messyoffice2

Distracted by business in the real world and a huge pile of scripts to read to deadline, a return to my own beloved laptop was a bittersweet experience this week.

I felt like one of those people who returns home from holiday to discover – horror! – that they’ve been burgled, only to realise that they’re simply one messy bastard.

I booted-up – do computers still boot up, these days, or do they simply switch on? – to discover my desktop plastered with files. From the top of the screen to the bottom.

First drafts, seconds drafts, fragments of drafts, final drafts, second final drafts, final final drafts of numerous projects. FDRs, PDFs, DOCs, DOCXs. Scripts, novels, play fragments, log lines, treatments, scene-by-scene breakdowns.

All sitting there on the desktop just so I know where to find them. All there because I don’t have the patience to file them properly. And now look, I can find them alright, I just have no idea which version I should be working on. And, oh my christ, look – half a dozen flash drives full of updated work. But which are the most recent?

I’ve no idea, so I reach into my bag, and onto my shelves, for hard copies.

They’ve all been scribbled over, with various stuff underlined once, twice, three times – just so I know, you see, that that was absolutely my last word on the project – and then, oh shit, four times. Bits of paper, receipts, newspapers, post-it notes, various notebooks, folders full of old scripts plastered with copious thoughts, all mixed up with other business. Old ideas mingling with new ideas. Yes, I was very much his favourite once upon a time, dontchaknow, until you came along. 

And I think, this really can’t go on. It just can’t. So I’m going through it all, bit-by-bit, so I can sort the old from the new, the work-in-progress with good notes from the work-in-progress with the extra bad notes. 

The waste paper bins, both virtual and real, are gaping. The shredder is at my feet. I’ve chosen one loyal notebook who shall travel by my side until I lose him or he strays too far, and I’ll be forced to pick up another.

Tomorrow, I’m going to five serious consideration to picking up my clothes from the bedroom floor. But, better not get ahead of myself. After all, tomorrow is another day.

My writing has been somewhat neglected again, this week, which makes me nervous, as the wide world of proper, honest-to-goodness, money-in-the-bank work has continued to eat into my time.

It’s been a great experience having some work come in and the whole thing has been undeniably exciting and nerve-wracking in turns.

It’s boosted my confidence and my spirit, and I’ve met some nice new people, and some old friends, but it’s taken up most of my practical and thinking time this week, and I’ll be glad when all the building blocks for the project are in place, and I can cut back my commitment to allow me more time to write. 

If it works out, I’ll be able to spend a good portion of my week writing, and a couple of days working, but the sudden change to my routine has been unsettling.

I apologise for the lack of posts, but I also apologise for my lack of creative endeavour. But sometimes I’ve got to put food on the table.

This week, although enjoyable in many respects – Work! People! Commuting; ah, well, perhaps not that last one – has been a horror show for the writing, with barely a word written in anger.

I’d got my writing ‘space’ into a fairly solid, if plodding, routine, but a disruption to that routine, and one that’ll continue over the next for weeks and then hopefully settle down into something more regular, has thrown up a number of questions about what I do, and the way I do it.

So what have I learned? I’ve learned that a rigid routine has made me a little complacent in many ways and that I’m not working hard enough at what I do.

I’ve learned, furthermore, that if I’m to make a go of this – of writing scripts, of being a writer – that I can’t live in a bubble all the time. I’m going to have to be more flexible. I’m going to have to throw off that guy habit of thinking about one thing at a time.

But I’ve also learned that I’m a lucky man, and that I can have my cake and eat it. I can close off a small portion of my week to do something I’m good at doing, and for which someone is willing to pay me.

It’s already given me an interesting insight to how I work, and how I can improve the use of my time. Instead of presuming I’ll be writing same-time same-place the following day, I should make the most of the writing period I’ve got.

And it’s taught me that Pret sandwiches and zero visits to the gym are a bad combination.

Didn’t get much writing done this week, truth to tell, what with real life intervening. 

First, young son managed to pick up an ear-infection which has had him off school for part of the week with yours truly, and howling all through the night. Everyone’s nerves are a touch frayed from a lack of sleep.

Midweek, the doctor diagnosed some kind of outer-ear virus and an earspray, but since then  his condition, if anything, has worsened. A  child’s screams of pain are like a jackhammer to the soul – and there’s only so much Calpol and Ibuprofen you can give a small one.

Another doctor told us today that he had some kind of infection in the inner-ear – a totally different kettle of fish, apparently – and we can now give him antibiotics which’ll hopefully help him, and us, through the night.

In a more cheery development, the world of  regular work beckons once more for yours truly. I’d kind of swore off non-writing work but I’ve been given the opportunity to work a contained couple of days a week, so it won’t bite into the writing too much.

It’s really an opportunity too good to turn down and although part of me hesitates to lose writing time, one of the days I’ll be working is a Saturday – no, it’s not down Sainsbury’s – on which I probably only write for an hour or two, anyway.

Hopefully, it’ll help me focus much more across the rest of the week, it’ll get me out of the house and into the big, bad media world again – no bad thing – doing something at which I know I’m pretty good. And I’ll be able to contribute, just a little, to the upkeep of the household, which is good for the soul.  

Who would have thunk it.

Can anyone recommend a good book about organisation? Because I think I’m struggling here.

There’s no doubt about it, my organisation stinks to high heaven  – always has, to be honest – and I need to do something about it. In my old life at work my desk was a fucking mess but, thanks to experience and instinct, everything managed to work out just fine.  

But left to my own devices – the best Pet Shop Boys song by a mile, n’est pas? – I’m struggling to find a method to help me move swiftly between writing projects.

The preparation, that vital process that allows you to plunge into a new project swiftly and efficiently, is missing in action.

So I’ve got files and papers galore, millions of notebooks with single, perplexing notes in each of them, I’ve got multiple writing areas and two  computers and innumerable flash drives that get lost on a regular basis. I’ve got no deadlines, and no forward plan, and no routine to speak of except for a fixed block of time every day. 

So what happens is, I come to the end of one project, and I get down because the building blocks for the next are not in place.

The creativity is there, the methodology is somewhat lacking.So I need a method. Perhaps some Amazon-minded guru has written a book for the feeble-minded like myself. 

Perhaps like me you are not the most-organised ladies and gentlemen in the world, but maybe you found a way to move forward. Maybe you got a time-and-motion fellow in, or found a tome. Maybe you had a eureka-moment, or possibly it took you many years to hit your stride.

Tell me your secret to creative productivity. What are the processes I should be building into my work-day?

As I say, I’m interested.

Many congratulations to Laura at Miss Read, who is chuntering relentlessly through the first draft of her children’s novel.

Like many people, I’ve been stalled on the first few thousand words or so of mine. It’s a good few thousand words, but I’m caught in that endless loop of writing and rewriting that fragment.

It’s the age old story, really. I haven’t been able to let go and let the thing fly in the knowledge that the first draft will most probably sit there as a big mess before I can get to the satisfying bit – rewriting it, tidying it up.

But there’s another problem. The novel is a version of a script I’m currently working on – it occurred to me that this particular story would make a terrific, tight little crime novel.

But the story began to open out almost immediately. It  expanded in unexpected narrative and psychological directions. The characters began to expand and deepen, and as their back-stories emerged, they started to do things I didn’t want them to do.

The characters in the script all have very precise needs and wants, and their motivations are specific and controlled and dovetail nicely with the behaviour of the others. In the novel, I found myself going into far more psychological detail. 

Trouble is, that’s begun to blow back into my script and the versions of the characters in the novel began to conspire – behind my back – to liberate the ones in the script.

Throw off your shackles! they stated. Stand up for your rights as imaginary constructs! Be free!

My clear-thinking about the script has begun to muddy. All those clean lines of characterisation began to blur. And we can’t have that.

Something’s had to give, and while I’m writing the script, which’ll be for several more months yet, the novel will have to lay locked away. When the script is finished, I’ll let those characters live again, in a parallel universe.

So that’s one thing I’ve learned I can’t do:  write a script and a novel about the same story at the same time.

The script ideas for my MA are firming up nicely. 

A mixture of some ideas that have been knocking around my head for a goodly while and new projects, these half dozen or so concepts will then get whittled down to two scripts which I’ll write over the two years of the course.

They’re a pretty good estimation of what I’m about, I think, but there’s one ideain there  that both excites and terrifies me in equal measure: it’s a biopic.

The estimable D Stack suggests biopics may be a useful addition to a writer’s spec pile and I’ve been looking out for an interesting subject for a long while. Of course, as is the way of these things, the lady in question was sitting on my bookcase the whole time.

The person in question had an eventful life, there’s one terrific narrative which would propel her story, and a lot of vivid imagery which could be used. Plenty of opportunity, then, to tease out themes and meaning.

Trouble is, a biographical script is a complicated beast, even a young whippersnapper writer like myself can see that. The questions, should I eventually  pursue the project, would come up thick and fast.

Practical: How long would it take to research the subject? What kind of first-hand research would I have to do about this person –  there are few books about her. I’ve made plenty of documentaries about people, but they tend to concentrate on a small section of a creative life, and have a central spine of a story already. Plus, there are Estates and copyrights and all those things about which I know little.

Creative: What kind of creative license do I give myself when writing a biopic? As long as the basic facts are there, and the ‘truth’ of her life is told – as I see it, anyway – should I be approaching this as a fictionalised life, or a drama that just happens to be about someone who existed?

Am I over-reaching myself already? Maybe I should take this idea of the list and put it on the back-burner. After all, this lady’s life has unfurled already, her story will always be there for another day.

Part of me is thrilled by the possibilities. I can’t keep from thinking about it. It would be, in the words of Mr Capello, a “beautiful challenge.”

But if I wait a while, a few seconds perhaps, I’m sure I can muster me up a new favourite idea.