Wednesday, 29 February 2012

"Butter over too much bread"

My blog has been getting a lot of action from Twitter recently. Some of my followers have been retweeting my posts, and my last post was even included in an issue of (on-line periodical) The Mexico Daily. I am well chuffed about this.

It was one of my twitter followers' retweets that inspired me to write this post (that and the fact that I haven't cooked anything this week). The wonderful @Sharliebel (whom I recommend you follow), mentioned my book in her retweet.

If you view my twitter profile (@dogrove), you'll see my bio reads "I am writing a screenplay about Hell. It's no longer a workplace comedy. I'm also writing a book about Mexican food."
The workplace comedy thing is an inside joke, but @Sharliebel's retweet reminded me that I'm meant to be dividing my writing time equally between the Mexican food book and the screenplay. But I'm not. The Mexican food book has completely taken over.

The last time I posted about writing, rather than cooking, I mentioned that I had got stuck in what screenwriters would call Sequence 6. After fastidiously sticking to my writing schedule (writing every night, Sunday through Thursday -- because even amateur writers need a weekend), I have solved the Sequence 6 problem as far as the Mexican food book is concerned. A lot of that writing was literally writing about why I was stuck and what I wanted in terms of plot progression. I spent several nights writing about writing, and in the end, I once again had a clear path to the end of my novel.

Meanwhile my screenplay, Hell, is still stuck in the same sequence.

Originally, I had planned to quickly (!?!) bash out a "treatment" of the novel, and then write another sequence of the screenplay. Then I would start the character profiles for the novel, then write another sequence of the screenplay. Then do a chapter outline for the novel. Then back to the screenplay. And so on.

Well, that was in September 2011. I haven't revisited the screenplay since. Naughty me.

I am a bit annoyed with myself, actually, because I've been working on that screenplay since late 2007, and I still haven't finished it. It's one of the most commercial ideas I've ever had (four teenagers find themselves in Hell and have to get out, loosely inspired by Dante's Inferno), and I'm sure I could have finished it by now. But things keep getting in the way -- or I keep letting them.

To start with, before my daughter was born, I continued to (try to) write as if I were still a college undergrad, even though once I had a full-time job, my free time shrank by about 90%. Please take a lesson from this, aspiring writers who are still at Uni: once you get a day job, you will have to write through the inevitable exhaustion.

But stubborn me was still intent on writing only when "inspiration" hit, which it never does after work or on the weekend after a 40-hour week. And even if it did, you wouldn't have time to write. You'd be too busy sorting out boring things you would not believe you will have to care about: flat-pack furniture, pensions, tax credits, the colour of your bedroom walls, whether you can get a dishwasher into your tiny kitchen. These are things that have probably never ended up in a book (though some of them have ended up in Arab Strap songs) but they will become part of your life, whether you like it or not. So you have to write around them.

I should have been doing back then what I do now: writing a bit everyday before bed, at least five days a week. It's not romantic, but it gets results.

The other reason I've been neglecting my screenplay, though, may be that I'm getting bored with it. The protagonist is a sullen teenage boy, much like I used to be, and I'm tired if writing about sullen teenagers (no offence, by the way, because they can make great characters). Almost all my high-school writing was about such teenagers, and my first book was about a sullen 21-year-old, which isn't really that different. But now that I'm in my 30s, I feel like writing about adults. We're people too, though we may not be very pretty or interesting.

Another thing that makes Esteban more exiting to write about is that he and and I don't actually have that much in common. Every aspect of Esteban's history and personality is something I have to delve into and discover for myself, rather than taking for granted that "he would do/say/feel/think what I would."

In fact, I probably have more in common with Esteban's wife Linzi than I do with Esteban himself.
I can't recall reading this anywhere, but I wouldn't be surprised if writing advice guides tell you not to write more than one major thing at a time. Right about now I'm wondering if it is possible to devote enough time to both projects. Is this Mexican food book just going to keep pushing my screenplay into the background? Have I spread myself too thin? Will Hell ever see the light of day? This is starting to sound like the end of a Batman episode, I do have two sequels planned. 

For now, though I have to finish the treatment. Having planned out sequences 6 through 8, I have to write them down. Then the temptation will be to jump right into the character sketches. But I may find time to go to hell again in between. We'll just have to see.