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up, down, and up

I’ve made a promising start to 2006 by writing a new short story. It clocked in at 4,500 words, which isn’t bad for two days work (especially since I spent so much time assembling yesterday’s post).

This story was written as a compulsion. Several nights ago it entered my head as I was falling asleep and began to write itself. I didn’t sleep very well as a result.

I suspect that sometimes the Muse demands her cut. This is not a story I planned, and I’m not even sure it’s salable, but I had to write it. The problem with a story that arrives in this manner is that it’s difficult to re-write. It arrives whole, and intact, and while there are certain elements I can move around there are larger chunks that are inviolable. Perhaps it’s not meant to be sold. Perhaps it’s just for me.

If this is what it takes to even it up with my Muse so that she continues to keep the words flowing then I will pay the price gladly.

Today I’m back to hacking at my current script. I hope to finish it by the end of the month. My subsequent screenplay will be a horror film, and the elements are stewing on the back burner. I’m trying not to think about it too hard because it’s a distraction from my current project. I don’t want to fall in love with the next script before I’m finished romancing the one I’m working on.

They get jealous, you see.

This morning I received a lovely rejection on a short story. I do mean the lovely without any malice or sarcasm. It takes the sting out of it if the editor offers advice and encouragement.

Still, my poor heart lurched and bled a little. Rejection sucks. C’est la vie. Keep writing.

The Quantum Propecy

Finally, congratulations to Irish writer Michael Carroll as today is the official publication date of his new series of Young Adult books (called The New Heroes) by HarperCollins.

The first book, The Quantum Prophecy, is in the shops now, and so far all the reports I’ve received about it are excellent. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Michael (who now has a blog) has been active on the Irish science fiction scene for a long time, and is a decent, talented bloke who has slogged long and hard at this writing lark. I’m delighted that his abilities have been recognised and I wish him huge success in the future.

Now, get out there and buy his book!

8 Comments

    • Maura

      Squalid,I always wonder why someone makes a comment like this but doesn’t refer to the problem areas that need attention. Therefore, it’s not a helpful insight.I work on my grammar and syntax. It’s important to learn and master the fundamentals. I tend to adopt a more conversational style when I’m writing for this blog, but I won’t use that as an excuse for flagrant errors.I make mistakes, and I don’t claim otherwise. They are easier to correct if they are pointed out. You’re more than welcome to drop me an email with your suggestions.

  • schmadrian

    ‘Compulsion’. Yup. I’ve tasted from that cup. This autumn I was compelled to write one screenplay in two weeks. 110 page first draft; it pretty much stayed that way in the end. Another came to life over about 18 days; this one was a 200-page behemoth that was eventually trained down to a 139-page cruiserweight thug. Normally stuff flows quite prolifically for me, but on these occasions, something special was at play. I’m curious about two things. First, do you think we’re all different where first drafts are concerned insofar as how they relate to their ‘ultimate’ state? That is, if a writer’s final version is his/her ’10’, do you think some people start off with ‘2’s and others write ‘8’s or ‘9’s and therefore don’t have anywhere much to go in revisions…? And connected to this is ‘How do you feel about the idea that every script has a ceiling.’? That given each script’s elements, there is a finite amount of ‘greatness’ to each and every screenplay, that if you maintain the integrity of a story’s elements, it can only ever be so good. I think that one of the points you raised ties into these two questions: “The problem with a story that arrives in this manner is that it’s difficult to re-write. It arrives whole, and intact, and while there are certain elements I can move around there are larger chunks that are inviolable. Perhaps it’s not meant to be sold. Perhaps it’s just for me.”Just curious…

    • Maura

      schmadrian,The more you write the better you get. Based on my own experience, and that of other writers I’ve read, eventually the quality of your first drafts improves as time goes on.Rewriting is always necessary. That’s where the real work takes place, and boy it is a difficult slog at times (as you know!). Screenwriting requires a lot of rewriting. Once a producer is attached s/he will request re-writes. After a director is hired more re-writes are demanded. You should pose this to Craig Mazin over at the Artful Writer, or to Jon August on his blog (links on the right), as they far more qualified to respond to this query.My objective is to improve my writing. I’ll do as many drafts as are necessary to achieve that goal. There does come a time when a project becomes “as good as I can make it”. That doesn’t mean that it’s perfect, because that’s why other writers are brought in to rewrite projects. They may be able to see a way to improve the script that has eluded the original writer.How many drafts are needed to improve a script? How long is a piece of string? 🙂 It depends on the project. I suspect with some it will take 30 drafts, and with others it might only require 5 rewrites. And you’ll still be asked to re-write!

      • schmadrian

        True points. However…I am very wary of trying to improve something without any external input. You can end up chasing your tail. Personally, where I am right now in my career/abilities arc, I reach a point where I intuit that I can’t take the script any further *by myself*. I’ll give you an analogy. When I was a teenager, I had aspirations to play at the Olympic level at basketball. Whether or not I was deluded at the time isn’t for this discussion. What is topical is that I remember saying to my best friend at the time “I’m as good as I could expect to be at this point.” What I meant was, given all the circumstances that I’d been given, the input, the influences, I couldn’t have expected to have been any better. A different coach here or there, a different set of teammates, a different league; any or all of these could have resulted in me being a better player. And I feel that way now. With my writing. Is that, as Jeff Goldblum’s character says in ‘The Big Chill’, one ‘juicy rationalization’? Maybe. But I don’t have the time to get wrapped up in that kind of navel gazing. So I write. I write within my own circumstances, write to excel within my own abilities. I’ve accepted that the dozen or so scripts I’ve written could be better. But I’m not capable of making the necessary changes to take them to another level. So I don’t fret. Once I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve gone as far as I can, given everything at my disposal, then I move on to my next ‘compulsion’. As far as what you say about ‘rewriting’, this is obviously true. Especially when it comes to producers, studios, etc. So the key here is the feedback. And yes, our first drafts do get better as we gain more experience. But that’s really not what I was getting at. I suppose what I’m curious about comes down to ‘talent’. On any Bell curve, some people are going to be able to write exemplary first drafts, while others need a wholelottawork to get their scripts to that level of ‘goodness’. That’s what intrigues me. The difference. It’s similar to how much training/practice different cometitors require in order to excel in their sport. (I’m not talking about conditioning, here.) That whole ‘continuum of talent’ concept. I’d still like to hear your thoughts on the idea that each script can only get so good. And that some of them, as with their writers, are simply not made of the right stuff.

      • Maura

        Thanks for the further post.Feedback is essential. I’ve written about this before. I’m lucky to be part of a fortnightly workshop of screenwriters and playwrights, and I run all my work through that forum. Not only does it improve my writing, but I learn from examining the work of others. This is an invaluable resource.It’s hard to be objective about your own work. It can be achieved, somewhat, by taking an extended break from the script, moving onto a new project, and then coming back with a fresh perspective. And, getting feedback from other people.The feedback sessions are useful not only to obtain insights of your work, but also to learn what advice to follow, and what to discount. It’s as important to learn not to follow some advice, as it is to know what to implement.And yes, there are times when you can’t get a script any better than it is written. Sometimes this can be resolved by taking a break from it, and sometimes the script will remain irrevocably broken. As long as the writer has learned from the experience, and doesn’t repeat the same mistakes, then it’s not a waste of time.I’m learning to spend more time working on the concept stage before I jump into outlining or writing a script. I’m the impatient type, so my impulse is to start writing as soon as I get the idea. If you worry at the concept in the beginning you are likely to discover if you have enough interest to plug away at it for 120+ pages.Regarding “talent”. That’s an interesting issue. I think it comes down to the different approaches that writers take. For instance, I heard of a screenwriter who spends 6/8 weeks going to the mall, museums, movies, etc. and all the time he writes the script in his mind. Then, he sits down, and in a rush of a couple of weeks, produces a fantastic first draft. Paul Schrader uses a somewhat similar technique. He won’t write until he knows his story intimately, what is its central metaphor, and can tell it to someone. This to some people could be perceived as talent. Yet, to achieve the same ends, another writer could write a number of drafts in the same time period.Some people are very talented, but everyone has to work at their craft. Talent won’t write a script alone. That takes perseverance and dedication. I know some very talented people who won’t progress because they don’t write. If you have any aptitude for writing you can become an excellent writer if you have the drive and the patience. I think that’s a very large ingredient in “talent”.I hope I’m answering your questions. Thanks for asking them!Thanks for the further post.Feedback is essential. I’ve written about this before. I’m lucky to be part of a fortnightly workshop of screenwriters and playwrights, and I run all my work through that forum. Not only does it improve my writing, but I learn from examining the work of others. This is an invaluable resource.It’s hard to be objective about your own work. It can be achieved, somewhat, by taking an extended break from the script, moving onto a new project, and then coming back with a fresh perspective. And, getting feedback from other people.The feedback sessions are useful not only to obtain insights of your work, but also to learn what advice to follow, and what to discount. It’s as important to learn not to follow some advice, as it is to know what to implement.And yes, there are times when you can’t get a script any better than it is written. Sometimes this can be resolved by taking a break from it, and sometimes the script will remain irrevocably broken. As long as the writer has learned from the experience, and doesn’t repeat the same mistakes, then it’s not a waste of time.I’m learning to spend more time working on the concept stage before I jump into outlining or writing a script. I’m the impatient type, so my impulse is to start writing as soon as I get the idea. If you worry at the concept in the beginning you are likely to discover if you have enough interest to plug away at it for 120+ pages.Regarding “talent”. That’s an interesting issue. I think it comes down to the different approaches that writers take. For instance, I heard of a screenwriter who spends 6/8 weeks going to the mall, museums, movies, etc. and all the time he writes the script in his mind. Then, he sits down, and in a rush of a couple of weeks, produces a fantastic first draft. Paul Schrader uses a somewhat similar technique. He won’t write until he knows his story intimately, what is its central metaphor, and can tell it to someone. This to some people could be perceived as talent. Yet, to achieve the same ends, another writer could write a number of drafts in the same time period.Some people are very talented, but everyone has to work at their craft. Talent won’t write a script alone. That takes perseverance and dedication. I know some very talented people who won’t progress because they don’t write. If you have any aptitude for writing you can become an excellent writer if you have the drive and the patience. I think that’s a very large ingredient in “talent”.I hope I’m answering your questions. Thanks for asking them!

      • schmadrian

        Yes, I’m not so sure that past a certain point, any of us can be effectively ‘objective’ about our own work. And I don’t think it’s a question of being precious, of being unable to ‘kill our darlings’. I think feedback is paramount. Without it, it’s pointless. The crux of my first novel is a screenplay. Within the story’s premise, it is inarguably the world’s greatest screenplay. (Trust me.) And it’s written in a week. Fully-formed. When I was writing the novel, I knew that this was a flight of fancy, However…However, since then, I’ve come to realize that not only is this possible, but there’s really no reason why it -or something close to it- shouldn’t happen more often to more writers. My recent experiences have only confirmed this belief. In fact, I emailed a friend of mine and opined ‘Why SHOULD it take six months to write a screenplay?!? It shouldn’t; unless you really don’t know what you want to write.’ Because when you know what you want to write, where you want to go, don’t you think everything should just flow out of you?I used to write naughty tales for Playboy. It was a great gig, especially considering I could bang off a publication-ready story in less than a day. I was good at it…but I guess it would have appeared effortless to a bystander. Mostly it was because I knew what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go and I simply did it, went there. Full-stop. Maybe my frame of reference is different than it is for some people. I know it was when I was in e-learning, my ability to produce at will. (My, how conceited…) And this is very much connected to my curiosity regarding the Bell curve for first draft quality versus final product. I think I get a little thrown when I read about people writing ‘crap’ for their first drafts. It doesn’t sound familiar to me. That doesn’t mean I think everything I write is stellar. But maybe it’s like management; some people ‘get it’ naturally, while others really have to work at it. Or maybe I’m just more deluded than I thought. Now where have the night pixies taken my scotch…?

      • Maura

        Everyone’s experience is different. I wrote each of my major drafts of my last screenplay in 10 days. One, I had set myself a tight deadline (and I was working within imposed deadlines), and two, that’s the way I like to write a script: I like to get into the fictional world and have it flow out of me in one big torrent. However, I usually prepare in advance. I outline and detail characters up so that the pressure to write rises. When it is a beating pulse in my head I sit down and begin.Yet, I’m doing things differently with my current script. I’m trying a new approach, just to see how it works and if I’ll learn any new skills from it. I’m writing the scenes completely out of sequence, and slower. Yet, I find when I sit down to write the scene the same flow occurs. I’m really enjoying this script.So, Schmadrian, while I’m enjoying our conversation, I think you’d benefit more from your own blogging space. Hie over to Blogger (one of the best free journaling systems) and in three simple steps you too can have your own space on the web. It’s not complicated at all. Let me know when you set it up and I’ll come and take a look at it.

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