In the interests of being an highly efficient creative person who sucks the juice out of every moment and every opportunity of every day, here is me in that weird Tuesday interval between work and guitar lesson with a little more than an hour to devote to the crafting of this, a blog of bits, or a blog of many parts, or a quilted blog perhaps cobbled together from the 5.6 billion thoughts about writing and a writer’s life that I’ve had since I last set digits to keyboard. Cool, a five line sentence. You should probably take that as a warning to run for the hills or at least top up your water bottle and make sure your shoelaces are tightly tied before you settle in to read this.
In this time period, I generally practice a little guitar, sneaking in one last practice session before the 6:15 lesson. The strangest thing about being a devotee and obsessive of the guitar, is the weeks are marked by the length of time since, or to, the lesson. And regardless of how much I’ve practiced (and this week that amount borders on an almost embarrassingly large number of hours), it never feels like enough.
The two thoughts almost always present at lights out are: 1) I didn’t write enough today; and 2) I didn’t play enough guitar today.
This past writer’s retreat weekend I can tell you that for at least two of those four days, I wasn’t thinking those thoughts. I was thinking about how I played too much guitar and wrote too much and how was I going to sleep with my hands throbbing as they were? One of the constants I tried out this weekend was a 100% alcohol free zone, the idea being that I was going to eschew (your word for the day), any activity that would distract me from true thoughts. Well, it worked.
Okay, nice try Demon Resistance, very crafty getting me to note the word of the day and then realize I still haven’t made a list of all the “words of the week” mentioned in this blog and therefore my mortal soul was in the serious jeopardy posed by the possibility of committing the unforgivable sin of repeating a word of the week.
See, even if it is a pseudo legit thought sometimes the little Resistance Gremlins can turn it into a feast. Then, the next thing you know, you are in a writing cul-de-sac circling the central flower bed as you open a document, scan it, locate word-of-the-week, switch to your word-of-the-week document, type out the word with the corresponding week number and then repeat 41 times. How much writing time do you think that would suck up when it is less than 24 hours ’til deadline? ARggggh. Caught this one early though, so not too much harm done. Though I did get to Blog the 8th before I came to my senses.
It was something I became highly aware of this weekend when I got caught in one of the biggest and most dangerous of screenwriting cul-de-sacs: character naming. Now currently my protagonist’s name is Elliot and he works for his friend, Ernesto. For some time now this has been weighing on my mind, as I do subscribe to the fairly widely held writerly view that you shouldn’t have any of the names of your seven main characters repeat the first letter. Just one of those things that help readers distinguish Fred from Franco.
So, I’ve known for a while that I would need to change Ernesto’s name, but like a well-disciplined writer, I recognized that renaming characters is best left until the first draft is complete and one can see how everybody connects and who has turned out to be pivotal. But nooooo, I start thinking maybe I should change it now and how ’bout Paolo in honour of my friend Pablito. But since his is neither Italian or Latin, nor the 63 years of age that the character is, it started to seem a bit silly. Then I thought maybe Giovanni or Lorenzo. Giovanni was the name of my great-grandfather, the last of my direct line born on Italian soil at the end of the 19th century. Then I started thinking about my family tree and smack! All of a sudden I’m not writing the scene where Ernesto is calling out Elliot for his bad behaviour, I’m thinking about the 17th great-great-great uncle etc. who was a Cardinal and that leads to wondering if my family line crosses the Borgia’s anywhere and checking the clock to see how long it is until the Borgias are on TV. Then I remember that I’m not allowed to watch TV this weekend and GET BACK TO WRITING. So I got up, got a glass of water with extra ice and sat down again.
I wonder, if even after my year as #WW CSSC Writer Laureate concludes, if I will still spontaneously wake up at 5:30 a.m. on Wednesdays, stagger to my computer and dump my writer thoughts for the week onto a page?
In the meantime I am pretty sure that I have a couple more thoughts to share about my screenwriting Writer’s Retreat. First off, it did turn out to be all about screenwriting. Nary a song nor novel nor stage play leapt to the fore. It was all feature romantic comedy all the time.
Interesting. I was just about to spin you a tale full of my magnificent focus and total adherence to all of the constants that I set out in last week’s post. But, you know what? Then, I’d be liar, liar, pants on fire and the Rock of Truth would fall off the shelf and bonk me on the head.
So, suffice it to say that I did mostly adhere to my constants.
I did watch The Borgias, but otherwise the TV was off.
I did read a few pages of a novel, but only while eating breakfast. Otherwise… no books.
I did stay off social media and the phone.
And so, I did get some great pages written and lots of quality sleep and enough guitar to make you think that at some point I must be getting pretty good.
You’d be wrong about that, but that’s okay, it keeps me from shoveling potato chips in my mouth and since no words of my own were involved this time around, it did keep me focused.
Also, I am developing some seriously buff fingers.
An unexpected and very significant side effect of this enforced quietude, was the sheer volume of self-reflection which occurred. That was not so much fun. Important, but not fun. Especially when the going got rough and the usual escape mechanisms of story, comfort food, wine and listening to music or talking with people were closed. Not only did I have to talk to myself, I had to listen, whether or not it was pleasant to hear. Indeed, so much a part of the retreat experience was this, that it seems a bit disingenuous to describe it as a side effect, for it was at the centre of all– even the good writing.
From the outside, I’m sure the whole thing looked very Spartan and contemplative.
From the inside, it was anything but. As every insecurity I’ve ever had as a screenwriter, a woman and a human being, all tried to take a swipe at me at some point or another.
I’m happy to say that I realized this was happening fairly early on and armed myself with a host of bright sparkly feel-good phrases and a few very sharp blades of acceptance to cut a swath through the swarms of Doubt Demons. It was a lesson though that I share with you so that you will be forewarned. Those in your life may think you are having a spa weekend full of pampering and luxurious writing time, but the reality is that you are entering battle naked and alone having shed the usual mechanisms of distraction and mediation in an effort to push a project out of a long darkness and back into the light.
It was a reaffirmation of why I like my stories in books and on film – wandering in someone else’s LOWIM (Land-Of-What-If-and-Maybe) keeps me from having to face the flesh-eating demons and piratical ambushes on my own. That having been said, the thrill and joy and ultimate tired satisfaction of a good-job-well-done achieved through journeying and labouring and battling in the LOWIM of mine own far outstrips the attractions offered by any other.
And so I return to you with fresh wounds and old scars newly opened, a bloody rag bound around my brow and a definite limp on the left leg. But that is also a fierce and terrible grin on my face and a sack of severed Doubt Demon ears dragging behind.
Now back to reality and the day job and friends, a brief space to catch breath, sharpen blades and patch my bloody hide before returning to the fray.