Fingery-Pokery – The Artist’s Way

Fingery-Pokery – The Artist’s Way

scan0056I heard about it.

I saw it in a friend’s vast personal library.

He said “Here, take it.”

It sat on my shelf for a year.

I started it.

Wow.

I’m reading / doing / taking / following The Artist’s Way. It’s a course in a book. I’m fed up of feeling my work is stale, fed up of the negative pixies who get to party when I get  statistically likely “thanks, but not today” emails, and I’m fed up of the whispering mists of pessimism and poverty.  And that’s enough indulgence in evocative eurghhhiness.

Because this 12-week thing (I’m reaching the end of week 5) is great! Jolly! Freeing! Happy-making! OH, MY GOD. I’m the Me I that adult me thinks I was when I was 7! (Creating for creativity’s sake, full of curiosity, mischief, devil-may-care fingery-pokery).

Talking of “God”, it/s/he crops up a fair amount in this book, but don’t be put off. While author Julia Cameron has a strong faith, she encourages readers to think about their own “god” – whether that’s the “creative force”, a muse, or a deity.

So much good shit is going down – as they say here in the streets of Bath all the time – and it’s not all about improving The Writing at all. But WHAT a relief to….

  • LIKE my drafts the next day
  • not to be put off by a roughly sketched scene, but see its glimmer
  • have optimism and glee
  • feel not a twinge at others’ hard-won successes (yes, shameful – it was only ever tiny, but ouch, I wanted that Jellytot!)

It’s a bonkers example, but I applauded – actually clapped at – the telly at the end of this week’s Line of Duty. See what I mean? I’m so proud to be loosely in the same profession as Jed Mercurio, how could I not? Ditto the finale of Chris Chibnall’s Broadchurch. Hats off to them and the creative teams around them.

Anyway, I’m also …

  • taking action, instead of putting up with repeated promises that turn to bog-all
  • bolder with my dreams, such as going for “front of camera talent” instead of “director” as my role at Channel4’s Bristol PopUp last week (yep; I presented, and I loved it).

So – is this intriguing you? Be warned. There’s a crocodile. Week 4 is “reading deprivation” – no TV, films, books, papers, voice radio, mags, emails, social media…

It is hard.

It is great.

  • I went to bed when I was tired
  • My bum wasn’t glued to the sofa
  • I did some great piano playing
  • I did some brilliant (of course!)  writing.
  • And now, I carefully choose what to watch at night (1 hour; maximum 2 if it’s quality drama or comedy), like picking a quality chocolate or drink. I pay attention, rather than lever open my ears and eyes to have shit poured in.

Which is nice.

😉

Alex

“weird” “new” “habits”

“weird” “new” “habits”

It was when I joked, “Yep, it makes me feel like a MAN!” and then the women laughed knowingly that I realised I’d surprised myself…

When I’m not doing fee-paying client work over here, I’m parenting or writing. Or researching for the writing. Or applying for grants, entering competitions…you get it.

This time last year I led the Rondo Writers’ Group in Bath. Babysitter ensconced (I’m on my tod), off I’d trot for the night. For single parents, getting out at night can be a pricey faff. But this year, as winter drew in, I knew I’d have to get out and went hunting for a regular babysitter.

Now one night a week, I night-write in a city comfy chair. Researching, scribbling, grinning wickedly in the dark. No housework,  TV, or small person announcing a poo. Just the project in hand. It’s gloriously productive and weirdly liberating.

Writers who parent, especially alone, for 2-3h babysitting cash and the coffee or beer, I’d say it’s money very well spent. I work intensely, freshly, with a sense of having earnt it. There’s no waste and it’s a treat.  If you try it, let us know.

 

The Awful Art of Unwriting

The Awful Art of Unwriting

[stories] squareI’m not entirely sure why but er, um, I haven’t written a speculative  screenplay (plays, I have done) for err, um, five years. There you go. I have no more secrets.

What the merry heave-ho have I been doing? ‘Cos I’m pretty sure I call myself a writer a lot of the time.

There’s been some very masterly prevarication going on*; so good, I didn’t really see it. I mean, I’ve been busy doing writerly things, including theatre script-writing. The wise counsel of script consultant Philip Shelley last week made me blush: “Before all else, get yourself a new calling card script.” That’s what I’m working on at the mo (this is my break after a 5h stint, I promise!)

But I’m here ‘cos I wanted to show you how EASY it is not to write your new spec script, day after day…for a very long time indeed, without even noticing.

Here’s Gill’s Blush-Making Guide to Not Being an Unwriter:

  1. A great theatre show might get your work some attention from screen professionals, BUT it isn’t a screenplay
  2. Doing courses and reading experts’ blogs are not writing your screenplay
  3. Treatments are not your screenplay
  4. Teaching writing isn’t
  5. Housework CERTAINLY isn’t (tho’ parenting, love, loss and life all do help)

These are all things you rightly want (scripts onstage, networking, learning craft, working with writers, a clean home & a balanced life). They are ALL GOOD. But I did them AND I AIN’T GOT NO SCREENPLAY. And I do very much want to write – er – screenplays.

So, don’t let those other things eat up your screenplay-writing time. Just throw them some nuggets if you must…

JKR housework

* Here’s the answer to how my five years got eaten. I’ve writ a very big play about “quantum mechanics ‘n’ life ‘n’ shit”, crowdfunded £2,000 R&D for it (thank you, again!); worked in Whitehall for a year (and various other clients the rest of the time); writ & run GLITTER KNICKERS (see earlier posts if you managed somehow to miss that one); escaped a Helen Archer-style scenario (you either get that or you don’t) & raised a 2,3,4 and 5 year old (the same human, in ever-changing form). I’ve done well in competitions, written 3 film treatments, run a writers’ group, had a few smaller shows on of existing work, written & pitched several treatments and done lots of reading about writing. And bought a house. So that’s the to-do list done. Now it’s time for the er…what did I come in here for?

Taking the helm of the Rondo Writers’ Group

Taking the helm of the Rondo Writers’ Group

Rondo Writers NetworkWhat IS the collective noun for a group of writers? A murder of crows, a sleuth of bears, a flange of baboons and a flight of dragons. Take your pick what would we like? A blot? A tippex (for writers of a certain age)? A row? A bin?

But that’s merely an intro… I’m very, very happy to announce that I’m leading the Rondo Writers’ Group in Bath this coming term.  We’re under the aegis of the brilliant Rondo Theatre (Bath’s new writing home and local home of touring comedians such as Mark Thomas, Robin Ince and Rob Newman), but will be cranking up our writing brains elsewhere in the city.

You can get info on us in various colours:

The Rondo Brochure (which just happens to have a show called GlitterKnickers in it, too – see the post before this!)

The Rondo Writers’ Facebook page
And you can book yourself in here.  What a superb New Year gift to give (yourself).
First night, 18 Jan – venue tbc.
Unravelling security blankets you didn’t know you had

Unravelling security blankets you didn’t know you had

I had a horrible realisation the other day.

comfort zone and creativityI haven’t had a show on stage for a year (the superb tidy carnage took ‘Passion’ to Aberdeen Dance Live! last October) and I’ve had no new work on-stage since a personal train crash in Jan ’13. Sure, there’s been treatments, development courses, drafts and workshopping, but no output. Nothing new for an audience. And if what we do as writers is to have any meaning whatsoever, it’s got to have an audience.

So – avanti! I’ve taken a story I love that’s in feature film treatment form and I’m doing ten pages a day. I’m writing the script. No dosh, no competition deadline (save my own 10pp rule), but the vital incentive of having a new script, and a spec feature script at that.

Sure, I’ve got questions about my work since “the train crash” – but not doubts. I’m learning new stuff and I’m not sticking to an old formula that seemed to get stuff on stage. This is good. And the quantum script reached the final of the Soho’s Verity Bargate (but not the shortlist of the top 2%). So something’s going right with the scripts, it’s just taking me so bloody long to write them (the first draft of my first successful play took me two weeks to write; the quantum script of ’13-14 took about a year, end to end.)

And then I realised: I got scared! I got scared in life and I got scared in writing. Never under-estimate the impact of a writer’s daily life on their work. When I’ve been happy, I’ve got work out. It just flowed. But the last three years (train crash, escape, slow recovery) mean the work has been pained, tortuous and – frankly – constipated!

I’ve clung to the comfort blanket of treatments, development, rewrites, proposals and stopped myself from making new stuff. Be gone, creative-hoovers. I’m going to take ideas, turn them into treatments, those into scripts and THOSE are going to get themselves in front of makers who might, if I’m lucky, help me get them to audiences.  No more getting stuck on the stepping stone in the middle of the river – onwards!

Giving good story: it’s all about the posture (but never posturing!)

Giving good story: it’s all about the posture (but never posturing!)

If you love writing, you just love writing. I’ve got several fresh projects on the go  (film, stage and TV) and it’s a lovely time, tending the garden, straightening the bamboo poles, checking the rainfall, soil and consulting the manual…I also have several (*metaphor switch alert*) fully formed babies out there, trying to find their way to their audiences. Maybe they’re more like eels in the wide Sargasso Sea.  But my point is, how lucky I am to be doing this.

Today, I’m running a course on dramatic structure, enabled by the marvellous peeps at Theatre Royal Bath’s Engage Programme. It’s really about how you, too, really CAN tell a great story and let your mind go wild if your structure works. I love structure: in music, painting, language, life and stories. We all look for patterns (from superstitions to coincidence to aesthetic beauty) and they allow life to ‘sing’, like strange harmonics from violins or the singing sands of the Sahara.

Today’s course all started off with a post here (Mr Benn & the hero’s journey), where I twigged that even kids’ TV – and especially clearly, the ’70s Mr Benn – has the same basic skeleton as The Wizard of Oz, Rocky, It’s A Wonderful Life, The Hobbit… (etc etc). We ran some shorter workshops for the enthusiastic parents of Paulton Junior School back in the summer, and today, I get to explore more deeply with a smaller group of writers.

I’m also working with a couple of other writers on their scripts and sharing my own work with a couple of novel-writing friends, giving each other feedback and providing sounding boards (rather than unalloyed enthusiasm, which is never very helpful). So, thankfully, I am very definitely a jobbing writer once again, working in a community of greatly generous artists, with (luckily) very very little ego on the rampage (none!). And if you are ever interested in the ideas that crop up here, you know where to find me.

If you’re writing, be kind to yourself; if you’re not, enjoy some drama, comedy or a book!

My under-nourished child: writing

My under-nourished child: writing

I’m writing again. After a year of office work fee-earning, a lot of high heels and suits, mind-shredding guilt and doubt, 800 commuting hours and a host of very unexpected experiences, I’m writing. Again.

And of course, a bit of writing stuff happened in the last year – one stageplay rewrite, a couple of 1-page TV proposals, a film treatment or two. But it was all tinkering, squeezed in around work, parenting and attempts at a life.

My clients – a few hundred miles away – and I knew this day would come. September 2015. My wee one starts school. And next week, a month (a month?!) of two- and three-hour school days ends and he goes full-time. I’ve saved up, cut our living costs and am hoping to buggery one of my writing seeds grows a financial leaf.

I’ve questioned long and hard whether I’m writing for the right reasons. My need to write has not been a pleasure these last 12 months. It’s upset me, tugged at my cuff, tripped me up, made me bloody miserable. I haven’t been able to look after this need – it’s been like a child I can’t nurture, a source of shame and conflict.

So this week, I completed a short monologue. It’s quite good. And I loved it. No big length to achieve – just 2 minutes max. I can still write (ticker tape is falling), I made a new world. I’m working up film ideas with a director and watching several creative friends achieve great things and couldn’t be happier for them (a great sign of optimism, knowing you’re not jealous!).

Needless to say, if you need a writer, you know where I am. And in the meantime, watch this space. (I’m back!)