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.
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?’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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):
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.
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)
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.
So – as of yesterday at 11:11pm I managed to hit my #nanowrimo2014 of 50,000 words just half way through the month! This has never happened to me before – considering the last time I did Nanowrimo I did exceed my target, but with only a few days to spare.
I was both ecstatic when it happened, but also feeling all kinds of strange feelings, elation, mixed with despair (‘What would I do with myself now?’) and also heightened by a large weight having been removed from my shoulders. So I tweeted:
50K! Target acquired; new stretch goal to finish the damn novel commences tomorrow. Maybe 10K left to do??? I need a walk. #NaNoWriMo2014
Then I made sure my baby was backed up (on my hard drive, USB stick, to Drop Box and to One Drive – paranoid? Who me?) and went out for a walk in the brisk Stockholm night air, to calm down, and do some thinking as I wandered the almost abandoned night streets. I had two questions to answer – how had I felt the process had gone and what to do next?
So how had I managed to complete the challenge so quickly?
This is the first Nanowrimo – or the first time during any writing project! – that I have planned in advance. I am a classic pantser. I have tried planning / outlining and structuring before and never completed it. Usually I get distracted quicker than a dog at a fire hydrant museum and after a few dedicated hours of effort I drift off and find myself starting to write. But this time I was relatively steadfast and forced myself to spend a good month and a half planning (I’ll explain more about the process I’m using later). I didn’t complete the planning in time, but I did manage to at least set up a separate scrivening scene for every idea or scene I wanted to cover in my novel. I also managed to assign meta data in Scrivener to every scene – so I could use the status of the files to find out which ones needed working on, if I decided not to work in a linear fashion and jump around – and I knew which characters were in which scene and what time of day the scene took place, in case I wanted to kill characters or merge scenes or basically move things around. I would know at a glance if my ideas would work. I would also be able to easily filter based on specific criteria and jump to any scene I wanted.
The main thing that helped me – but I also found to be a creativity limiting factor – was having a feature film script already prepared previously. I had basically taken a script and taken the scene information and used that as the basis for my planning. So in most cases I had a good idea of what the scene was about and where it should go. Here’s an extract from the first page of the script:
(I will explain more about the process of taking a script back into Scrivener – from Final Draft – and breaking it down for adaptation purposes, in another later post)
So, with that level of detail you’d think it would be a breeze right? Well I found that when my fingers wanted to dance across the keys and I wanted to write the scene in a fresh creative way, I’d often be trapped into a mindset where often all I could see was the original scene in my head. It was tough sometimes, when my energy levels were lower, to be able to see the way it should flow from a novel view point, maybe to see the scene from a character’s perspective, rather than the viewer’s perspective – which after all is how a script is written. The script is far from perfect. In fact I had wanted to do a complete rewrite on important sections of the plot to fix it – because I realised later in the process, that I had started to rewrite, making brutal changes to the plot and not finished the job or tidied up after myself by leaving detailed notes about where my mind was at the time. So there are massive chunks that conflict with previous scenes or that were just plain missing! But the real positive I found for me, when I felt like I was really writing and in that creative flow, was when whole new scenes would flow from my fingers and onto the page, or I’d see the scene in greater and fresher detail, and I’d wonder how I’d missed key details when I was writing the scenes of the original script!
And work was also a factor – this was the first year that work was not absolutely insane for me. I am between main gigs, looking for work contracts as a freelancer, and purely through scheduling issues with certain projects starting, I found myself with a window to devote almost entirely to Nanowrimo. I’d have to spend a few hours each day on work related stuff for the most part, with only the odd insanely demanding day, but mostly I was able to force myself to focus on the novel – in between conversations with my partner, trying to keep fit, housework and cooking, and socialising. And I did have to force myself – especially when having to deal with my insomnia or illness. It’s not fun writing when your heart isn’t in it and you feel like crap and you can barely think straight. in fact I did have a few days of terrible performance; but never a day when I didn’t write a single word! When you read all those inspirational articles on writing you find that the one central and great truth is that writing is a [mental] muscle. You have to work it hard, flex it and get it used to hard work. it has to be developed. Then, when you have to dig deep inside for a small grain of something, to put onto a page in your moment of need, things like ‘writer’s block’ rarely are a genuine blockage.
In fact, I hope that such effort can be maintained. I hope that I can plan more. I hope that I can force myself to write each day – as I’ve done – to continue to develop that muscle activity.
So what will I do next?
I was almost toying with writing a second novel, over the rest of Nanowrimo, to see how far I could get with more pantsing. lol As I do love writing and I’m not short of other ideas. But I think that I will continue with this novel – I still have more to write. I’m guessing around 10K more. But I am still in the end of a slightly bloated Act Two, so there is definitely more work to be done.
Once that is done – i still have various planning activities to do – like finish constructing the maps of my locations, finish defining my characters – their backstory, timelines and motivations – so that I can really nail these details when I next come to work on the rewrite / second draft. Those activities will definitely keep me busy.
For anyone else still in this journey with me – stay strong! You’re awesome! I’ve already seen three people fall by the way side, unable to see the challenge through. The fact that you’ re doing this is great. There were plenty of times when I wanted to give up on this foolhardy quest. Of course I’d much rather be drinking and going to parties, than sitting staring at a screen, or cursing my neighbours for having a party when I very much needed sleep after a tough writing day. Or having nice dreams instead of the blood-soaked visions of torture that bled through from the page into my subconscious in the rare moments when I did sleep. There were days when I hated what I was writing and wanted to jump onto another idea, or do anything else, like scrub an oven, rather than stare at a page – even with knowing for the most part what I was to write! Keep at it people!
For me, I’m going for another walk, then I’m going to get comfortable and I am going to get me another 2.5K under my belt before the end of the day. If I don’t, something bad is going to happen. I know this because my harsh taskmaster of a brain tells me this. He says that if you want to open door no.2 you’ll get a nasty surprise. Go through door no. 1 and don’t be foolish. I think I’ll take his advice. I can hear the claws on the other side of door no.2 and I don’t fancy meeting what’s on the other side.
So as of tonight at midnight, I will be trying to write 50k words in a month, for fun. And until November 30th at Midnight you may not see me, except having me bitch and moan on here. Yes, pretty much the same as now. :p
I will only have time for work – if any materialises – sleep (yeah right) and the briefest random socialising – which will entirely depend on how ‘on target’ I am, with how many words I’ve written, how much work I have to do, and how good I feel about not being voluntarily shackled to my computer.
It’s not because I don’t like you. It’s not because I don’t want to see you. It’s not even that I think this will be a serious work of literature – although that would be a bonus. It’s just that I have to do this. I was thwarted in my last three almost attempts to do it, by work / life and illness. But I’ve not been able to find the time to do this since I last won it in 2009! – and that sh*t ain’t right!
This is about me proving I can do it, simply because I want to prove it.
So please understand, please don’t be upset if you invite me to do something and I respond with ‘Perhaps’. Please just accept that it’s another weird thing that a ginger weirdo HAS TO DO.
Thanks for reading. Now move along.”
So what’s your commitment to your creative endeavours? Do you share them in a public forum, in order to force yourself to act upon them and see them through? If not, perhaps you may want to consider it.