Monday, 13 February 2017

Well here I go writing again...


Hello,

One second while I dust off this old thing.

*cough* *cough*

Dear lord it has been a while hasn't it? 

Let me just check the date of the last entry. 

Yup. June 2014. That is quite some time ago. 

The funny thing is, this blog was always a sporadic thing at the best of times. I figured my creative energies were best spent on screenplays than ramblings no one wanted or asked for.

But I felt compelled to write and post something today. More to document an endeavour and keep my myself accountable than for anyone to read, so if you are reading this, you're sort of not the intended audience. This is more for myself than you. 

So just like this blog, over the last few years I've found myself drifting away from my dream of writing. Not coincidentally, it can be traced back to me spending nearly a year of my life on a six episode web series that no one watched.

I sound a bit bitter don't I? 

It's a weird thing, because I've always said I write for the simple joy of writing. So I found my own feelings on that web series and its lack of finding an audience somewhat paradoxical. "Why does it matter no one watched?" I asked myself. "You worked really hard to make a thing you are very proud of, that should be enough. You made a thing. Not everyone gets to make a thing."

It's taken me some time to realise I was misunderstanding my own feelings on the matter. I realised it's wasn't really about the lack of views, and more about the lack of progress towards my goal of being a paid writer. I guess at some point I convinced myself that was going to be it. Make a web series, go viral and you'll be discovered.

And don't get me wrong, I wasn't waiting for a call from the BBC offering me my own prime time slot. My goals were always more realistic. Paid writing work. Enough to live on. Enough to pay my bills and feed me the occasional pizza. So my disappointment at the amount of traction my web-series got was not about fame and riches, and more about my goal of getting to do something I love for a living. 

I just wanted enough attention to get my work noticed by the right people. A ridiculous thought in hindsight. 

So with that disappointment firmly under my belt, and understanding why I felt that way. It's no surprise I became a little disheartened. Weird really because now I think of it I was pretty naive to expect it to be stepping stone to anything. And my initial intentions when we came up with the concept and developed the script were just to make a thing we were excited about, but through the long production and editing process it somehow morphed into something else, something weirdly poisonous. Because when it didn't work out it I became apathetic to my own dream, deemed it a lost cause. Gave it up, a man defeated.

Now, we all go through phases like this, but the reason this one engulfed me for three years is an uncomfortable one to admit to myself. But I feel like the major factor contributing the length of this funk was that my writing partner and I drifted. Oddly, not as friends, we were and still are in very regular contact. In fact during this writing funk me and my old writing partner have build a small podcast network, producing six podcasts a month for an exponentially growing audience. But when it comes to our status as writing partners... well let me put it this way; we haven't worked together in that capacity since that the web series died it's death. 

Now historically when one of us had wavered in our shared dream of screenwriting for pizza money, the other would continue to push. Holding the other up like a solider helping a wounded friend from the battlefield. But that's not what happened this time.

Now I can't speak for him, so this is pure speculation, but it seemed to me we both had the same hopes for the web series, and got knocked back as hard as each other at the exact same moment. Two wounded soldiers can't exactly help each other back to their feet can they?

We both needed the other to push and we both didn't have it in us.

I found that hard to accept for a long time, we'd been writing together for so long. And for a while the thought of us not working together again was painful. And I think that compounded my own situation, making me even more doubtful of my future as a writer. 

My writing partner, beacon of strength that he is, has long since picked himself up and is doing genuinely wonderful writing work with a local theatre now. He even wrote and starred in a short film that came out last year.

Further evidence that he's the better man I'm afraid, because I wallowed. Pulled away from writing on the whole until it was a distant and bitter dream a young and naive version of myself once had. A stupid and foolish version of myself who I didn't recognise anymore. 

Over the ensuing years I did pull a few ideas and treatments together in a vague effort to relight that fire, some I felt were strong and became excited about, but never for long. And I even did a few bits and bobs of freelance writing work for a few quid here and there. But it didn't work, not really. Stopped me from completely accepting defeat, but sadly I'd given up on that version of myself a long time ago.

Then a few happy coincidences happened in a short space of time that shifted things. 

First of all I realised I turn thirty this year. 

Shouldn't have been a surprise really should it? 

Personally I'm fine with the notion of turning thirty, I'm handling twenty nine just fine and don't expect thirty to be much different. But realising this did make me feel thoughtful, made me take stock of my life. Think about where I'm going and where I came from. And I remember that naive dreamer that wanted nothing more than to write for a second. And for an odd fleeting moment I got excited at a weird thought, maybe I should finish some of those ideas that had been building up before I turn 30, a last nod to send off the moronic and hopeless twenty something before I turn thirty. 

That was a few weeks ago. My intentions were good, but predictably nothing came of it. Not at first at least. But the idea kept occurring to me. Each time with more enthusiasm than before. 

Then, a few days ago I found an old MP3 file I'd saved in a long since forgotten Dropbox folder. It was titled 'Writers Block' and when I listened to it, it turned out to be a segment from an episode of Dan Harmon's podcast Harmontown I'd saved years before where he talked about writers block. It was elegantly simple and brilliant advice.

Prove you are a bad writer.

I'm never going to explain this idea as well as he does, but essentially he suggests that all writers think they can be better than they are. Which is probably true, there is always room for improvement. He feels when a writer isn't writing it's because they are dwelling on the potentially great thing they will write once they get as good as they think they eventually can be. But the irony is they will only get to that level through practice, which they won't ever do if they continue staring at the blank page thinking "I'm not good enough yet".

So he suggests writing with the aim of proving you are bad. Which will just get you writing which gets you practicing, which will ultimately lead to getting better. You can click here for the clip if you want context.

I can't tell you how much I love that advice. It just makes so much sense to me. I kept hearing his words in my head all day. Word for word it kept filling every little gap in my own thoughts, like having a song stuck in my head. 

That same day, through sheer coincidence my writing partner of old sent me the script for the play he has been working on. It was predictably brilliant and made me think about the only concept for a play I'd ever come up with.

The idea had originally occurred to me back in 2011, and while I felt the concept was solid, over the years I'd never been able to make it work as a script. It went through many many terrible drafts in the years leading up to the web series.

After the web series it found itself in a pile of concepts I thought were strong but would never be able to make work. Now I mentioned that during my writing funk, the wilderness years, I'd had occasional spits and starts that never amounted to anything, well weirdly enough one such moment was when I actually cracked the play concept. I had a weird eureka moment and actually figured out how to make it work finally.

The only downside was this meant a ground up, page one rewrite. Which basically means any work done before was going to be cannibalised for a few spare parts before being unceremoniously dumped in a bin. And I did make an attempt to produce this new functional version of the idea at the time of the brainwave, but due to this being during my funk, my own inability to follow through ensured it ended up amounting to little more than a treatment and few loose lines of dialogue.

Smash cut to the day I rediscovered Dan Harmon's advice about writing, and read my writing partners script, which brought my own abandoned project sharply back to the forefront my mind coupled with the thought about wanting to accomplish a few last things in my 20s and it was something akin to being struck by lightning. 

That sudden culmination of things all occurred at once and I couldn't stop writing. I wrote about 40 pages in a single day. Suddenly feeling rather fearless. 

The most remarkable thing is that once again, my writing partner, my friend, was once again carrying me across the battlefield, having bounced back from his own wounds. And the weird thing is that he didn't even realise he was doing it this time. He just sent me a script to read. 

So, this is all my long winded way of explaining I'm writing again, substantial amounts. And I feel an itch and a burn to do it I haven't felt in years. I should probably see a doctor about that, but truthfully I don't see it going away anytime soon.

And with the screenwriting comes the over analysing and with that comes blogging.

Yes that's right that entire overly long and brutally honest diatribe basically exists to explain I'm probably going to be blogging regularly again.

Now I think about it I could have just said that couldn't I? But chronicling my endeavour to finish some of these old projects before I turn 30 should keep me honest, and to keep me accountable to that goal now I've put it out there in so... so many words.

Oh well. Thanks for reading.

-- Dan


PS: Coincidentally "cannibalised for a few spare parts before being unceremoniously dumped in a bin" is going to be the name of the autobiography I'll never write.

PPS: There's a chance this is all just me blowing smoke, and the crushing defeat will set back in soon. If that's the case I'll just say "False Alarm" now to cover myself.