Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Hard Lessons Learned From Writing My Last Pilot

Finishing my last pilot script was frustratingly tough for me. Finding time to write outside of my 12-hour work days was a big challenge. And when I did have time to write, generating creative inspiration in my exhausted state wasn't always easy. Getting sleep was never a more precious commodity.

Committing to my 365 project of writing every day this year helped me maintain some semblance of consistency, but this damn script has still felt like an albatross on my shoulders for months, pecking at my brain and squawking about how much I suck as a writer.

And that's not what writing should feel like.

So now that the script is finally done, I'm taking this opportunity to look back at the hard lessons I've learned along the way and committing to doing things differently in the future. Because oh no... I'm not doing this again... EVER...

Hard Lesson #1 - I need to write faster.
I started brainstorming this idea in July of 2015. I finished readable drafts on 11/17/2015, 01/22/2016, and 03/15/16. 8 months from start to finish is unacceptable. Broadcast networks develop brand new pilot scripts in 3 months or less!

Next time, I'm putting myself on a strict deadline schedule and not letting things drag out.

Hard Lesson #2 - I need to get to script faster.
3 full months of my 8 month writing time was spent working on the outline phase, which turned out to be a waste of my time since there were so many things I didn't figure out until I got to the script phase. Continuing to write and rewrite my outline for so long was just another way for me to procrastinate. There are plenty of writers who never write outlines before diving into script.

Next time, I'm allowing myself two drafts of an outline tops - a first draft and a revision. That's it. Then I need to start writing the script. And speaking of procrastinating...

Hard Lesson #3 - I need to stop giving in to fear.
I gave myself way too much permission to procrastinate on this project. Justifying my stalling with complaints about my long hours and sleep deprivation. Reasoning with myself and allowing myself to ignore what I had to do.

But I know the truth - all procrastination is fear. Fear was the root issue under all of my procrastination. Fear my story sucked, fear I would be found out as a giant fraud, fear of people telling me they were shocked I was such a terrible writer - these fears consumed my every waking moment.

And the worst part is I listened to all of them. I allowed myself to believe my fears and stepped away from my keyboard so they wouldn't come true. Which is ridiculous because by stepping away, I was doing the biggest thing that would ensure my fears came true.

Next time, I'm not giving in to those thoughts. The only thought I need in my brain is, "What do I want to create today?"

Hard Lesson #4 - My perfectionism is crushing me.
Seriously, it's not good. I beat myself up so much, I should have a frickin' gold MMA belt or whatever the big prize is in that world. I blame my academic overachieving upbringing for teaching me that a perfect score is always the goal.

The truth is there is no "perfect" in writing. A script evolves to a finishing point, not a perfect score. Next time, I'm giving myself full permission to be imperfect.

These were hard but important lessons for me to learn and I'm taking them into the future with an open heart and mind. Thankfully, I did have a few good takeaways that were the silver lining to my experience --

Happy Lesson #1 - I'm getting better at character and dialogue.
Those were my biggest weakness after breaking up with my former writing partner. 9 pilot scripts later, my characters are finally jumping off the page and sounding like real people. Not quite Rob Thomas/iZombie level cleverness yet, but much better than when I started.

Happy Lesson #2 - Writing groups are my best tool for success. 
My writing groups were invaluable for getting feedback and finding new ways to attack a script that I was steady hating throughout. They also gave me deadlines, encouragement and support. Hooray for writers supporting other writers!

Happy Lesson #3 - Soundtrack music is my jam. 
Listening to instrumental film scores helped me focus and concentrate, and a full album cycle was a great way to do a writing sprint. The soundtracks that got the most play during this script writing process included Outlander, Jurassic World, and X-Men First Class. Thank you Bear McCreary, Michael Giacchino, and Henry Jackman!

Now that this script is done, I can finally embark on my self-imposed challenge of writing 6 scripts in 2016. With 290 days left in the year, that works out to a script every 48 days or so, i.e. - a script every 7 weeks. Ha!

Let's get started...

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