Saturday, November 23, 2013

TV I Love: 'An Adventure in Space and Time'

So, as you may or may not know, I'm a pretty big Doctor Who fan. (And yes, I've been epically excited for today's 50th anniversary special and no, it did not disappoint!!) But because I am about 20 years younger than the show, and because I did not grow up in the U.K., I have to admit I didn't know much about the history of it or about the doctors before the 2005 incarnation of the show, when I started watching.

David Bradley stars as William Hartnell in 'An Adventure in Space
and Time.'' Photo by Hal Shinnie/BBC.
So I was definitely intrigued by the concept of An Adventure in Space and Time, which tells the story of the inception of the show back in 1963. The film stars David Bradley (a.k.a. Filch) as William Hartnell, the actor who played the first doctor, and it centers on the creative struggles to get a little sci-fi children's show off the ground. I learned that the show was the BBC's first to employ a female producer (Verity Lambert) and an Indian director (Waris Hussein).

Let me just tell you: I loved this movie. Not only because it involved fangirl/boy moments of watching the creative team come up with the theme song, the TARDIS sound effect and the concept of a Dalek, but also because it was about something much more enormous and universal: the power of art to endure.

When you see a producer passionately fighting about why a Dalek needs to be in an episode, or an actor getting deeply immersed in the switches on his character's time machine, it's funny and compelling. But it's also deeply moving, especially for someone who has a lifelong interest in telling stories. It reminds me that those arguments those people had, the passion they showed for their work, it all mattered. They started something that has lasted for 50 years, it has impacted culture and people's lives for generations, it has given something for people to look forward to, to be entertained by, and to learn from.

And, really, isn't that the point of all art? How extraordinary it is to create something that makes an impact in someone else's life, that elicits emotions and reactions, that is, ultimately, much bigger than its creator. It's breathtakingly magical and it exists here, in the real, (unfortunately) TARDIS-free world.

I'm so grateful to this wonderful movie for reminding me of that. And, of course, if you have a chance to see it, I obviously can't recommend it enough. (P.S. It was written by the brilliant Mark Gatiss, who not only wrote a bunch of Who episodes but plays Mycroft in Sherlock!)

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Thick Skin Conundrum

If you're a writer (or, really, a filmmaker, painter, sculptor...any sort of artist), you have probably heard this before: "You need to have a thick skin."

I hear it all the time but the first time I really had to live it was when I went to film school. That was the first time I had ever put my work on display for anyone to see and critique. And, guess what? I needed a thick skin for that.

But here's the thing: to be a writer--as in just someone who sits and writes--you don't need a thick skin. In fact, you often probably have a thin skin. By that I mean you're likely observing the world and the people in it very acutely and letting them seep in, like osmosis. In turn, when you write, you're probably putting a lot of that world back out on the page and, even more crucially, you're probably putting a lot of yourself out on the page. In my experience, my best writing comes from tapping into my most vulnerable parts and from using my innate sensitivity to its best advantages.

But to be an author--by this I mean anyone who is in the process of getting their work out there from the query step to anything beyond--oh, boy, do you need a thick skin. From agents, to editors, to readers there is a lot of criticism and rejection to be had. 90% of it is absolutely necessary to create your best work. But even when you know that logically, it can be hard to just build up your armor, especially when you feel like parts of yourself are floating around on that page that's getting torn apart.

So how do you switch from one to the other? Honestly, I suspect that some writers are just better at it than others. For me, it is one of my biggest struggles, though I am continuously working on it. One of the things I've recently been trying out is a visualization technique. When I'm writing (especially a first draft), I let myself believe that I'm allowed to feel anything, to sometimes allow my deepest fears to become my characters' fears, to metaphorically bleed out onto the screen as it were. But when it comes time to hit a "send" button and let someone else into that world, well, then I have to sew myself back up. I need to hear the critiques, to understand them and utilize them, but I also need to separate myself from the work at that point and realize it's not a criticism of me as a person (even if parts of me have become characters).

Of course, when it comes time for revision, the stitches have to come out once again.

It's hard. And frustrating. And often times I feel like I don't succeed at it. Sometimes I wish I could shout out "Impervio!" and have everything just bounce off me. But then again, if I did that, would I be a writer? I suspect not. So I am learning to accept that what makes me a writer is the same thing that makes it hard to be a writer sometimes. It is a conundrum. Though, on the upside, it lets me use the word "conundrum," which is clearly fab.

Anyone else have ways of dealing with the thick skin/thin skin issue?

Friday, November 8, 2013

#Wordcount Is a Four-Letter (Non)Word

It's NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) which means that my Twitter feed is filled with inspiring posts about people getting 'er done and one very loaded phrase: word count.

Don't get me wrong. I think NaNoWriMo is an amazing concept and I know that it is very successful for a lot of people. But sometimes I see people writing things like: "I wrote 4,000 words today" and I just think, WOW. I don't think I've written 4,000 words in a single day ever in my entire life.

Inevitably, this has led me to guilt or wondering if I'm doing something wrong as a writer. Sometimes I have to give myself the pep talk that I know every writer has heard multiple times throughout their career: everyone's process is different.

One of my problems is that I am an underwriter by nature. My first drafts are usually abominably short--glorified outlines I call them. It's because I'm usually spending them trying to figure out the bare bones of my plot (and also probably from my years writing screenplays where everything was 120 pages long. 120 pages does not a manuscript make). Then in multiple rounds of revisions, I go through and add things like subplots, characterizations, and setting details. Then, usually, in further rounds of revisions, I try to connect the subplots, minor characters and other details to my main plot. Honestly, I should really start calling myself a reviser instead of a writer.

But being an underwriter means that word count can often be a huge enemy. Especially when writing that crucial first draft when I know that what I'm writing isn't necessarily very good or at all living up to the idea in my head, but that I have to somehow muddle my way through it anyhow. Why? I can't revise without a first draft!

So I've learned not to measure my worth by word count. Instead, it's more important for my process to just sit down and write almost every day. Even if it's for half-an-hour or forty-five minutes (and, to be honest, it usually is). I'm the person gritting my teeth and trying my best to ignore that little counter at the bottom of Word. Until the second draft, that is. Then I'm the person who's saying: er, now I need a subplot that will add 15,000 words.

My point is: if you are an underwriter like me, try not to fret too much. I've still written and finished multiple manuscripts of adequate length and you can too. And if you are writing 4,000 words a day: honestly, I am in freak. :-)