Another One In The Can
Well, I'm back, kids. Sorry about the service interruption there, but I had other things I had to concentrate on, minor stuff -- like my career. Now that I've finished writing my Everybody Loves Raymond spec, though, I'm free to get back to the really important stuff; i.e., spreading my private life all over your browser for your titillation and entertainment. I'm a giver. Give, give, give, never take, always give -- that's me.
I said I'd tell you what I'm like when I'm blocked. Picture a sweet little old granny lady out on her front porch rocking in a rocking chair, just smiling and rocking, smiling and rocking. Maybe there's a fresh-squeezed glass of lemonade at her side, could be she's humming a little tune. There's probably an apple pie baking in the oven, and she'll serve it up warm with homemade vanilla ice cream for you later. It's a beautiful day for rocking and she's enjoying the sun, smiling at the little kiddies walking home from school, maybe petting the calico kitty in her lap. Nice. Sweet. Idyllic.
Now picture an angry man slamming out of a house down the block, stomping up the middle of the street, blocking traffic and giving the finger as he does so. He tramps up grandma's stairs and stops in front of her, chest heaving with rage. "Why hello, young man," granny says. "What can I do for you?" And the angry man snatches the cat from granny's lap and proceeds to beat her to death with it, shouting at the top of his lungs, "You can stop with the goddamned rocking! Rock, squeak, rock, squeak, rock, squeak! You're driving me out of my fucking mind! Knock it off already!!!" He tosses the limp, bloody carcass of the cat onto the limp, bloody carcass of grandma. "Jesus!" he says. "Can I please have some peace and quiet?" And then he stomps back down to his house, kicking over a little girl on a tricycle on the way.
In other words, I tend to be a bit of an asshole when I have writers block. I'm short-tempered and I'm hatin' life. I stalk around the house grumbling, seething inside, and the slightest thing can set me off. I know I'm being a jerk when I'm like this and I feel badly for doing it, but it's almost beyond my control to stop myself. In fact, stopping myself actually makes it worse. It's a vicious cycle. I was especially bad this time around.
The second act is always the hardest part of writing a script because you're in the middle of getting from Point A to Point Z and you're starting to lose your way. Weird detours are cropping up, the story's not going the way you thought it would, what seemed crystal clear when you started is now as clear as mud. It's inevitable, and yet it always takes me by surprise. I start doubting myself, doubting my talent, and then I start avoiding the work because who wants to doubt themselves? This time was different only in that it was worse.
I'd sit at the keyboard, fingers poised for action, and type nothing because everything I came up with sucked. I made little outlines -- the same outlines, almost word for word -- over and over again, trying to suss out where the story was going wrong, and they didn't help. I roamed the house muttering plot points to myself, going over every scene: "Okay, this happens to Frank. Ray does this. Robert does that. Now what flows logically from that?" I forced Beth to talk it out with me but rejected all of her ideas. It looked like I was working, I could almost fool myself that I was working, but what I was really doing was just spinning my wheels. With all of it, I avoided the work.
Deep down I knew I was avoiding it and always, no matter where I was or what I was doing, it was in the back of my mind. Start typing, you lazy bastard. Just glue your ass to the seat and DO it. But then I'd get up here to the keyboard and start spinning again, and I'd give up and go see what was on the Discovery channel. Again. My life ground to a halt because I didn't feel I could do anything else until I was finished with the script because doing something else would mean I wasn't working on the script. I didn't put up the Malibu lights, I didn't take down the Christmas lights, I didn't do laundry, I didn't clean my office's catbox, I didn't do anything. Not even fun stuff; I wouldn't even let myself go to the movies. Instead I just sat here and stewed and didn't do anything, including what needed to be done.
Getting through a rough patch like this is like getting to the interstate from a rural farmhouse: you want to drive on the nice paved highway where the going is easy and smooth, but you have to go over 10 miles of muddy, bumpy back roads to get there. You can stand next to the car and hem and haw about that 10 miles all you like, but you won't get to the interstate until you drive through them. I know this, I know that it all boils down to parking my ass in the chair and writing my way through that 10 miles, but I always seem to put myself through seven kinds of hell before I do it. Finally, the other night, I reached critical mass. I parked my ass in the chair, gagged the inner critic, and started writing…anything. I was driving again.
I wrote 19 pages in that session. Not terribly impressive at first blush, but not bad when you're starting from a dead stop. The first few pages were complete crap. The next few were partial crap. Most of the rest were pretty good, and by the time I was finished my script was 62 pages long. Oops. Less is more in the sitcom writing game and I had been shooting for 45, but it's not wise to step on the brakes when you've had such trouble getting up to speed.
Once I was going again, the rest was pretty easy. I did some heavy cutting, rewrote a few scenes, wrote two new ones, cut some more, polished it up a bit, cut some more again, and now I've got 50 pages I can live with. There's still some editing and rewriting in this script's future, but at least the hard part -- the writing -- is done and I have something to work with. And as an added bonus, I'm no longer a bastard to be with.
But this will no doubt change. Next up? A SportsNight.
Now that you're heard so much about this script for so long, perhaps you'd like to read it. On the off chance that anyone's interested in that, I've set up a password protected site where you can view it online and I can know who's reading it. If you want to give me notes after reading, that's even better, but it's up primarily so you folks can see what I've been raving about ad nauseum.
Want to read it? Let me know. I'll send you the username and password and tell you where to find it.