More than just a pencil?

giant pencil
It wasn’t THAT big

Now that we’re in the month of October, what happened to me this morning feels very apropos for the season, and definitely worth recounting.

But first, a little backstory…

The latest draft of the pulp sci-fi is just about wrapped up. I’ve received lots of great notes on it, and incorporated some very helpful suggestions. The contest I’d like to send it to has its final deadline next week, so the past few weeks have been all about getting it as ready as I can.

While I still plan on submitting this script, there’s still that part of me that isn’t sure if it’s good enough, and that maybe I should hold off on the contest because it just needs too much work, which of course makes me doubt my abilities as a writer.

“Am I good enough? Am I wasting my time?” You know. The usual.

Cut to this morning.

My workday starts at 5AM, which means I get up around 3:15. Part of my getting ready involves having to take the dog out.

Since we live near Golden Gate Park, there’s always a chance of running into raccoons or skunks, so I’ve started bringing a flashlight as part of the dog-walking.

This morning, we got to the bottom of our front steps, and right there just beyond the first step was a pencil. Just a plain ol’ regular pencil.

I thought that was kind of weird. How did a pencil get there? Maybe one of the neighbor kids dropped it yesterday as they passed by? But it wasn’t there last night when I took the dog out. I took the dog around the corner. She took care of business, and we returned home. The pencil was still there.

We got inside and I got ready to head out to work. For some reason, I couldn’t stop thinking about the pencil. It being there seemed so random.

Maybe about seven, eight minutes pass between returning inside with the dog and going down to the garage to get my bike ready (helmet, lights, etc). I step outside. Just out of curiosity, I want to see that pencil again.

I maneuver my bike over to the steps and reposition the headlight down towards the sidewalk.

No pencil. Swear to God. It was gone.

Let’s consider the possibilities:

-it wasn’t there to begin with. Maybe, but I distinctly remember seeing it just a few minutes ago.

-it wasn’t a pencil. Highly doubtful. The unmistakble yellow, the green metal, a pink eraser. Definitely a pencil.

-somebody took it. possible, but highly unlikely. Not a lot of foot traffic in our neighborhood at 4AM. K later suggested it was the paper delivery guy, but his m.o. is to  toss the paper from inside the car. Plus, we don’t get the paper anyway, so there’d be no reason for him to stop in front of our place.

-a raccoon or skunk took it. Again, highly unlikely, but you never know. They continuously go after our composting bin on the other side of the house, so why not snatch up a pencil?

And what may be the most outlandish theory of all – it was some kind of message to me.

Think about it. A pencil. The most basic of writing implements. Maybe this was some kind of “sign from beyond” that despite all my doubts and occasional lapses of self-confidence, writing really is what I’m meant to do and that I should keep at it.

Then again, I might find the pencil upon returning home later today, rendering the whole thing moot. (In which case, I’d wonder “How could I not see it earlier?”)

But pencil or no pencil, the message, or at least how I interpreted it, remains the same. Even with all the frustration, I’m in this for the long haul. There’ll be good days and bad days, but I’m hanging in there, determined to keep going.

Thus the pushing forward continues…

I speak from experience

SF running
Exercise, a view, and lots of time to think about your script

“Writing a screenplay is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Bet you’ve heard that one before, right?

It’s true. Learning how to write a screenplay takes time, let alone how to do it well. It might come easier for some, but no matter what your skill level is, it always remains a struggle.

And that feeling when you’re done (at least with the latest draft)? Euphoric sums it up quite nicely.

So that whole running metaphor is pretty apropros. Especially for me.

For those not in the know, I enjoy running half-marathons. Seriously.

I’ve run about a dozen or so the past few years. Like with the writing, it’s a self-imposed challenge and pushes you to keep moving forward. Believe me, there are definitely times during those races I just want to stop and catch my breath, but I don’t because I want to keep going and see what I’m capable of.

I usually finish somewhere just under 2 hours, which isn’t bad.

A few weeks ago, I ran a race in San Francisco and finished with a time of 2:02:56, which some might think is great, but I still considered a little disappointing.

This past weekend was another race – across the Bay in Oakland. The results of the previous race really shook me up. Was I once again going to fall short of my goal?

Only one way to find out.

I did my best to maintain a steady pace and continuously reminded myself that even though it was a challenge, I felt I had a pretty good handle on it. Oakland’s also a lot flatter than San Francisco, which probably helped.

The home stretch for this race is an 8-block-long straight line through downtown Oakland. At the finish line, there’s always a big digital timer. As I got closer, the numbers came into view.

1:54:30? Wow! And just a handful of blocks to go!

You know that feeling when you’re writing the last page of your script and FADE OUT is coming up fast and you get that sudden rush of adrenaline and you can’t believe the end is finally in sight?

Even though you’re exhausted and feeling totally spent, you can always find that hidden reserve of energy, which is just enough to get you to that goal.

Giving it everything I had, I poured on the speed (or at least as much as I could muster) and ran like a madman to that finish line.

End result – 1:54:59. Not only did I break the 2-hour mark,  but I just squeaked by my other personal objective of breaking 1:55.

All that self-doubt from before had been erased. I had given myself a goal and set out to accomplish it.

Notice all those comparisons to screenwriting that could be made?

Every script is your own personal challenge. Sometimes it’ll be easy, and sometimes it’ll feel like nothing is happening, but the important thing is for you to keep at it and not stop trying to reach that finish line.

Like with training for these runs, it requires a lot of work. You find the time to do it when you can, hoping each session yields a slightly better result than the previous one.

My current work on the comedy spec coincides with this latest round of training for my next race – early November, and again in San Francisco. Both script and race will be a little more on the challenging side, but by engaging in regular training, I’m fairly confident I can achieve the results I seek.

A little stretching, a few deep breaths, and off I go.

Let’s get moving, chums.

Good. Better. Getting there.

Billy Wilder
Never hurts to have a good role model*

Notes continue to come in for the pulp sci-fi spec, some contrary, many encouraging, and all chock-full of notable suggestions. With some coming from my trusted core of reliably savvy readers, there’s been one statement more than a few have included.

The gist of it is:

“This is the third script of yours I’ve read, and each one has shown a definite improvement over the previous one.”

It warms this writer’s soul to hear that sort of thing. And these are writers who pull no punches. They won’t hesitate to say something doesn’t work.

I’ve been working at this for a while, but it really feels like just the past few years have seen the most significant progress. Just goes to show what constant hard work can do, right?

Nor do I have any intention of slowing down. Doing my best to maintain a dedicated block of time and/or pages on a daily basis. The more you do it, the easier it gets (but is still tough).

The three scripts in question were all adventure-based, which enabled me to exercise a certain set of writing skills. With work now commencing on overhauling a comedy, an entirely new set will get the workout they deserve.

Crafting a sequence involving a train heist in the Old West, or a team of adventurers taking on a mad scientist? Piece of cake.

Writing a story involving everyday people in relatively normal (but funny) situations, peppered with smart (and funny) dialogue, all without the benefit of using special effects to enhance the story?

That is truly the next challenge to yours truly. It initially feels very daunting, but I’ve made it this far, and there’s no reason to think I can’t continue to push my way forward.

Should be a very interesting journey.

*Billy Wilder’s 10 Rules for Good Filmmaking (also applicable to screenwriting)
1: The audience is fickle.
2: Grab ’em by the throat and never let ’em go.
3: Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
4: Know where you’re going.
5: The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
6: If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.
7: A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.
8: In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing.
9: The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
10: The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then — that’s it. Don’t hang around.

At least 11 choice “re-” words

teacher
No, class. “Relapse” is not one of them.

Progress on the latest draft of the comedy spec is coming along. Slowly, but still coming along.

Among the highlights:

repairing the script. Previous drafts had some notable and sizable problems on several fronts, so this is all about fixing them, or at least figuring stuff out to make it better overall. This is the main priority.

revising the story. Some of the scenes still work. The ones that don’t are out, with variations and totally new ones being developed and considered. A work in progress is a beautiful thing.

reviving older ideas. I keep all the notes and items jotted down over the course of working out the story, so there’s always a few items worthy of dusting off. This time around is no exception.

reorganizing the tone. Notes on a previous draft stated how uneven the story felt; like it was a few opposing ideas competing for attention. Currently working on streamlining things to make it all mesh better.

refurbishing characters and/or their traits. From the protagonist and antagonist to supporting characters to those appearing in one scene, everybody gets some kind of modification. Some big, some not-so-big.

reinvigorating the jokes. With comedy already being a subjective topic, I’m trying to come up with stuff I think is funny. Influences abound, and I want my sense of humor to be what runs that particular engine.

remaining calm. Finishing this draft won’t happen overnight, and trying to force creativeness or rush progress is the absolute wrong approach. Preferred method – taking it one step at a time.

resuscitating self-confidence. Writing a comedy’s tough enough to begin with. I’ve done it before, and despite a few missteps along the way, feel pretty solid about my chances this time around.

relinquishing the self-imposed pressure. Naturally, I want to have a good, solid script when I’m done (hopefully it won’t take many more drafts). Stressing about getting to that point won’t do me any good, which leads to the final point…

relaxing and recharging the writer. A good portion of my available time is spent writing or at least thinking about it. Working on it too much runs the risk of burnout, which would be completely counterproductive. Therefore, I allow myself time to simply step away and do something totally non-writing-oriented.

And when the time is right, I return to the rewrite.

Whew! Took me a while to refine this, but I don’t recall being so resplendently relieved to be done. Even better, none of it had to be redacted.

I refuse to be complacent

runner
The road gets tougher, you run harder

First-round results for two of the biggest, high-profile screenwriting contests have been released within the past week, and the pattern for my western’s performance in both has once again repeated itself.

Total whiff for PAGE, and top 20 percent for the Nicholl. (I’m not doing Austin this year)

I didn’t get notes from the former, and based on the ones I got last year for the latter, am not that curious as to why it placed where it did.

My initial reaction was, naturally, disappointment, but this year is markedly different in what came immediately after.

There’ve been days where the agony, frustration and just plain shittiness of things not working out was so strong I’d seriously contemplate just walking away. After all, that would be one less member of the competition, right?

But that’s simply not an option – for any of us. Our desire to succeed as writers burns too bright.

I may not have done as well as I’d hoped with these contests, so instead of shrugging my shoulders and saying “Oh well. Better luck next year,” I plan on doing whatever I can to increase my chances. With a vengeance.

Gone is the wallowing in a blessedly brief mindset of “poor, poor pitiful me”.

In its place – a reinvigorated drive to buckle down, work even harder and write scripts so fucking amazing those readers won’t know what hit them.

I don’t think I can. I KNOW I CAN.

Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead, chums.

-A new addition and a return appearance on the bulletin board this week:

-Filmmakers Caitlin Stedman and Kayla Ditlefsen have launched a crowdfunding project for their short film Unattainable. They’re around the 60 percent mark, so donate if you can!

-The crowdfunding for filmmaker Steve Davis’s No Glory continues, with about a month to go. Steve’s a talented guy, and this sounds like a fantastic project. Donate if you can!