2019: Context, Focus, and Distraction
I’ve travelled my latest learning curve in what has been a strange year for me and for most Brits, I think. I won’t be sorry to see the back of it, although things can always get worse. What writer was ever an optimist? Politics worldwide have become increasingly dystopian. The climate emergency is engulfing us. Mainstream media runs to keep up, or cover up – who knows? – and yet governments continue to downplay it. The traditional response of the writer is to retreat into the bunker or ivory tower (depending on your circumstances), but world issues increasingly intrude. There are some things even we writers cannot ignore. In some ways, I’m glad this year is over, but I hope my hard work will show results in the next.
I’ve been mostly head-down studying. Acquiring the skill of screenwriting can be all consuming, and this year I gave in to that demand. I took four back-to-back Corey Mandell workshops. In between, I went on the Hollywood Field Trip in April, part meetings, part vacation. A bit of a luxury for me, but importantly, chances to meet execs and filmmakers working in the business and to learn what producers and companies are looking for in a script. No filters. This too, is part of the screenwriter’s learning curve. It’s no good working in a vacuum. We were a small group, and those people have become writing friends.
It’s Not All Slog
I was lucky enough to go on tours of Warner Bros Studios, Universal Studios, Hollywood, and an evening at the Griffith Observatory with an American friend. We arrived late afternoon, saw two shows in the planetarium and watched the sun go down over the vast spreading city of L.A., which lit up all the way between coast and mountains. Simply magic.
Learning Curve – Writer’s Version
Once back in Blighty, I buried myself in the study again. August and September passed in a blur of training exercises. October wasn’t my ‘norm’ either. During the year, I collected more writer friends online, and I went on a late summer trip to Europe to escape the cloying atmosphere of British politics and have a break from it. I swam daily in a warm sea, marvelled at new horizons and returned with a tan and a totally new story idea. There’s nothing quite like travel for inspiration.
Scratch that, start again
How will the new training pay off? You can’t know until you test it out. It seems a ‘rookie’ stage can accompany any learning curve, which shakes your confidence, but the only way to test your competence in the craft is to do the prep work and put it on the page. I constantly worry about not having enough output, but when you go back to school, it does slow you down. I’m currently working on the new script idea under the guidance of a writer/producer who plans to go into mentoring. Next in the queue are rewrites (2 features, 2 TV pilots) I need to finish before the London Screenwriters Festival comes round in April 2020. Hope to see you there.
To help you travel your own learning curve, new screenwriting books out this year include The Process: of Screenwriting by Clive Frayne, That’s Not The Way It Works by Bob Saenz, Write It Film It by William C. Martell, and for formatting, always check out Dave Trottier’s Screenwriter’s Bible. The 7th edition came out in August this year.
Talking of books, my story for bedtime reading and grown-ups who never grew up is, ta-dah, Flat Squirrel. I’d love you to buy it and a review would be even better. Amazon only requires a minimum of 20 words. My pocket-guide of tips for writers is Writing Fiction: What I Wish I’d Known When I Started. They’re both good stocking-fillers or small gifts.
Skill Up and Keep Going
Writing can be a lonely business and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by inner doubt and external crises. We often feel powerless to make a difference. In those times refer back to books and writing that changed the world. Movies do that, too. A movie powerful enough to get people thinking and talking about it can put important but forgotten issues back in the public eye. Today the British go to the polls for the most important general election since WW2. The result is harder to predict than ever, and will define our society for the next generation. Wordsmiths, write your truth, find your story and change the world. It’s one thing we writers can do. Keep at it.
Wishing you all happy holidays, wherever on the planet you happen to be.
Image of roller coaster courtesy of Picjumbo.