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When I work on a book, I’ll also work on something else simultaneously.

It won’t be another new book – it’s hard enough keeping track of all the characters, threads, and ideas for one prospective novel, let alone two. I’m always surprised when people say they’re working on two (or more) novels simultaneously. (I don’t count swapping back and forth between projects but never finishing anything.)

The closest I’ll get to working on more than one novel is if I also revise another, but only as long as it’s more so a copyedit revision, rather than a structural edit revision that might require some rewriting. As far as the copyedit goes, I might read a chapter or two (depending on their length) as warm-up for my brain. Then I feel I can flow into my work-in-progress.

Or I could revise a short story, or even write a new short story – the only qualifier here is that I have to be able to finish a draft (either writing something new, or revising an existing draft) in a single sitting, so it’s doesn’t become too much of a distraction. I want to be able to get in, get out, with it having no ongoing impact on my work-in-progress.

Poetry is something else that’s a good sideline – although, sometimes, my ruminations take me deep into the night, because I struggle to find the exact way I want to depict what I’m feeling. But it’s always cathartic, and I’ve written enough poetry now that I’m thinking of either subbing around a collection, or self-publishing it.

Lately, I’ve also been working on screenplays. I wrote screenplays prolifically through the early 2000s and had a couple optioned. I thought they were great. I had this infallible self-belief. Of course, I was an idiot. (There’s a good chance I still am.) Neither option went anywhere. In retrospect, I’m glad they didn’t.

When I look back at all those old screenplays, they’re grossly overwritten, and the narrative in a few of them is (to put it kindly) contrived. However, some are structurally sound – at least as far as the framework goes. I’ve picked the best of them out and tried to revise. At times this has meant almost rewriting from scratch, and/or fleshing out the story.

Over the last year, I’ve also written a handful of new screenplays. Compared to the 2000s vintage, they work better on every level – the way they’re written, the causality of the narrative, and the solidity of the suspension of disbelief. I’ve discovered I have more confidence writing a screenplay than I do any form of prose.

Screenwriting also provides an interesting contrast to prose. With prose, you get inside a character’s head. You relate what you see and how they feel. You can have an internal monologue driving the narrative. Screenwriting is different. An internal monologue is not going to work – you can translate it as voiceover, but you’re always having to think about what the audience is seeing. It has to be engaging. A character sitting on a couch coming to some slow realisation is not engaging. That has to be represented other ways that is going to hook the audience.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve refocused some of my energy on screenplays and subbed to a variety of international comps (because there’s so many of them), and met with some minor success in placing in a few of them. Some of those places have only been getting through to the next round, where perhaps another two hundred other writers have also gotten through. But I look at that in the context that possibly six or seven hundred people have been culled, so just to survive that is gratifying. As a writer, you hang onto little victories.

One screenplay, a 30-minute satire/pilot entitled ‘Producers’ – about a former shady tax lawyer, now heading a four-person production team trying to raise money for a feature – was a semi-finalist in the Showtime’s Tony Cox Episodic Screenplay (30 Min) Competition, which was flattering. ‘Producers’ was written originally over ten years ago, but has undergone repeated heavy revision and restructuring. To get any recognition is encouragement that I might be doing something – no matter how small – right. Or maybe I’m doing something right in a small way.

It’s been a lot of writing of various forms to juggle throughout the last year, while also working on a new book. Just when I get one of those peripheral commitments out of the way, something else pops up – another competition I want to enter, or a short story submission opportunity where I want to revise. My mind feels spread in different directions, which is not my preferred way of operating – but, at the moment, it feels like I can stay on top of it because at least when I am working on a couple of things, they’re different forms.

Well, that’s what I keep telling myself.

And this is what you do as a writer.

You write.

Submit.

And do it over and over.

 
Last Week’s Lie: My editor, Lucy Bell, and I did not go on a tyre-mauling rampage.

The Other Me

‘Life’s Short Interruption: Part I’

iv.
I finished the screenplay for the director, Mike, and pissed him off by ignoring his instructions – not completely, but enough. He wanted a biker flick set to a certain mould. I started with the mould, but somewhere along the way broke it, thinking he’d love whatever I wrote. When he didn’t, I rewrote it free of charge. He’d liked that version better, but had now moved onto other projects.

It was my first lesson in writing for other people – give them what they want, not what you think will win them over. Most importantly, don’t ever believe you’re so brilliant that you can do what you want and the world will stop and wow at your brilliance. Life just doesn’t work that way – or it wasn’t going to for me, at least.

I was disconsolate, thinking I’d blown a possible break, but on the other hand, I was also still close. You don’t get hired to write screenplays by people working in the industry unless you’re capable. This was something I could do. I could write, deal peripherally with people, and try to build a career. The experience with Mike had given me some self-belief, and had kickstarted the littlest bit of momentum.

I kept writing. It was the only thing I could ever do, that I ever saw to fruition. School, I’d left out of boredom. Exercise, I’d do for a month or so, then quit. Better diet, I’d adhere to it for a little while, then lapse. Everything else I abandoned, given enough time, or the feeling I’d done as much as I could with it – everything but writing. I could finish a story. I could finish a book.

Now, though, I focused on screenplays. When I was rejected I rang up to find out what I could improve on. One short screenplay I wrote got glowing reviews from the people I’d sent it to, and I was told their choice had come down to it and another submission, but the director had chosen the other submission because she was more familiar with the subject matter. Another encouraging sign.

I was still bartending for my village’s reception hall, although that was something I did while I had a few beers myself. It was my only means of coping. I should’ve looked for full-time work, but had no confidence in myself outside of my private little universe. Anxiety had boxed me up, and I dared not get out of that box. The world was dangerous outside of that box. I was safe in that box.

Box: good.

Things felt okay – not perfect, because things could never be perfect – but, still, there was no returning to before this had occurred. Even though I’d overcome it in my way, it was still there, scarred into me. But at least I was comfortable in myself, comfortable enough in my world, with aspirations, with friends, with life as it was, or at least seemed to be.

And writing would provide my break. I was sure of it. There were so many promising nibbles. It was just a matter of time.

Or so I thought.