Friday, November 5, 2010

Fictionless Friday: Confessions of a Short Film Failure

Of all the projects on my creative to-do list, the one item that inspires the deepest feelings of panic, procrastination, and general malaise is the short film script I need to write. Actually, I have two on my list. One for an actress who wants to collaborate with me but is likely to run off and win an Academy Award any day now, so I need to hurry if I want to make it happen. The other is for an actor’s collective that I was supposed to deliver a month ago.

When I showed up at our last meeting empty handed, another actor guffawed in surprise. “And you’re a writer!” he teased. “I know!” I laughed in response, smacking myself comically on my forehead. Though inside, I was lashing myself on the back with a whip in total despair.

Short films are worthy artistic endeavors for so many reasons. They can be self-produced star vehicles. Opportunities for experimentation and education before embarking on a feature-length project. Exercises in different methods of storytelling. Basically, a great way to practice, practice, practice.

And yet I can’t get myself to think in short film mode and work on these scripts. None of my ideas can be wrapped up in 5-10 pages, and those that can feel flat and uneventful.

Perhaps it’s because mastering the art of writing short film feels like the exact opposite of the skills I’m trying to master as a television writer. I’m attempting to create a series with long-running arcs, character conflicts that can go back and forth for multiple seasons, and a world rich with an endless amount of stories to tell. A short film, by contrast, is a beginning, middle, and end, lickity-split. How exactly do I do that?

The worst part of having this block when it comes to writing short films is that the deceptive simplicity of the task creates a whopper of a self-doubting train of thought. If I can’t even write a 5-page script, how can I call myself a writer?

I have a friend who has ideas for short films all the time. He calls and tells me about his latest idea, and the next time I see him? Boom – he’s written it! Then I read it. Boom – it’s gold! 10 pages of genius and it’s only his first draft. Color me defeated.

How’s this for a short film idea? Self-flagellating writer can’t think of anything to write a short film about. She frets about it for a month with no tangible result. In the end, she blogs about it and vows to work on it tomorrow.

The end. For now.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Novice Novelist’s NaNoWriMo Notions

I’m writing my first novel this month.

Ambitious? Definitely.

Presumptuous? Perhaps.

Possible? Absolutely!

You see, I won’t be doing it alone. I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month (abbreviated as NaNoWriMo), an annual project that encourages and supports writers to write every day in November toward a singular goal – a 50,000-word original novel.

When I contemplate meeting this challenge, I go back and forth between thinking it will be an effortless flow of creative mojo or a guilt-drenched exercise in futility. 50,000 words in 30 days breaks down to 1,667 words a day. Considering my usual writing pace, that’s just under 2 hours a sitting. That shouldn’t be that difficult - I spend as many hours a day catching up on Hulu and DVR.

Until you consider the days I get invited to dinner with friends after work or the days when I feel about as creative as a tree stump and drown myself in Netflix Watch Instantly instead. Distractions that will hold painful consequences this month. Skipping just one day will mean 4 hours of writing the next. Hours will pile up like a dam if I’m not careful. This will be a solid exercise in discipline for me.

And really, that’s the most exciting part of NaNoWriMo. The goal is not to write 50,000 brilliant, ready-for-Kindle words that inspire and move even the coldest of hearts. The goal is just to write. No time for the inner critic to get in the way here. Even with a day job, I know I have plenty of time to write. This month, I challenge myself to give that time to myself and leave all distractions behind.

Plus, there’s plenty of inspiration from which I can draw. Last year, 32,178 writers successfully met the NaNoWriMo challenge. If they can do it, I can do it. And a slew of authors have had their NaNoWriMo works published, including Sara Gruen’s exquisite novel Water for Elephants,which will soon be seen as a feature film starring Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, and Christoph Waltz.

So here I go. I don’t even know what my novel will be about, but I’m ready and excited for the adventure. If you've done NaNoWriMo before, please leave your inspiring words of experience (or cautionary tales) in the Comments. See you in 30 days!