Thursday, January 04, 2007

Writerwatch

START AT THE BOTTOM...

19:00 The end - I'm off to do the washing up, but cleaning the fridge can wait. I hope this all answers the eternal question about how I spend my days. Though it does perhaps raise some other questions. It's actually been quite useful in making me describe what I'm doing and why, but also a bit distracting and time-consuming. Though I’m sure that having to account for every minute means I’ve wasted less time than I usually do. (I still did quite a bit of web browsing though.)

In a final push I managed 444 words on Project MF (to the end of the speed dating scene, albeit roughly), some useful editing on the radio project (a glass half-full way of saying I threw some words away), and I walked 1426 paces, some way off the 10,000 recommended (though I think my pedometer doesn't work properly). I did however write over 3,800 words here, which is easily the most words I’ve written in a day.

I bought light bulbs, but my email problems are unresolved. I emailed friends (though one was a frustrating “I don’t know” reply, so it’s still in my inbox). No notes on children’s show #1, but that can wait till next week if necessary, and I’m well prepared for show #2.

I do hope that none of you committed suicide as a result of this. But why so few trains? Why? The afternoon usually has up to half a dozen.

The main thing that I have learnt is that I get distracted very very... Ooh look! Something shiny!

18:20 OK, music off, email to email people sent. Final push. 40 minutes of the worst men to meet at speed dating. Hang on, I've just had an email of a picture of someone's baby. OK, starting... now!

17:59 Who'd have thought that writing down everything you do would be so time-consuming? Just had another funny German chocolate and emailed a friend thanking him for a Christmas present. Worried about the non-appearance of notes, so I'm about to look up how to read email message headers as I think that my email providers are lying. Have sort of accepted that I'm not going to write anything more today. Listening to a Christmas CD - The Auteurs' last album. I can't listen to music when I work which is a shame. Because I can't concentrate. Haha. Imagine how bad I'd be if I did.

17:10 Where did the last hour go? It can't all have been on the web. I've found some character notes I made earlier, and although I don't have all the answers, I do at least have some of the questions. I got my rhyming dictionary out to see if I could come up with the name of a loyalty card for someone who goes to lots of dating events, along the lines of Frequent Flyer, but I couldn't. There's an obvious alliterative one that I passed on.

I had picked today as Writerwatch as I thought it would be more interesting, with a variety of work - I am expecting some notes back on the main children's show that I am working on. It's my bread and butter work at the moment in that I've got a rolling contract, but by "bread" I mean "quite thinly sliced", and by "butter" I mean "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter". Each month I expect the phone to not ring. So it looks like I will have to explain the joys of that process another day. Perhaps they have been delayed by my email providers. The best note that I have ever had back (on a different show) was "Why not make it funny?"

And there hasn't been a train for hours.

16:12 Not going too badly, though the friend may as well be wearing crotchless knickers and a T-shirt saying "I am a slapper", and the protagonist seems to be shocked at the thought that anyone has had sex ever. Not sure what her problem is. Is she too romantic? Too impractical? Are her standards too high? Is it possible for an attractive, reasonably well-balanced woman (though a bit too interested in reading) to have got to 29 without having sex (even in the unrealistic world of a romantic comedy)? Or at least casual sex? OK, ditch that, maybe she has - perhaps an Unsuitable Man put her off relationships. Or she thought she had perfection, but lost it, and now no one comes close. He died? No - too much. And what does this pairing of women say about me? Hmm...

The "My Sex Change Disaster" book title doesn't work - why would a romantic book shop stock this? Still, I've written 275 words and am now well on to page 4. And I've confronted the "CLICHE CLICHE" voice by just acknowledging it and writing about it here. The downside being that this first bit is the easiest bit. And when I've done this stuff before I've managed 8 pages a day. I'll carry on, then maybe write some character biographies (I can never seem to do these without making the characters do something first).

15:10 Right, I've emailed my friend saying I'll check with my girlfriend re holiday dates, made a cup of tea, filled my water glass and resolved to ignore the washing up and the fact that the fridge needs cleaning. Nothing can distract me now.

14:58 That's better. Interesting things on the bank statement:
1. When PayPal verify your account they make two small payments into your bank account. If you can confirm the value of these, then it shows that it's your bank account. But PayPal never charge you for these. I accidentally deleted my PayPal account last month (a long story), and had to set it up again and re-verify it. I am now an extra 18p + 4p richer. Ker-ching! I could just keep doing this.
2. I signed up for LoveFilm's introductory offer where you get a month's free membership and they pay you £10. I watched five films for free, cancelled before sending the fourth one back and am now £10 up. Ker-ching!

14:38 TRAIN! EWS class 66 (it is usually a class 60) pulling kerosene tankers from left to right past my window. I know that they are kerosene because one day I, er, got a bit distracted and looked up the 3Y 1863 hazchem code. This one goes past every day at about this time (except Sundays). I think that I will stop blogging about trains now. Unless a particularly unusual one goes past.

I am also desperate to put my bank statement away as it looks untidy on my desk, but before I can do that I have to work out some joint account stuff. I like to follow the rule that you should only touch paperwork once, ie not keep picking it up and putting it down again, but to immediately do the thing that you are meant to do with it, so long as it takes just a few minutes, then file it forever. This is how Sir Alan Sugar works. Perhaps I need an apprentice? Sod it - I'm not very creative in the afternoon anyway.

14:24 Back from lunch (organic red pepper and chickpea pate with cherry tomatoes on wholemeal bread (including a crust - I am the only person in this flat who eats the crusts), a satsuma clementine tangerine mandarin small orange fruit and a strange but not unpleasant German chocolate). But it was a working lunch - I watched an episode of a children's show that I am hoping to start work on next week, thus answering the third most common question that people ask me - "Do you just watch children's television all day?"

13:43 I am back with my lightbulbs. Three energy saving ones at £7.99 each to replace ones above our bookcases that keep blowing, but should work out cheaper in the long run. I'll keep the receipt though. 1044 extra paces, but before any stalkers start drawing 522 pace radii around north-west London branches of Homebase I don't think my pedometer is working properly. I only put it on today to make this more interesting (I know), but some basic counting showed a problem, as did the fact that I appeared to take many more steps coming back. Nothing interesting or amusing happened en route, though a man approaching me on the pavement did say hello to someone behind me, and I briefly wondered why he was talking to me. But I worked out what was going on before I returned his greeting.

13:00 Break for lunch. I have written 124 words on Project MF, but -66 on the radio thing leaves just 58. Perhaps I shouldn't do the subtraction. It's the words you throw away that makes the John West salmon the best. I have, however, written 2276 words here. I don't usually do word counts - now I know why. I've definitely spent less time than usual semi-aimlessly web browsing (eg confirming the opening two lines to Sleepless in Seattle), but mainly because I would be embarrassed to record how much I had done if I did my usual amount. And whilst analysing my writing process has been quite useful, it has also been quite disruptive and time-consuming having to document whenever I have a thought. Or get distracted.

My pedometer shows that I have only walked 157 paces, so I'm going to buy some light bulbs.

12:36 Or maybe the protagonist says defiantly that a man came in to sign his book just the other day. And the friend says, "What, [BOOK TITLE]?" where [BOOK TITLE] is something that implies he's not someone a woman would view as a great catch, eg "My Disastrous Sex Change Operation" or "How To Be Celibate" or "Out and Proud - Growing Up Gay". It needs some polishing, but it's a bit better as the friend could pick up a copy of the book disdainfully, making it a more visual joke. But this is all for the rewrites - I must carry on and not get distracted. (Writing down everything you do all day is a great way of spotting behaviour patterns. Clearly I have a problem with being distracted. As I am showing, not only with these parentheses, but with the fact that I AM WRITING DOWN EVERYTHING I AM DOING ALL DAY.)

12:32 Maybe I could give the Daniel Defoe line to the protagonist - this would make her more interesting, and the friend less clever, which would fit her character better. This is a good trick - just swapping things around till they work.

12:17 I am a bit hungry and look for a snack. Normally I try to eat healthily, but I am missing Christmas food so am pleased when I find a handful of kettle chips left over from entertaining at the weekend. (They are still in the bag, not down the back of the sofa cushions or anything.) Whilst washing the bits of crisp off my hands I notice that the kitchen soap dispenser is empty, so I top it up from a larger spare one in the bathroom.

I am worried that speed dating is very cliched. I sort of have a structure for the scene - there is a joke opportunity with the fact that the friend goes there a lot so has slept with everyone, then possibly a jump cut montage of the protagonist and unsuitable men (CLICHE CLICHE CLICHE), then ends with the friend taking the afternoon off to shag someone. Aaagh - it's all been done before. Also, the friend is becoming much more interesting than my protagonist.

Perhaps I should go speed dating for research, though I'm not sure how I can persuade my girlfriend about this.

11:42 I tweak the end of the second scene a bit, but I should really crack on. I've got a "placeholder" joke in there - I know what sort of joke I need, but can't quite find it, and shouldn't spend too much time on it at this stage. My female protagonist runs a bookshop, and her friend/sidekick/reflector character is trying to tell her that she needs to get out and meet men more as she's not going to meet any running the bookshop. (This itself isn't brilliant and might all change, but as Hemingway said, all first drafts are shit. And he should know as he ended up blowing his head off with a shotgun. Is there some kind of link between writers and suicide? STOP GETTING DISTRACTED!) At the moment the friend says "We share a customer demographic with the makers of nuns’ habits and posh cat food. The last man in here was the guy who built the place."

That's a bit crap and overwritten, but gets the point over. Maybe something like "The last man in here was Daniel Defoe signing a first edition", but that makes the friend a bit too clever. There is some book-related joke to be had though that implies that not many men visit the shop.

I leave it looking rough and press on to the next scene, where the friend takes the protagonist speed dating.

11:25 TRAIN! I live next to a railway, and the first train of the day has just gone past - a Freightliner class 66 with a train of green recycling wagons going from right to left. Despite having lived here for nearly five years, I still always look at the trains. This is usually the first train of the day, but is late today. I have arbitrarily decided that this one should come at 11am, and that if it comes before that it is early, and if it is after that it is late, despite having no actual knowledge of the timetable. This is not some kind of omen for the day though. It would be funny if someone read this just as the same train went past their window. From the speed of the train they could then work out where I live.

11:15 EMAILS! Even though Outlook scans every minute, two still arrive at once. What are the chances of that happening? I try not to get distracted into working it out. The first is about a new film that I have a vague link to the writer of. Sometimes other people's success inspires me, sometimes it depresses me. This inspires me, but perhaps as it's not at all like anything I would write. The second is from a writing friend wondering when our small group will meet up for another writing workshop. This is good as it will give me a deadline for writing a chunk of Project MF. He also mentions going for a drink which is always good. I email back saying I am free for either at any time.

11:04 POST! The post comes. It is the usual post lady who knows to buzz me straight away to get into the building. She was away yesterday, and I eventually buzzed in a man instead. I was a bit wary as it could have been anyone just saying that they were a postman, but 30 seconds later some letters came through the letter box. If it was a serial killer he was going to a lot of trouble, what with forging three thank you letters that specifically mentioned the presents we'd given. Unless he had just killed the usual post lady and taken her sack of mail. But she is back today. But what if she is the killer? I try not to work out a plot for yet another idea, and just open the post and then get on with my work. A bank statement (I spent a little bit more than I earned last month, but not too much), and a letter for my girlfriend and me that has her name first, so I will leave it for her to open.

10:37 Got a bit distracted with an email from another friend. I again try to impress upon him how terrible This Life+10 was, though I am working from a baseline of thinking that the original series was awful. I then got a bit lost in YouTube, but I am back now and my girlfriend has left, so I can really get creative.

When I am not working on things that people pay me to, I write spec scripts. Spec is short for "will never get made", but I have to fill my days somehow. I once sold a spec script - in 1999. And did have a short radio play made that was my own. But after spending most of 2005 writing a feature script that got rejected by a much higher class of producer than previous scripts had (and with a general consensus of "very funny, but we don't want to make it"), I spent 2006 starting four different projects and not finishing any of them. This is bad, though I was doing the radio thing mentioned below for a bit. I kept losing faith in all of them, but have decided to stick with one until I manage a first draft, or I die, whichever comes sooner. This will be known as Project MF, and is a single (ie not a series like everyone wants) romantic comedy for TV, of 60-90 minutes in length. I have a 6-page outline, which isn't exactly perfect, but I find that sometimes it's best to jump in and write the first bit to really find out about the characters. So yesterday I wrote two pages.

I've just re-read it and it's all right-ish. It certainly introduces the central protagonists in a way that leaves you in no doubt that they will get together in the end, though perhaps not as succinctly as in Sleepless in Seattle. Anyone interested in writing rom-coms should study Nora Ephron's work. Though they shouldn't stop there - they should actually write something of their own. This is where I have been stumbling lately.

9:43 My girlfriend brings me a cup of tea. She works later hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so that is my excuse for not having done much yet. Instead I look at the Guardian and Telegraph websites, Found magazine, The Onion and some blogs.

9:32 Second job of the day (obviously today is happening a bit more slowly than usual) - to update my website with any forthcoming broadcasts of programmes that I've written. My website is just a CV, but it's got a page of forthcoming broadcasts. It was getting quite time-consuming looking through the Radio Times website for these, so as an ex-computer programmer I simply wrote a program that scans their website and tells me about any repeat broadcasts so that I can quickly update my website, and also double-check "repeat fees". There are no new forthcoming broadcasts today, but with four already coming up in the next fortnight I can't complain too much. My Mum, who is just about the only person who regularly visits my website, will be impressed.

9:19 First job of the day - to transcribe everything from the post-it notes by my bed that I have written in the night. I can easily spend eight hours in front of the computer not thinking of anything, then as soon as my head hits the pillow the ideas come. Which is a bit annoying when I am trying to sleep. Last night was not that fruitful, but luckily I can read my in-the-dark handwriting this morning. It says "cut curtains new house". Not some interior decorating that I am planning, but a note about a radio script that I need to submit next week. There is a section that the producer has already hinted that I could cut, and last night I realised that she is right as I am effectively telling the same joke twice in quick succession. I cut 66 words and am immediately pleased with the result. This does however mean that my running word count for the day is -66. I shall have to work extra hard now.

9:12 Replace "continuously" with "continually" in 8:50 post. I will try to stop doing this though.

9:00 I try to keep regular working hours. Check emails. 34 junk, two very boring (eg gas & electricity bill), one from the people I have my webspace/email domain with (my real name .com) saying that recent email delays are not their fault, one with the Screen Daily headlines (I am too cheap to read more than the first three lines of any news story - who knows what opportunities I am missing out on) and the Shooting People Screenwriters Network which I still subscribe to even though I have never got anything useful out of it. The interesting thing is still in the inbox from yesterday from a friend trying to organise a weekend away, which I know will clash with my girlfriend's holiday plans for us. So I am still trying to come up with a reply/think of what to tell my girlfriend.

8:50 Breakfast. Jordan's 3 in 1 with a banana, apple and raspberry juice, Yakult. Whilst reading news on web. I used to write sketches for a topical radio comedy show, and as a side effect still continually look at the BBC news site in case a new story has broken. Preferably not one involving children dying as that is harder to be funny about. "General Condemns Forces Housing" is not immediately promising though.

--

START HERE...

After "Where do you get your ideas from?" the question that I get asked the most is "What do you do all day?" Sometimes it is phrased more politely than this, eg "What is a typical day like for you?" but the gist is always the same - that because I am a writer my working days are at best mysterious, and at worst idle.

So, today I am undertaking Writerwatch - a day in the life of a working writer. I shall attempt to reveal the creative process as well as my own working practices. I have no idea how this will turn out. Will something unexpectedly exciting happen, like in the Naudet brothers' documentary about a rookie New York firefighter? Or will it be like that episode of Badgerwatch that didn't feature a single badger? Or perhaps it will be like the BBC's infamous Ghostwatch that led to one of its viewers committing suicide?

Just a few rules:
- I will not answer comments or write stuff like "10:18 - updated blog" as that could then all get a bit recursive.
- I assume that no one is interested in when I go to the toilet.
- Normal spelling and grammar standards may slip slightly as I will not be proof-reading.
- I will write newest entries at the top, like in a live football report. Though for anyone reading it in one sitting this evening it will then look like Memento. It will all become clear when you get to the beginning/end though: "Oh, he had a cup of tea, did he?"