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.

Call yourself a writer?

The secret of my success: writing for the love of writing.

I’ve been writing scripts and stories since I was 13. Well, that’s not strictly true; to say that would make it sound like I’ve churned out pages and pages of storylines and characters every week for the past 17 years, and that simply isn’t true. For one thing, it could have been even longer.

writing advice

A writer’s desk, this afternoon. Not pictured: legible handwriting.

But I certainly do remember writing an episode of a sitcom when I was at high school about two young men going on holiday and trying to meet women – the only problem was I’d never been on holiday anywhere except Bridlington for my entire life up to that point, and so had to resort to what I imagined young men would get up to on holiday in Brid.

Fortunately from my memories it was pretty much the same thing I’d been doing up until that point anyway – playing arcade games and staring at girls, the only key differences among the menfolk being the presence of booze and the absence of parents.

Much as I’d love to say those scripts were either amazing or completely rubbish, I don’t remember much more than a couple of cheeky references to bands I liked at the time (like the song on the radio being performed by The Ugly North – see what I did there?) I do clearly remember though how much I loved writing them from that young age.

I never really thought of myself as a writer until recently because I’ve never got any distinctive level of recognition from it. I always thought that, to be a writer, you had to be published. However, that only makes you a published writer. A writer writes, and through the years I’ve certainly saved enough drafts, binned enough printouts and published enough blog posts both in a personal and professional capacity to be able to call myself a writer.

I do have something of a list of achievements in my career so far, but nothing makes me feel prouder or more accomplished than putting in a good shift. Not only did I manage to finish a novel some years ago, I even got up the nerve to submit it to a couple of agents. And while those responses weren’t ideal, at least I did it.

And whenever I look back on all my half-finished scripts and half-started novels saved on my computer, I always take heart that although I don’t yet have the discipline to finish something I’ve started – or for that matter, the time to develop that discipline (the finished novel came about during a prolonged period of unemployment so I certainly had the time, if not the discipline due to that damn Playstation 2) – I’m rarely lacking for ideas. The fact that I’ve managed to keep up with maintaining a blog for over two years now definitely counts for something too.

And as such, that’s really the only advice I can give. If you want to be a writer, you should start by writing. The rest will follow.