Expectation is not your friend
I'm in the final stretch of a substantial rewrite to a feature script. It's a spec script, so this isn't a sideways humble-brag. I gathered up all the notes, scraps and what-nots created along the way one last time. Gave them a look to see if I had missed anything. And, it turned out, I had.
Something I lost track of, was the amount of material I was generating en route to this rewrite. It had taken months of work until I felt like I had my head and arms around it. But as I squirreled away these sheets of A4 and ingested the information, the scale of my undertaking became more abstract and ultimately invisible.
Each day of writing felt as though I was dragging a huge rock up a hill. Every scene, I was an electrician picking through the world's thickest bundle of twisted wires. Just figuring out the path of each one was a challenge, figuring out where each should go, numbing. Every day, the rock got bigger.
My previous script wasn't like this. It moved a lot quicker. It was kind of a road trip, but mostly on foot. Things kept moving and somehow that was my experience of writing it. The whole thing just tumbled out and even the problems seemed to have their own positive momentum.
This latest, has many more characters and set for the most part in a single environment. I'd come up with a scenario based on a real incident from my childhood. After hearing Linda Aronson's talk at the London Screenwriter's Festival, I felt I had a multi-protagonist story on my hands. It seemed like a good opportunity to try and write a multi-character story, something I had never attempted before.
I cautioned myself that this would be different and to be mindful that it might not go the same way as before. So I set off, confident that I'd be ready to adjust and adapt to whatever came my way. But I wasn't prepared for how different it would be, and how that difference would become a distraction in itself, when it came to writing and rewriting.
At the end of each day, despite turning in a solid, head-numbing effort, somehow I felt like I'd failed, that I'd messed it up properly once and for all. At the beginning of each day, I'd start by reading and tweaking the previous day's work. This task, I would undertake with nauseating dread. I was certain that it was going to read like it was written - slow, clunky and grinding. But it wasn't like that at all, I was running down that hill. Toward a moment of euphoria! Then, I'd be back to heaving the rock and any relief from reading, would fade away. This went on until I was about half-way through.
Now, I need to be careful, because this might come off the wrong way. The reason I'm blogging about it, is because the experience of writing this story was SO unlike the experience of reading it. Not because my relief in reading it means it's awesome.
Feeling like I'd lost my way, I surveyed my notes and materials. That's when it hit me - I'd forgotten about the load I was carrying, that initial ambition to do something that I hadn't attempted before, and didn't know if I could do.
Somewhere along the way, what started as an ambition and experiment, became an expectation. And expectations fuck us up. It's another kind of comparing - to ourself, our own experiences past and present; to those of others; to an imagined future we want but haven't arrived at yet. I came to expect it would be like the last one, should be. When those expectations weren't met, I'd get frustrated, entertain failure and all the rest.
Did this realisation make the writing go easier? No way, that remained hard and would get harder. But, gone was the daily dread and the nausea. In its place was a sense of purpose and a determination that though difficult, I would keep dragging that rock until I got to the top of the hill. Unless it killed me first.
Well, the view up here isn't what I expected, but it is much more beautiful.