Obligatory end of year post [WARNING – may contain nuts!]

Feeling enthusiastic about the coming year? I am. Very much so.

I don’t mean to sound smug, but unlike the previous [bleak] most recent years 2014 was a productive year for me. I stuck to my goals and completed all but 2 of them; including relocating to Sweden to continue to pursue my happiness, giving up a perfectly good job, renting my house out and throwing myself into the unemployment pool, setting up my own company and then luckily finding a new job – with my first happy clients. All so that I could be where I felt I needed to be, do what I felt I needed to do with my life and ultimately, because my life felt like a trap. It felt stagnant and I felt like I was doing nothing with it; at least nothing that I wanted to be doing.

Some of the creative things I was proud of:

  • I made more films earlier in the year – not for public consumption. Merely for fun and to get back into making films. We even had a club going at work, where we each made a ‘Ten Second Film’ a week; purely to prove to each other that creativity was possible for anyone and there was a way to tell a story with a variety of methods and everyone came to the same story theme from a completely different perspective and often using very different techniques and tools. Want to know more about how this works?
  • I wrote a novel as part of Nanowrimo 2014. Yes it still needs to be rewritten, but it’s down – out of my head and on the page.
  • I joined two writing groups (one for writing and one for critique) – in order to overcome my shyness and seek out others, to help look at my work objectively and constructively and also to see if I could be of assistance to others. I made some new friends in a new country and I’m sure that it will be a great help in 2015.
  • I took a few online courses to help learn my craft. And I read every article that seemed relevant to what I was trying to achieve – in order to learn more.
  • I also sought out more books on my craft. And I downloaded any free screenplay that I could get my hands on – I suspect that 2015 will be very much about reading more of those scripts and learning form the best.
  • I wrote something almost every day – even if it was my journal or some short #VSS tales in Twitter; something I was never good at before.
  • I used meditation to help fight my way out of creative blocks / writing block.

I’m currently setting my goals for 2015 and I’m looking forward to using more of what this great online community / the interwebz has to offer – attend more courses, develop and refine my writing skills and seek more professional critical feedback and to also help others, where I can, to achieve some of their goals. This year was a rehearsal, to see if I could still muster the gumption to take this seriously and invest serious amounts of time and energy. I did it. But I can give more. Much more.

More on my goals in the new year. I tend to like to let them simmer for a bit to see which ones fight to the surface more.

But if I may be so bold, can I suggest that we all help each other to get a step further up the path to creative freedom and feel the buzz of a little more success!

Have a great 2015 all!! Don’t fight the good fight alone! Let me know if I can help in any way in 2015.

Oh and here’s the [random] Nuts.

Life After Nanowrimo – what now?

So I finished Nanowrimo, and then like the survivors of great battles and those that complete marathon races, I had a very bad case of fatigue and I was overcome with a serious case of ‘What the f$%k do I do now?’

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I made sure of course that I backed up all of my files; multiple times (in Drop box, One Drive, USB, External backup) and – as I was using Scrivener, made sure I took a snapshot of the work, before I ever go back and then sat there, twiddling my thumbs. There as lots of twiddling. Lots of doubt. Lot’s of house cleaning and social engagements to fill up my time predominantly, but when in front of a computer – and starting at a blank screen – still faced with the same question: What to do?

I very much wanted to rest MUTAGENE – my Nano novel – and wait a while before revisiting it for editing / rewriting purposes. There are some plotting / planning activities and exercises I can still do on it, if I get desperate. But I wanted a break from it. After all, things had grown stagnant and we both needed to see other people. Or at least I needed some fun.

So I trawled back through my folders, trying to work out which of my other legacy projects was in need of love – as I didn’t have any burning new ideas to work on at that moment. That’s when I realised that I not only had one candidate, a short story I’d forgotten about (called ADRIFT), I also stumbled across a feature script I’d completely forgotten that I’d written (for a Script Frenzy competition a few years back)! Such a shambles. Such disorganised folders and files! And entrusting my faulty memory to guiding me clearly wasn’t working all that well. I decided that I needed to come up with a more appropriate plan to manage my writing projects.

After some soul searching, and some web searching, I realised that I needed a tool, like a database to track / catalogue every single idea, and I then needed to track which ideas then get worked on and when they become ready for circulation or publication.

I had three options:

  • an online writing database tool, such as writersdb and QueryTracker.
  • using Ulysses or Scrivener to track all of my projects; or
  • building my own tool to track all of my ideas and projects.

It wouldn’t be fun building such a tool, or populating it. But afterwards I would be in a much better position to track each idea through to completed project, and track my career more professionally – e.g. evaluate how much money I’d paid for editing surfaces, or been paid for successful story submissions, or for contest submission fees for scripts etc. I’d then have enough data to take stock of how things were progressing and make a judgement as to whether, like any business, it was still worth pursuing; or if torn between taking different roads, I’d have more than a gut feel to direct my decisions.

I didn’t really feel a need to track my writing each day, as that data would sit within Scrivener, or could easily be tracked in each project if I wanted to. And I was wary of my data being online, and being restricted to someone else’s design. And although I saw how someone else was using Scrivener to do their project management, it didn’t resonate with me. Seemed overly bloated and cumbersome. I wanted something small and portable. So I turned to what I know – I know spreadsheets. I know Excel.

So here’s what I built:

An excel sheet that has a project tracker tab: that tracks the name, type of project, genre (for film and prose), what stage it is in and what draft no and what is the latest file version.

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It also has a second tab for tracking submissions – once you’ve ushered a project through to completion on the first tab, you go to the tab called ‘Manuscript Script Submissions’ – for screenplays you submit to competitions or production companies, or manuscripts you submit to publishing companies or literary markets – and the feedback or decisions you get on that work, that may help you shape how you later go back to the rewrite / edit stage.

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The drop downs are populated on a third tab – so you can edit the field to your heart’s content and customise it to fit.

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DOWNLOAD THE FILE HERE: 

PROJECT TRACKER V1.0 Alpha 

Please do download it. Give it a whirl. It’s nothing fancy. But it works for me. 

Feel free to try it out, if you think that it might be useful for you also. If you change it, I’d love to know why and how, in case it may be useful to put it into a new version to share with others. And also, if you think it’s flawed – please let me know and I’d gladly consider any amends. I’m especially curious to know if there’s anyone else out there in the same boat, with more ideas than organisation.

For now, I’ve got some data to populate into this thing. I’ve got one short story to write. And then I need to plan how I intend to start my Nano novel editing / rewrite process; come January I want a proper plan in place.

Like meets Like writing game

This post is a minor break from my Nanowrimo – which has been going well by the way – thanks for asking. 🙂  but I hope you enjoy it.

So the game we played today in my Writing Group – was something I’ll call ‘Like meets Like’ – inspired by how film pitches to studio execs often begin with very simple ‘elevator pitch’ – to convey what your new idea might be like, by likening it to a previous successful movie idea, or changing the genre or the time setting:

Many successful / cult movies were pitched this way (and some not so successfully):

  1. ALIEN – “JAWS in space” – this very cleverly conjures up the isolation of being out in the middle of nowhere, paying a nod to the second half of JAWS, by taking the crew of a ship in space, fighting a man eating alien in close confines.
  2. ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 – was originally pitched as an exploitation / horror film, because the studios weren’t funding westerns – as RIO BRAVO in modern LA; where a homicidal gang that do not fear death, target the cops at a run down police station and mark them for death (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assault_on_Precinct_13_(1976_film)
  3. OUTLAND – “HIGH NOON in space” – this takes the classic Western trope and transfers it to space, where a lawman (Sean Connery) decides to take a stand against corruption, despite the hired killers coming for him and the fact that everyone else is turning their back on him.

I’m sure there are many more better examples. I’d be pleased if you could share them with me 🙂

One other way to approach this is to compare two movie titles and see if they conjure up a film idea – this could be to reinvigorate a tired film idea and give it a new spin.

The film FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116367/) – is a good example of what happens when you take a vampire movie and put it together with a heist / gangster movie. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE WITH ZOMBIES (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1374989/) is another.

So why do it?

It’s fun to put different things together to see what combinations may inspire different ideas. And you never know, some interesting plot variations might come out of this experimentation, at least you get you on the road towards fleshing out characters and situations. And to that end, try then taking that film title combination and then trying to work that up into a logline.

For example – I might say “It’s like JAWS meets DUMB AND DUMBER – a tale of three incredibly stupid men, attempting to capture and kill a mythical Megalodon Shark that’s targeting the population of a small island – and it’s far bigger and more dangerous than any Great White – only they’ve lost their boat, and they’re too dumb to know anything about hunting sharks.”

I’d love to know the proper name for this activity – if there is one. For now the name stays. 🙂 Please let me know if you can think of a more well known technique term for it though.

Here’s the two I came up with: (they need work 🙂 )

1. Think RAVENOUS meets ZERO DARK THIRTY – A darkly comic action/horror film about an alcoholic CIA operative, recovering from a botched mission that went fatally wrong, who is forced to find the secret location of a cannibal cult, before they consume her kidnapped boss; the one person who stood by her in her hour of need. Ref: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt012…­ and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt179…­

2. Think REAR WINDOW meets L’APARTMENT – A drama / mystery / romance – about a bored advertising executive, recovering from an injury, who is forced to solve the murder he believes he witnessed, when spying on his new female neighbour; he’s already engaged to marry another woman. And he’s convinced that one of these women might be the killer. Ref: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt011…­ and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt004…­

The others in the group thought of an even better spin on the game, for the random factor, to throw different film names, genres into a hat and to pick them out at random. That way, no one has to struggle for good combinations to work with, but instead can just practice the technique when using ideas purely for fun and practise.

Why don’t you give it a try, in those moments when you might be short of inspiration? they don’t have to be keepers, those ideas that you’ll eventually pitch to an exec, in a Hollywood meeting, but they might help you practice starting to develop that elevator pitch – so that you can later take the meeting that launches your career.

Please let me know if this was useful – and if you prefer a variation, tell me what works for you. And also, especially in time for next year’s Nanowrimo, why not use this technique to inspire your next novel plot.

Nicole Perlman on Guardians of the Galaxy

On this episode of the SCRIPTNOTES podcastNicole Perlman, screenwriter of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – talks about how the film came about, how she was lucky enough to get her big break – elevating herself from non WGA work with indies, to working in the studio system – CHECK IT OUT HERE.

The highlights:

  • She won a major screenwriting competition.
  • Her script made the Blacklist
  • She ended up working exclusively under the Marvel intern programme for two years – and was lucky enough to be developing GOTG.

The Optimal Daily Word Target Calculator | Michael J Holley – Writer

The Optimal Daily Word Target Calculator | Michael J Holley – Writer. – is an excellent post on trying to break your goals so that you can make work and your social life coexist…. I like the idea of trying to do this, to set a word count that you can stick by.

You’ll notice I’m not that prolific blogging. It’s the writing that is also being affected by the stresses of life and the day job.  But if you want bite-size wins to edge you further towards cresting a mountain, why not set an achievable goal?