Clearly the experiment to write here every day was a massive failure. Here's the problem. It was a combination of boredom and chickenshittery that brought me low.
The boredom part is simple. I can only write so much about my own writing before I'm ready to lop off my own fingers to make it stop. I have no idea how any of you manage to read it. Actually, judging from the traffic numbers, you don't. Look, I love writing. I think about it all day long. I listen to podcasts about writing. I read other writers' blogs to hear about their writing. I'm obsessed. But that obsession has limits when writing about my work.
It's not hard to understand why. I'm hypercritical of anything I do. So to try and speak about it with any level of authority makes me feel like a damn phoney. No part of me feels like I know what the hell I'm doing as a writer. Other people tell me otherwise, which is what kept me going long enough to fall in love with doing it.
I'm often not even aware how much I put myself down. At the screenwriting lab last year another writer called me out on it. Immediately I agreed that I was like that but the unsettling part was that I hadn't even realized I was doing it out loud. It's such a part of me that it seeps out without trying.
The other problem was being a chickenshit. I'd love to write about other things but over time I've grown so worried about offending people that I've curtailed my opinion giving. Which is odd considering the glee with which I once threw bombs around this place. Odder yet, the folks I respect most in this world never hesitate to share their opinions.
This is a bad habit that started the day I decided not to be a film critic. The decision came slowly after I made a documentary. Making that movie convinced me that I wanted to be a filmmaker. I loved the process and showing it to its intended audience was intoxicating. But knowing how much of myself I put into that film made me uncomfortable with reviewing movies. Ripping into another filmmaker, knowing how hard they worked to get that movie made, just didn't feel right anymore. To be clear, that doesn't mean I think critics are now the enemy or wrong to do what they do. It just means that I am no longer comfortable doing it. I still enjoy film criticism greatly but it's best done by someone else.
At the same time though I've somehow convinced myself to shut up about all manner of topics. I don't talk politics because virtually everyone sounds like an asshole when they do it and I think we have plenty already. Music? I don't have any confidence to talk on that subject. Race? Gender issues? Way too scared to be openly wrong.
See the trend forming? The worst part is that it's not my style to keep my opinions to myself. In person, I'm not shy about letting go with both barrels on any topic I have an opinion on, which is most of them. The difference is that in person, I know who I'm talking to. I can see how they're reacting. So there's a chance I'll be able to reign myself in before things get ugly. Online, I have know idea who might read this. That little knowledge gap stops me cold.
Writing online often feels like screaming into space. You get overwhelming silence in reaction. The percentage of readers who bother to comment or email their thoughts in reaction to an online article is gobsmackingly low. That's what causes most blogs and websites to run aground so soon after launching. The silence is unnerving. I've lost count of the number of writers who complained to me about the lack of reaction to their articles. You look at the logs and see that people are in fact reading. They just aren't responding. We tend to take that as a failure of some kind. And why not? Look around the web and you see lengthy comment sections full of passionate debate. "Why don't I get that response?" is the natural reaction.
Go to the New York Times web site. Pick an article about politics. Look at the comments below. There should be a few hundred. Now think about the approximately 35 million people reading the Times site monthly. Do the math. Pitiful, isn't it? So the question for me (or anyone writing a blog I suppose) is what the hell am I afraid of? The most comments I recall an article on this site getting was about 200 for a pretty nasty review of Serenity. I can deal with that.
Perhaps my biggest hero in the world is Penn Jillette. No, that's not a joke. Penn likes to say "Don't be afraid of being wrong, be afraid of being quiet." I need to follow that advice.
So if I'm working on a script but not actually writing, my mind just churns constantly, trying to make the story work. The side effect is that I don't sleep well because my brain is in overdrive. But if I do start writing, then I get wrapped up in the story and lose track of time until I realize that the sun is coming up.
Either way, my sleeping habits are atrocious. Which is to say, I've been doing the writing and losing track of time thing every day this week and now I'm wiped out. So I'm going to bed early. By which I mean 2:30 AM.
The insomnia bug bit hard last night. And the phrase "last night" is used pretty loosely here. It wasn't until about 9:30 AM that I finally drifted off to sleep. Which left me about two and a half hours in which to get in a full night's sleep. I'll wait while you do the math.
It wasn't the most productive of days. Writing was almost nil. The only useful thing I did was take in the play Almost, Maine at the Ghent Playhouse. It was a killer show, funny as hell and sweet natured. The cast was a mere five actors, playing something like twenty roles. I've caught a lot of great stuff at this little community theater but this was one of the best. I am actively working to get as many of this theater's regulars into my short film No Big Deal as I can manage. That last sentence was deliberately a bit vague. I'll elaborate down the road.
For now, bed. I'm exhausted.
I wrote eight pages of the script today. Four at work and four more after I got home. Eighteen total. I'm off tomorrow but have a play to see, a couple movies to watch and of course, the Super Bowl. I'll squeeze some writing time in somewhere. Probably in place of sleep.
There are times when it seems all but impossible to get going. This is often called writer's block. I don't have writer's block and nor do I particularly believe in it. There are simply times when what you need to be working on does not flow easily. In such times I find it useful to write something else. Something that I don't care about as much preferably. Then it usually flows just fine.
Which means something is gumming up the works. This could be any number of things. Right now, my script is not flowing. I find myself unable to go more than a couple sentences without wanting to answer a question of some sort. You could describe this as procrastinating, and I wouldn't argue with you, but really I'm just removing road blocks. Stupid little details that aren't a big deal when you first write them down but bloom into potential problems later if you didn't do it right. For instance, how many passengers a school bus can carry. Or perhaps a bit of information is needed that can be drawn from repeatedly, like a list of famous beards. These are real things I've been wasting time on. But doing that now means later I won't have to fix a mistake or constantly stop to look for more information. I'm front loading the procrastination.
All that said, I have nine pages written on Joe Bob the Messiah. That's not awful for a guy who can't get going.
Sorry, I haven't had much of anything to say for a couple days. Part of that was having my oldest son home sick from school for a day. That had a lot of my attention, plus it throws my daily schedule way out of whack, so writing on the blog was largely forgotten. The other part is a bit of moodiness that's settled in as I get started on the serious writing of Joe Bob the Messiah. This often happens to me as I start and it's largely a matter of getting bogged down in details. It takes a couple days to sort those out and then I kick into high gear.
I watched The Hunger before settling at my desk for the evening. It's very stylish and has a rather sexy love scene between Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve. Story? Not so much. Plot? Not really. Not Tony Scott's greatest film. But as a first film, a pretty good way to get the attention of the industry.
Today was one in which I managed to feel a pretty good high and a pretty shitty low.
The high was finishing the outline for my script Joe Bob the Messiah. That felt damn good. I've whined for years about outlining and finally I had managed to outline an entire feature length story. That's good. I'm growing up as writer and learning an important skill.
That high was about 4AM. Immediately I went to bed, excited to get started on the actual writing of the script later in the day. Two hours later, my wife woke me up to tell me that once again, we had run out of fuel for the furnace. I spent the next several minutes swearing as I got dressed and stomped out into the dark cold morning to go get some more fuel. That furnace feels like the bane of my existence a lot of the time.
If you hang out on twitter, you'll see writers constantly sharing pithy comments about writing and endless top ten lists for staying organized, finding inspiration and not losing hope. I'd be lying if I claimed to never have done this myself. Why do writers spend so much time sharing these morsels of wisdom? It helps keep your sanity together. It would not be unfair to describe writing as a form of mental illness. It means deliberately living in a fantasy world of your own devising with the expectation that you can make a living doing so. Which is why you get looks of pity or dismay when you tell people that you're a writer.
When I'm writing, I never worry about anything other than the writing. When I'm dealing with the worst moments of life, trying to keep my frustrations under control, that's when I wonder about the sanity of what I'm doing. Standing in the freezing cold before dawn, dumping fuel by hand because I can't afford to have a big truck come and deliver a full tank, that's when I'm filled with doubt. That's when it starts to sound like a good idea to go get some tedious office job and work my way up to settle into a pleasantly average life. There's absolutely nothing wrong with such a career path. Most people do it that way and are perfectly happy. But for me it sounds perfectly awful. And that's when I'm most sure that writing is a form of mental illness.
I'm being a bit facetious in my word choice here but only a hair. It's hard to feel sane with these sorts of career choices in my back pocket. But there isn't a pill to cure it and I'll be damned if I'm going to spend hours spilling all this to a psychologist when I could just pour my crazy into my characters instead. I may be crazy, but I like it that way. Just the act of writing this rambling post has made me feel a lot better, turning a moment of despair into one of defiance. Make of that what you will.
How many of you get a movie in the mail from Netflix (yes, they still do that) but it doesn't match your mood so it sits for a really long time, until it starts to form a sort of mental roadblock where you can't give up and send it back for something else because that would be admitting defeat but you're also never really in the right frame of mind to watch it, so it continues to sit there, becoming larger and more intimidating with every passing day until the act of watching it begins to feel equivalent to a doctoral thesis to attempt? This happens to me all the time. I was one of Netflix's earliest customers and I used to get the package where you could have eight movies out at a time. That situation was easier to avoid then. As the price of the package rose, I kept cutting down until I'm now at two discs out at a time. Now the unbeatable disc is a regular part of life. The Raid: Redemption has been sitting under my TV since Thanksgiving. Needing to get the queue flowing for Oscar contenders, I broke down and put it in.
It's a pretty good movie. The fight scenes are the nastiest most brutal ones I've seen in a very long time. I studied tae kwon do for years, so I've long had great respect for a well choreographed fight scene (and conversely, disdain for badly choreographed ones). The Raid has good ones in spades.
I watched the behind the scenes materials on the disc and came away with two tidbits that I intend to steal for my own films. One, huge chunks of the movie are shot with the camera on a fig rig, which looks like a steering wheel with the camera in the middle. I've been aware of them for awhile now but until seeing how they were used on The Raid I hadn't given them much thought. Now I want one. The ability of the camera operator to stick with the action to the point where it seemed like the camera was literally glued to the fighters at times is impressive and gives me a lot of ideas. The other detail was lighting. The crew used LED light panels mounted on boom poles to put light just where it was needed and move it around with the action. That's a genius idea. Huge amounts of time can be saved on lighting by simply having light that can adjust on the fly for each scene.
Now off to get in a workout and then write until I face plant on the keyboard.
The need for sleep has caught up to me. Today's events included a 5th grade band concert, writing and watching The Raid: Redemption. And then I hit the wall.
So last night's post was a bit on the crabby side. I was dead tired and more than a bit achy as I sat down to write that. And while the day was long, that wasn't the main reason for being so tired.
I was wearing myself out exercising. This is a weird side effect of buying the GoPro. It's a camera with a ridiculously wide angle lens. We're talking borderline fish eye lens. It seems to see everything and it distorts everything it sees. This is not flattering to the human body. Particularly bodies like mine, that could stand to drop about fifty pounds. You've heard the expression that the camera adds ten pounds? Well the GoPro adds about fifty.
Every time I conduct a camera test that has me in the shot, I cringe when I watch the footage later. My gut appears to double in size and I grow about four more chins. Needless to say, this is a little rough on the ego.
I had already been working on losing weight and had dropped about eleven pounds since September. That was a simple approach. Eat a bit less, exercise a bit more. Nothing radical and it was slowly working. But I hit a bit of a plateau. My fault, no doubt. The exercise dropped off a bit and my diet was a bit more indulgent. But then I saw that footage and my workout exploded to about an hour a night. After several days of that, every bit of me was sore and my energy level was next to zero. Which is why I was in no mood to write about anything last night. Sorry about that. I'll start working on that Life of Pi piece and have it up tonight or in the morning. I'm in a better mood now with a bit of sleep in me.
So there you go. My official advice to anyone who needs motivation to lose weight. By a GoPro.