Blue Moon

Staring down the barrel of a treatment

I've been struggling to get back into writing after a few weeks off.

I've got a solid draft of the proof-of-concept short, and a one-page synopsis of the feature. I'm at the point now where I need to dive into the feature development and work on writing an extended story document—whether that be a beat sheet or a more detailed treatment. 

After a few weeks off from the project, though, and staring down the barrel of this next stage, it all feels quite daunting. And I've spent the better part of this weekend grappling with that. I've been trying to sit with this feeling—anyone who's read even one or two of my posts will know that this is a pretty recurring theme. But all too often it's easy to just keep procrastinating with the hope that things will eventually drop into place and the writing will flow.

And I don't think it can—not without some concerted effort. Maybe if I had a year, and could choose to write only when the mood strikes, I could wait. But I work full-time and I don't have a year. So I've been thinking about tools and strategies for dealing with this struggle as soon as it arises.

This blog is one such tool. It's usually when I'm struggling to write that I open the browser, log into my website, and just start typing. For me, it's like a warm-up exercise. The words may not be great, they may not be all that relevant to the project—but they're there. And I'm writing. And I can feel good about that.

I was listening to an episode of Scriptnotes while I was out walking this afternoon (another strategy—when I start to feel my brain turning to mush, I have to get out and move). Fittingly, the episode I chose was 'Psychotherapy for Screenwriters', in which they talk with screenwriter-turned-psychotherapist, Dennis Palumbo, about these very issues.

It was great, and Dennis offered some fantastic tools—things I'll definitely think about in my own practice. One was to write a scene interviewing yourself, where you basically interrogate why you're struggling to write (very much my own approach with this blog). He also talked about taking the perfectionism out of writing—instead, assume that you'll throw your first 20 pages out as soon as you get to the end of a draft.

Another interesting point that all three writers made is never feeling like you should write for eight hours. For each of them as professional writers, a day's writing is only 3–4 solid hours.

And the final one, which I think is really important, is disabusing yourself of the idea that you need any 'special' working conditions to be able to write. Forget the special pen. Forget the special paper. You'll only achieve 'flow' if you're prepared to push through that uncomfortable feeling at the start—the uneasy procrastination that I've let define my weekend.

But all is not lost. I've written a blog post. It's 6.21pm on a Sunday night, and I've got a few hours left yet. Now all I have to do is write...

Blue Moon (working title)

This week, I finished the first draft of my latest screenplay.

Funnily, I'd begun to doubt the playlist I'd made for it a month ago. I'd listen back to it and feel completely alien to particular songs. What's that even doing here? But then I'd be driving... or hiking up hills in the pouring rain... or sitting on the train... and a song would come on that was so perfect, so apt, and so totally specific to one aspect of the project. My faith in the power of the playlist was restored.

This rendition of 'Blue Moon' by The Chromatics was one such song. It was only after listening to it on repeat for a very long time, that I realised just how perfectly it spoke to my project. It became the working title of the film.

One of the most gratifying moments of the last few weeks, though, was realising just how much I've grown as a writer. The issues I was having, in trying to overcome writing blocks and story problems, were me asking myself necessary story questions and pushing myself to fix them. 

Some notes I wrote myself during the development:

— Why does she stay?
— Why does she feel like she's got nowhere else to go?
— What reception does she get on the island?
— Where does the weirdness start?
We need to see her make a choice.

On the page, these are pretty simple, straight-forward questions. But being able to take a step back from the work and be more objective, dig deeper at this early stage, really did help me produce a better first draft. And I think it's much more solid than first drafts have been on my previous projects.

Having said that, it does mean that the things to work on in draft two are less obvious. And the feedback I've received so far hasn't pointed to any gaping holes—in fact, the notes are mostly small and varied. 

So that's where I'm at. The excitement of bashing out a first draft aside, I really do feel pleased and proud to be able to track my own growth as a screenwriter. The work may not be getting easier, but it is getting better—and that's all you can really ask for, right?