Restraint of Pen and Tongue – Great for Life, Bad for Scripts

I’m a 4 am writer. I love the quiet, the darkness, the lack of ringing phones and pressing business. It’s just me, my two sleeping dogs, and my laptop.

One of my mantras is “stay off the internet,” but I’m not always that strong. Especially if I’m waiting to hear from someone.

The days I go straight to my dropbox and don’t even open Google Chrome are the best. I get so much done, and barely even think a thought that isn’t about the world I am creating. But the days when I check my email… I get distracted. I want to interact with real people, think about my day and share my thoughts. Sometimes, I feel lonely and anxious and write emails I might regret later. On the worst days, I get into a neurotic anxiety spiral and share it with whomever I reach out to.

Long ago, I first heard the phrase “restraint of tongue and pen.” When I remember that, I benefit greatly, and the place I need to remember it most is when I’m emailing someone. It seems so important to say what I want to say, and it’s so easy for the person on the other end not to understand, to misconstrue, to take something personally that was never meant that way, or just to think I’m a mess. Invariably when I let my emotions take over, I regret it. Then I’m embarrassed at best, and at worst, I’ve hurt someone’s feelings.

In my screenplays, however, I can let myself go. My characters can say what they need to say and take the consequences. It’s all up to me. Early in the process, when I’m writing a first draft, I may have a tendency to hold back, limit the suffering I put my characters through. In rewrites, one of the first questions I ask myself is “Where do I back off, and how far can I push it?”

One time, a trusted mentor read a draft of one of my scripts in progress. He asked me why I had skipped from the beginning of a meal to the end when there was a potential for so much interesting interaction. The surprising answer (even to me) was that I did it because I wanted to save the actors from having to eat during the scene. Of course, his response was that they are actors and they love to be tortured. Otherwise they don’t think they are doing their jobs! He was kidding, but you have to admit he had a point. Why else would they gravitate towards roles with the widest emotional range and the greatest physical torment?

One of the things I often notice when covering scripts for beginning writers, is the tendency not to let the main character suffer. Most early screenplays are somewhat autobiographical. The writer wants the main character to be liked and understood, therefore is afraid to let him or her act out. Then, because it’s them, they don’t want them to suffer.  I always remind them that flawed characters are most human and that’s why we love them, and the more they suffer along the way, the more we want them to succeed. So go ahead, let the nun get raped, the thief get caught and the diver hit his head on the rock. Just don’t do it in an email!

Check in on Screenwriting

I was distressed to discover that it’s been almost a year since I’ve blogged. Certain life events interfered with the process for me, and it’s only now that things have settled down that I can commit to blogging on a regular basis.

One of the main occurrences was a job in a production company in midtown, where I am a part-time receptionist. Even working part time after not working for a while changed my schedule enough to cause major repercussions. I’m once again searching for a full-time job, so it will be interesting to see how much impact that has on me.

The first thing that went out the window after I started the job was my writing. I had always been a morning writer and now I have to leave the house at 6:45 to be at my desk by eight. I was already getting up at 5:30 and couldn’t imagine getting up any earlier. I tried to get the writing in later in the day, but no matter how committed I felt, there were many days it never happened. Eventually I realized that if I didn’t want to give up writing entirely, I’d have to get up at 4.  Since last Christmas I’ve been writing from 4 to 6 am. It’s become my favorite time of day, and I wouldn’t give it up for the world. I still try to get some more writing in later in the day, as well as on the weekends, but if life intervenes, at least I got that time in.

I hardly feel qualified to give advice to anyone, but when I look back over my blog, it seems preachy and know-it-all. I’ve decided to just keep the focus on myself and let any readers in on my process, rather than trying to teach anything. If it helps someone, that’s great.

Today I’m working on a new original pilot, and I have a final draft needed on my Sci-fi pilot. I have a couple of specs and an abandoned feature. There have been a few more false starts. I’m still a beginner. The only difference is, now I know enough to realize it. I’m working towards a body of work that I feel good about, and then I hope to win a contest and/or find an agent. I’ve applied for the network fellowships for the third year in a row.

If, as they say, the journey is more important than the destination, then I’m doing great. I can’t deny, though, that I have a burning desire to be staffed on a TV drama. Until that day, I’ll be logging my 10,000 hours.

The next thing I have to fit in is getting to the gym on a regular basis.

Thanks for reading, and keep writing!