My (Un)Productive Quarantine: Why Attempting to Write a Screenplay Has Taken Longer Than I Thought
Updated: May 30, 2020
So for the last two months and a half I have been buckling down and working on my screenplay. I know the story, it’s something coming from a real place, it’s got a blend of humour and drama and I hate every word of it. Simple.
"...my impeccable skill at laziness..."
I put off starting for ages because I felt overwhelmed with what I could work on, feeling like I should be working on something and being frightened of ruining it. Then finding a space to write and environment that suited me dragged it out even further. There were lot's of things I distracted myself with which I still do now. Self-doubt is a major factor in my reservations about writing but so is my impeccable skill at laziness: distractions from the internet, Telly, my to-watch pile and my to-read pile have all somehow held me back in the last few years. And enriched me. The latter two are both very effective in improving storytelling, especially reading, whether writing for film or a novel. Reading is key. Or so I tell myself as I indulge in a Stephen King doorstop. But I am not so disciplined as to cut these things out completely. Now they are what I look forward to after a session. My hindrance is that there is not enough hours in the day.
"Quarantine or not, writing is hard."
But some days I don’t hate it; some days there are scenes that just sit just right whilst others I just know what I’m doing with the words and the characters and everyone is behaving correctly. Nothing has been smooth sailing, and never let anyone make you think that it is. Quarantine or not, writing is hard.
I spent the first week planning, although I had thought so much about it that this did not take me too long. Rearranging everyone, getting to know everyone and flesh out something that was workable. It started feeling good. I even wrote little short stories for the characters to get to know them better and feel out the vibe. Characters that wouldn’t even feature prominently mattered and do matter because that way you know the tone for everyone, right from the start. As someone who enjoys writing for film and prose, it’s an amazing tool to use for yourself even if no one ever sees them.
"...I cut the first forty pages."
The next two to three weeks, I wrote and wrote and wrote. And hated everything. I was so bored with what I was writing and that was when it was apparent that this wasn’t working. I set a keystone in the story, a turning point for me; if I reached this point, I would see if any of this was worth saving. And I got there, and everything after was more interesting to me. So I cut the first forty pages.
Those forty pages sent me into a chasm of self-doubt and worry to me. Forty pages, forty minutes of a film was a lot to lose and although so mundane the battle with my self-confidence began again. So concerned was I that I now only had twelve pages after weeks of work (The forty pages I saved into a separate document, hidden away for no one but myself to find), I had the internal battle of move on or restore the pages to make me feel better. The latter option was temporary relief which would come full circle when I remembered what I hadn’t been working. But the former option let me work with the information I had as context to enhance my writing. This was a difficult decision for me.
"If you finish it, you can change it."
Eventually after turmoil, pacing and frantic panic, I chose to press on with my measly twelve pages. My goal was a blend of: get past forty pages, finish and write something I liked. Once again, it was going well. The characters I was now left with were more interesting to have interact; the situation had more conflict, mystery and challenge. It was just kind of working. Not everything I wrote I could honestly say was worth thinking about but I kept reminding myself: If you finish it, you can change it.
That’s all that has kept me going. Finish a draft. Because they are right, the good ideas are there but never come through in the first go. Yet, those ideas don’t vanish. Sometimes they need to be reworked in if something is changeable. Sometimes you’ve left them out because they don’t fit in this story. That’s all right too; better to save it for the right story than to shoe-horn it into the wrong one.
"...the fear of messing up [has] dragged the process of writing this script out..."
All this thought process is healthy but did not come easy and still doesn’t. Because I have to remind myself of this every day. The self-doubt, the crippling lack of confidence and the fear of messing up have dragged the process of writing this script out longer than I had anticipated. But I keep going and still want to write and finish it and after all of this, that’s a nice feeling. I’m under no illusion that this story is all I have. I’m capable of more, and maybe when I finish the script I’ll feel that more often. Feel like I can do it. Feel like with each project, I get better as a writer. No matter what the world makes you think, you are allowed to keep learning and you don't have to be perfect.
I have the last two acts to write and a segment in the middle needs re-working with some further additions. Once done, the edit can begin. It feels like it should be done before Quarantine is over, but if I can’t do that, I will still finish it, in time. Even that thought fills me with anxiety, like I’ve failed if I don’t complete it. But I have to stop and think: I will. And then I can edit something and make it better; fix all the stuff that I don’t like that is flying through my head right now at a million miles an hour, trying to overwhelm, scaring me into submission. Because that’s where I’ll learn. And have something I can be proud of.
As they say, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ and a story isn’t a story until it’s told.