Monday, January 04, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 105 – The Second Half of Act Two and How Drinking Affects Writing


Last week, with little else to do besides watch movies, drink, eat, and scour the internet, I got a lot of writing done. For probably the first time, I was writing multiple hours per day, multiple days per week. All told, over the course of about a week, I churned out over 40 pages of a revised second act. After all that work – which I spoke about last week – I was left feeling very comfortable with pages 60-84, but less so with the new pages 43-60. A call from my producer last night changed all that.

Gretchen, my producer, called me yesterday night to say she’d read the pages I sent her. She had been quite excited about the first half of them, and then found that they ground to a halt – a typical second half of Act Two problem. My main concern had been a lack of concrete information in the first half of the act. Often, when setting things up, we allow ourselves to be overly cryptic, and then later try to fill the audience in by being too expositional. I think that’s what I was guilty of, as Gretchen thought that pages 60-70 were out of place. The action built and built (and the details were clearer to her than I thought they would come across as), and then I inserted the expositional scene and slowed everything down. Of course, I still have to go back and re-read everything, but those pages are extremely difficult and can kill a script if not done right.

Still, regardless of how much work there’s still to be done, I have to admit that I’m eager to get back to it. Like a child who excitedly wakes up to continue building his brand new Lego castle, I’m anxious to get back to the toy I abandoned last night when bedtime finally came around. Part of me is actually relieved there’s more work to be done, which I can only take as a good sign, both about this project and about my decision to pursue a writing career.

Changing pace a little bit, I don’t normally like to share too much about my non-writing life on here, but as I get older and deeper into what I hope will become my screenwriting career, the line between what’s writing-related and what’s not begins to blur more often. Since I was back with my hometown friends over break, enjoying a number of nights out at the bar – including the ever popular New Year’s Eve – I got to thinking about writing and drinking. It’s easy to look back through history and find wildly successful writers who drank excessively every day. And while I enjoy a good drink, I’ve decided that I have to come out as saying that I disagree that drinking heavily makes you a better writer.

When you’re trying to launch your career, so much hangs on those initial relationships and working experiences that one too many mistakes, drunk dials, or missed meetings due to too much drinking can ruin you before you start. Mind you, I’m not speaking from personal experience here, but I think that many people carry a notion that drinking and writing are romantically linked, and I think that the first can destroy the latter. People my generation have such instant and easy access to communication, that a night at the bar can lead to unremembered calls, texts, and emails. Ideally, these are all harmful and received only by friends, because the last thing you want is for one of those to go out to someone you’re working on your first big project with. You don’t want to lose a day of writing due to a hangover, especially if you’re on a deadline. Nor do you want to read what you wrote the night before, only to realize you have to erase all that “progress” because it was hardly coherent.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve had more to drink some nights than I should. I also know that if I’m serious about my career, it will wind up being crucial to be able to comport myself when drinking in a professional environment and to maintain an active writing schedule. As the year rolled over into 2010, I realized that control is one of the most important tools a writer has, and that extends beyond the page. I’m going to cut down on my drinking, not because it’s affected my writing career yet, but because I never want it to.

1 comment:

king suckerman said...

I think the best thing you bring up here -- out of many good things -- is how overly romanticized alcohol is, especially when it comes to writing.

In my experience, writing while inebriated or drunk is only productive in the moment. Sure, you wrote 10 pages, but upon closer -- sober -- analysis, those pages are worthless 9 times out of 10.

Very few writers can pull of the role of drunken artiste, and most of those can because they're extremely talented and would good writers sober or drunk. That's the key point a lot of people miss -- you're not a good writer BECAUSE you're drunk, you're a good writer that has chosen to BE DRUNK.