp will burn me and Phill Barron will kick me in the nuts; but also, I'll have to keep going until at least October now, 'cos they've changed the dates on next year's Screenwriting Festival. See Martin's blog for a summary. A festival? In a ladies' college? I can't miss that.

Some of my regular correspondents have taken slight exception to my last post. Yes - it was a bit of a vent; for that, everyone has my apologies. But I stand by the thrust of it: there's no point in immediately believing that the work just wasn't right for the reader or the competition. You've got to review the script entered, pull it apart and see if it's as good as it can be, even if this autopsy can be pretty depressing and make you feel like you should give up. And the honest-to-goodness reaction to not getting through in a competition is that it hurts like hell, and I wouldn't be a truthful writer if I pretended otherwise.

In this case, I know the sensibilities of a good few of the authors, and was privileged enough to see a few of the entries at points in their development before being submitted: I know that the subject matter and overall tone of what got through was very varied, and not a million miles away from the stuff I'm doing. So, what more can I have done? It may be nothing. Perhaps I was trying to do too much. Or too little. It may well be that the style I'm going for (white collar versions of Raymond Carver short stories but with more jokes, and on telly) isn't really suited to the schedules of today. Or it could be the kind of thing that's being done too much already. Or maybe it was just a rubbish idea.

Anyway, I'm not giving up, so I've been doing a few things over the last couple of days to make me feel more like a writer, to whit:

  • Analysing new dramas: just caught up with the first two episodes of Survivors. Quick capsule review (warning: very light spoilers): I'm liking it, after a questionable first half an hour where the build up to the apocalypse was a bit slow, and the logic of the contagion/poison was undermined - if it takes a different length of time for different people to die, why did everyone on the final day die overnight, no matter what their symptoms were like before? This is a dramatic virus, methinks. I shall catch up with Wallander tomorrow, and The Devil's Whore soon-ish.
  • Reading 'How to Guides' on writing: the Guardian gave lots of pamphlets away a month ago, on writing lots of different things: comedy, journalism, etc. and someone kept them for me. They make interesting reading. I'm saving 'Plays and Screenplays' until last. Yes - that's right: they're both covered together in one pamphlet. Like they're the same. Twelve pages to cover comedy was ambitious, but six to cover screenplays is just insulting. I'm looking forward to violently disagreeing with it, already.
  • Writing: I'm doing a big rewrite on the Life Support pilot. This isn't a kneejerk reaction to its not being selected. I think the idea has merit, but I've made a few mistakes which I want to rectify. I'll try to share some of that process over the next few posts, as - who knows - it might be useful.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Taking Stock

Congratulations to all those who got through to the next (and final?) round of the Red Planet competition. Jason has handily collated all those winners from the blogosphere here. Well done, y'all.

But: hmm...

When a competition is held, and a large number of fellow bloggers and drinking buddies get through and I fail to get through, it's hard not to think: I should give up.

There, I've said it. No dancing around 'they were looking for something else' or 'it's not the right time' or 'I'm on some kind of different wavelength': despite spending a lot of time on it, my work wasn't good enough. I have to make it better, or quit.

We all need a certain amount of encouragement to keep going, otherwise we'd be insane to keep going. And though I'm not claiming not to be insane, I could do with some official encouragement at the moment, but it's thin on the ground. Maybe I'm missing something that's being told to me, loud and clear.

But I'm not giving up: I'll give it at least six more months before I start trying something different. And I'm not talking wildly different: I'm not going to be learning the ukulele, particle physics or African pottery: I'll just try writing novels, maybe - see how that pans out.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Nobody on their deathbed ever regrets not spending more time at work

Worry not, Phill – I'm still alive! But my computer isn't quite yet. After getting a new desktop to replace my ever malfunctioning old one, I was in the middle of rebuilding it from various back ups and other sources . This took quite a while, and some things are possibly lost for good. I had to type the pilot episode script for my Red Planet entry in from scratch, copying from a paper copy, because the last time I backed things up, I'd hardly started it.

It was quite amusing: after having desperately searched every scrap of paper in my office, finally finding my activation key code, then chatting to a Final Draft support techie in the U.S. using some rather nifty InstantService web-chat instant messenger doodad, and getting the software un-registered from the broken down PC, and re-registered to my new one, I then copied the backup files from my portable hard drive, and – trembling,and with bated breath – clicked to open the file marked 'Life Support – Episode 1' . This is the extent of what I'd written before backing up:


That was it. Thank the Great God Aethismo I'd printed it out, that's all I can say. Except to add: if anyone who gave me notes has still got a copy of my one page series outline, could they send it to me, please? Don't seem to have that at all, any more. Do regular backups, ladies an gentlemen: learn from my stupidity.

Anyway, I was in the middle of rebuilding the computer when my monitor stopped working. I couldn't afford to replace it until pay day (this Friday just gone – it arrived today) and before that I was making do, using my old RGB projector hooked up to the PC and blasting the screen image all over one wall of the room – it's hard on the eyes (and the screenwriting process: see your script's faults writ large!), so progress has been slow.

I had the natty new netbook too, of course; but, enter another thief of my time: the day job. Don't get the wrong idea - I love my day job. But this time of year is always frantic and fraught. I work as a project manager for a team designing web sites and web applications. It's work I like, and I always find that the writing I do is better when I have a stable and enjoyable job of work to pay the bills; so, it contributes to my proper job too.

And, despite working for a financial institution, my day job seems for now to be unaffected by the credit crunch - fingers crossed. Certainly there's a lot of work coming in for the team. Too much. The problem is that big institutions, even in the web technology area, err on the side of caution (except, obviously in the area of mortgage lending, but let's not go there) and a change freeze operates throughout December when I can't put any websites live.

So, the year end rush of projects happens in November as people use up their budget, instead of in December when people want to be on holiday. It's nice in a way. But it means that round about now I'm horribly busy. It was the same last year too – I had a working computer then, but I was also writing a feature; I seem to remember a November of the comments section bursting with chides for my not posting enough. Plus ca change.

Anyway, all is fixed up now, and by the end of Friday the day job will have settled down too. Expect more blather here then.