Finished the first draft, now what?

I’ve done it. I’ve finished writing a first draft. But now I’m supposed to put it away for weeks and I just don’t want to, despite this advice:

…[W]rite the first draft as quickly as you can. Don’t worry about quality. Just get to ‘The End’.

Put the script in a drawer and forget about it for a few weeks. Work on something else in the meantime.

Once you return to the script, you’ll be reading it fresh. Like a stranger. You’ll immediately know what works and what doesn’t.

Writing a proud achievement

If forced to think of one at gunpoint, I’d tell you that my life’s ambition is to write for a TV programme or film.

Given that I’ve spent my entire life watching sitcoms – some of my earliest childhood memories are of watching The Simpsons and Red Dwarf with my dad – I like to think I’ve spent my entire life building up the courage and analytical eye I need to write one myself.

Along with that, the internet is an absolutely amazing tool to have at your disposal, for finding advice and guidance from the masters of the craft.

I’d definitely count Graham Linehan among these sage men and women – he’s contributed to some of the funniest things I’ve ever watched.

But there are parts of the advice he’s seen fit to dispense (above) which I myself have found impossible to follow. Partly through my own sense of OCD but also through my struggle to get something down on the page, it’s been a long path towards my very own finished first draft.

The Waiting Game

We’ll skip over the fact that it’s taken me nigh-on a year of false starts, false finishes and fevered re-imaginings of the basic setups, world-building and character counts to arrive at something approaching a first draft of this particular story.

But every time I’ve ever finished something else that I can call a first draft, I find it extremely difficult to put it away and forget about it.

Even without reading the script right now, I know there’s a line that needs fixing, or a joke that needs to land a bit cleaner. It’s annoying because I’ve been building these scenes in my head. I don’t know them off by heart but I do know the gist. What if I come back to the script, and it’s been built so differently in my head during the time away from it? What if it’s already different on paper after just one nail-biting night away? Maybe I should go take a look, just to make sure.

That’s the whole point, though – I need to wait; to try and forget what I wrote, so that in two weeks or so I can give it a thorough read through and immediately set about fixing it up.

waiting game

But…I just can’t do it. I can’t let go. I’m still just getting to know these people. I feel like they still have the ability to surprise me. I’ll think about my favourite scene and immediately try to imagine if it should be longer, or shorter, or have more or less people in it, or work out if I need another joke or two.

Not reading the script isn’t going to be enough, because I still have it in my head.

So…how to get it out?

Distraction pieces

Well, there’s the two games I bought on Steam today, for a start. And there’s the Mario speedruns on Twitch which me and the wife have recently got into watching. I would watch more CS:GO tournaments just for fun – but that’s another danger because I’ve been watching them for research. I might suddenly get an idea and need to go running back to my draft.

I appreciate Linehan’s advice for what it is – but in this relatively early stage of my mission I can’t help but wonder if there’s some quick fix I can apply to my script that would make me feel much better about leaving my characters and plots to their own devices for a couple of weeks. I’ll still be sure to write down any brand new ideas for later development, but I’m getting itchy just sitting here writing this. I’ve done it in the vain hope of diversion, but writing about how desperate I am to revisit a script barely a day after writing it, is just making me want to read it more.

If I still smoked proper cigarettes, I would’ve definitely been out on my stoop at 1.30am last night, celebrating the completion of my first story. But less than a day later and I’m already itching to get back in there.

Maybe I will just take a peek. A quick one. And then I’ll mark the day on my calendar.

Creating for its own sake

I don’t really know where to start.

I’ll start with what someone else said while he was trying to come to terms with a big decision. (We’ll miss you, Murf:)

“I do not want to feel like every single activity or experience I do needs to be carefully screened in case I can extract a blog post out of it.”

Life vs stuff

Whenever I get deep enough into a new game (No Man’s Sky), or halfway through the book I’m reading (Fight Club 2), my mental focus shifts itself from consuming what it is I’m actually experiencing into how I’d explain those feelings in a blog post.

being creative

Basically before I’ve finished seeing, reading or hearing something, I’m already reviewing it in my head in case I can drag a good 500 words out of the experience. And because of this (albeit small) mental shift, I feel like maybe I’m missing out on enjoying something for its own sake.

When I first started playing and absolutely loving No Man’s Sky, I knew it would inspire me to write a post I could be proud of – but that’s still somewhat missing the point. If you’re playing the game yourself, or are still trying to decide whether or not it’s worth a purchase, you’ll already have that information in hand. Not saying my views will sway you either way – it’s possible they actually could because everyone sees things differently – but that would not be my chief aim.

But because Alpha Signal Five has become less about the life experiences, and more about the stuff experiences, I’ve always got an eye on the next published post rather than the next finished book or completed game. I never really noticed it until just recently and, truthfully, it slightly diminishes the return I get from consuming stuff in the first place. It isn’t my intention to tell anyone anything, more just to put the words out there for my own benefit.

Express yourself

For me, writing is a way to express myself because it’s too difficult to do out loud. When I used to do stand-up, I found writing the material was so much more satisfying than actually being onstage delivering it. More often than not I’d mess up a set-up or punchline because it looked much better on paper.

As long as I continue to have something to say, it makes things easier. But it feels less and less worthwhile to post reviews on what I play or read or watch. That’s nothing to do with the sheer amount of material online doing the exact same thing – I never minded that there’s a hundred thousand other bloggers pressing Publish on their NMS reviews right this second – but just of how little relief I’ve recently started to feel for pressing Publish myself. It used to be a means to an end; a way to wrap up all the feelings and thoughts I had about something, post it online and be done with it.

Because I want to be more creative, though, maybe that’s not the way to go about it. Maybe all those thoughts and feelings need to stay a bit more loose and flowing in my head, so I can try and fashion something out of them for my own more creative purposes.

Example: I’ve been trying to write a script about video gamers for a few months now. I’ve been watching as many documentaries and reading as many books on the subject as I can – from death by addiction to eSports players – in an attempt to shape something together. If I were just to review those programmes and books, then I’d feel like I was done with them when publishing each post, and I don’t want to be done with them.

“God, Kermode, your hands are MASSIVE”

Nor did I ever want to be a reviewer; I just wanted to see new things and use this site to squee about the best ones. But looking back it’s as clear as day, right down to the final paragraph where I’ll invariably sum up by saying whether or not I recommend it.

Outside of telling my friends “aww mate, you NEED to watch that” (Mr Robot), I don’t want to place myself anywhere near a spot which may or may not go towards making up your mind whether or not to do or buy something. It isn’t me.

I just need an outlet. I’ll always need an outlet. I’ve even started making music on my laptop. But I don’t know if that’s the right one either. So I suppose I’ll just keep trying to find the right one. I need to read and write for their own sake, and adjust my own expectations of creating.

Forgive the jumble. I kinda needed to get that off my chest.

Screenwriting to pass the Bechdel Test

As long as I can remember, I’ve been writing scripts. Some of them have been made into short films and 60-second plays. Most of them haven’t.

Having read and enjoyed some of my dad’s own screenwriting efforts as a kid, I think I was about 10 when I had my first ever crack at a sitcom; it featured two men, best friends, going on holiday to sunny Bridlington to meet girls. Sadly, being 10 years old, knowledge of the location was just about the only strength I had at the time, not so much the nuances of characterisation, plot and dialogue, much less the whole ‘meeting girls’ thing, and what went on between fully grown-ass men and women.

scripts

Two decades on, and the only thing that’s put me off writing more than fear of rejection is the actual rejection.

My last effort, ‘Come Home’ was a sitcom about two men and a woman, best friends from school, whose lives hadn’t panned out the way they wanted. Now each being fully grown-ass men and woman themselves, they were regressing to the comfort of the town they grew up in to lick their wounds. The pilot had everything; slapstick, origin stories and most of all, charming interplay between genders.

The BBC Writersroom scheme did not agree.

I’m working on something a bit different now, and for all the online articles I’m reading and books filling my shelves, there’s only so much I can learn about plot and structure before I’m actually supposed to get on with it.

More than being funny, more than being entertaining, more than anything I just want my work to feel natural, and to that end I’ve been reading about the Bechdel Test.

The Bechdel Test (or the Bechdel-Wallace test)

First laid out by cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985, the rules for what she herself prefers to call the Bechdel-Wallace test, as explained by one of her characters are as follows:

  • The piece must portray at least two (named) women,
  • Talking to each other,
  • About anything other than a man.

It wasn’t supposed to be taken seriously in its original form, but having found its way into academia in subsequent years, the Bechdel-Wallace test now serves as a pretty brilliant and simple measure of equal representation in the arts. You’d be stunned how many films (and games) fail this test – there’s a database tracking the results here.

(According to the website, films which don’t pass the test released in 2015 include Fantastic Four, Ex Machina and Ant-Man. Films I love which, also according to the website don’t happen to pass the test include High Fidelity, Swingers and Fight Club. The first film I love that did pass my completely random searches is Empire Records.)

Think about that for a minute. All those films you love. All those films which get produced without managing to include something so simple as two women having a chat about the weather, or their favourite food, or their hopes and dreams.

I don’t even want to get into what this says about Hollywood’s attitude to equal representation, about women’s supposed inability to further a story, or about the fact that it isn’t physically possible for a female film character to exist without wondering out loud about anything but her male love interest.

I don’t even.

Passing the Bechdel Test (by not knowing there is one)

Fortunately for me, before I’d even started giving myself anxiety over the fact that maybe film and TV have subconsciously given me funny ideas about women;  before I’d even resolved to fix this potential pitfall of inequality and awkward attitudes to women by familiarising myself with the Bechdel Test and making sure I passed it as soon as possible in my story…

…I started reading back the latest draft of my latest script and realised I’d already done it.

On page fucking one.

With an extremely early morning phone call between an insomniac video editor and her half-asleep friend, about the video that the former has been up all night creating.

Oh shit, the video’s about a bloke.

Only kidding. It’s about aliens in a video game. Nearly had you there.

And before I could separate my shoulder by patting myself on the back too much, I realised that the best way of passing this test is to pretend it doesn’t exist.

In writing what I hope is natural conversation between two people, it should logically follow that some of that natural conversation is going to be between two women, and it’s not going to be about a man.

I’m not trying to strike a blow for feminism, I’m just trying to be a better writer. Knowing things like this will hopefully help me to achieve that.

Right, it’s after 3am. Now that I’ve cracked out 800 words about equality, maybe I should try to overcome that other famous obstacle to screenwriting – procrastination from writing the damn thing.

Writing and the art of poor self-discipline

I held off on publishing this for a few hours because I didn’t really want to put out such a negative assessment of my attitudes and aptitudes towards writing, when it’s obviously not something I feel all the time. Then I decided after another three hours at home spent not writing, to publish it anyway. Just remember, I hesitated on this one.

‘I could create / like it was stealing’ – Reuben, ‘Suffocation of the Soul’

With various writing projects on the go at any one time, I’m a victim of my own overly-active brain, juggling story ideas and fresh blog material. When it comes time to commit to paper or screen though, there’s ten things I’d rather be doing which are just avoidance tactics.

Ironically enough, it feels like what I’m doing here in writing a blog post about avoidance tactics is, in itself, an avoidance tactic.

writing self discipline

Poor self-discipline

You see, I have very poor self-discipline. I’m almost certain that it’s a perfectly normal trait for a self-confessed geek to have – a short attention span comes with the territory when on the hunt for the next shiny thing – but for someone who writes not only nine-to-five but in spades of my spare time as well it can’t be good.

My current problem is even more annoying – I’m trying to write a script and I just don’t have the patience to get it all down while my characters are furiously arguing over stuff in my head.

So when I fill up almost an entire lunch hour trying to scribble it all down, it feels immensely satisfying knowing that some of the process has been completed. With a notepad just about full to bursting, I’m ready to get home from work and start typing up – once I’ve had dinner with my lady and talked about our days, plus fitting in an episode of whatever programme we’re in deep with (Marvel’s Agent Carter was fantastic, since you asked), I should be ready to make a coffee and get cracking with the creative stuff.

So that’s what I try to do.

Eyes off the clock

But take last night as an example: knowing that I’ve got an evening to myself I get home fully intending to write up or just write some pages, but instead of hitting the home office I watch Wrestling With Shadows, a documentary about Bret Hart and the Montreal Screwjob filmed as it happened.

Knowing that I’ll have an hour and a half left of my evening before Zoë comes home from work after the film’s finished, I spend 20 minutes trying to make a video of me laughing scornfully at something Vince McMahon says during the film. (I rarely make videos. I think I really was stalling for time here.)

With an hour left, and seeing as my PS4’s already switched on – y’know, just for the sake of convenience – I load up Rocket League and promise myself I’ll just have one five-minute game.

Five games later, three of which I lost, I’m left unsatisfied with the gaming session and decide that now I’ll get that time back by writing.

Lessons learned

I type up what I scribbled during the day, and before I know it I’ve no time left to go from transcribing to actual writing. I failed to use my time wisely, and although I’m not about to regret the time spent relaxing earlier, I do curse a wasted opportunity to create.

But there’s the rub. Keeping a constant eye on the clock like I did last night doesn’t help at all; creating is hard enough without feeling the pressure of time.

I think that these two things might be the secret to self-discipline; ease off on the guilt and be confident that I will create without the need to time my progress.

Do you agree? What are your tips for writing self-discipline?