Screenplay – the s(t)uck (ii)

So, I had a streak of things happen that could be considered sucky. My short film was declined from its 3rd festival, our team didn’t get the NSI drama prize (we were short-listed, but didn’t win), and I got two rejection letters.

Taken one at a time, I could easily shrug them off and move on. However, this was in the space of a week when I was already feeling pretty wobbly about the quit-your-full-time-job-and-become-a-full-time-writer thing.

The producer for our NSI project wrote the director and myself to say “Congratulations!” and I thought, Oh, no, she misread the letter NSI sent to us. She thinks we’ve won.

But no, she was congratulating us on being short-listed out of 200 applicants. Yeah, but isn’t that suckier? To be so close and then not chosen in the end. At least that was my attitude yesterday; today’s a new day. (and the semi-colon is my favourite form of punctuation)

The thing is I have a choice. I can choose to feel sorry for myself, or I can choose to take another step forward. Which one serves my purpose? Sometimes I DO actually choose to be down for a day. The difference is I make it a conscious choice. I say, you know what? I feel like staying in my pajamas all day eating popcorn and being sad. I just experience it, have a good time, and move on. In the end, it connects me with my humanness, which always inspires me, ultimately, to create.

Don’t pile guilt on top of being sad and pitiful, you’ll hurt your brain. Celebrate the mess that you are. I laugh when I cry all the time. (Baby has learned not to freak out when this happens.)

And as my badass friend Lisa says, The alternative is not an option. What, I’m going to go back to my SSJ (soul-sucking job)?

So today, I move forward. One thing is enough. One idea, one lightbulb, one connection…


1) Set your first meeting with one of your “team members”. Decide and commit to your regular basis check-in, whether it’s by phone or in person. I think in person is better. Tell them what you’re working on.

2) Get a timer. I use an old Pillsbury Doughboy Kitchen Timer. It’s sole purpose is to time writing exercises. My students tease me, but I think they secretly covet it. I am a big fan of timed writing.

3) As many days as you can this week, do the following exercise. Commit to those days. Pick something doable for your schedule. Pick 3 days and if you do more you’re a star. I’ve decided to do it every morning for 7 days straight simply because I need to be that hard core with myself right now to get back into the flow.

STEP ONE – Set timer for 5 minutes
Using the start line I want to tell this story because… start your timer and finish the sentence. Keep writing the phrase and finishing each sentence (like a list) until a scene “jump starts” your muse. Then dive in and spontaneously riff from there and avoid punctuation from then on. Keep these sentences long. Keep that pen moving the whole time, if you fumble and stall, write I want to tell this story because… and keep going)


I want to tell this story because I need to do it for myself right now. I want to tell this story because I have so many ideas I need to pick one. I want to tell this story because I think everyone can relate to Chelle how she has given up on herself because we’re always doing that and they don’t stand up for their creative selves. And even though Chelle is staying true to her art she’s not staying true to her own success and we shouldn’t have to give up on anything to be the Truth of who we are…etc.

STEP TWO – Set timer for 7 minutes
When your timer goes off, go the the MIDDLE of that piece of writing and pull out a sentence. Set your timer for SEVEN minutes. Use the line you just pulled from your own writing as your start line. If you get stuck, just write I want to tell this story because… and go from there. You can always go back to listing / short sentences. Remember not to stop or edit. Just keep writing.

You can do more long sentences or, as in the example below, I use the “chaining” method taught to me by the infamous Jack and Bob, in which the last word of a sentence is repeated as the first word in the next sentence. You can try that for fun and see how it goes. Some people really like where it takes their writing.


Poop or get off the pot has become my new motto and it’s got to become Chelle’s. Chelle’s daughter Violet says, “mom, sometimes you just gotta poop or get off the pot.” Pot like the one Chelle attaches to the back of their van so she can plant a sunflower. Sunflowers are her favourite flower and she misses her gardening. Gardening is the only reason she thinks it might be nice to have a home. Home for her seed collection and for the twins’ pet rat… etc.

Step ThreeSet your timer for 10 minutes
Repeat the above process: go to the middle, pick that line, write. THIS TIME set your timer for TEN minutes. It is important that the time grows longer as you go to get deeper into the work. If your writing time is limited, try 3-5-7 minutes instead.

This exercise is very good at getting you unstuck, I’m telling you. I was resisting any kind of writing on The Van Goes and when I did this exercise I had 3 pieces of new information about my story. That’s exciting.

Additional startlines (for Step One) to keep you busy:

This is a story about… (always an effective one)
In this story, my protagonist learns to/that…

My protagonist’s deepest wound is…
My protagonist’s greatest fear is that…
My protagonist’s most treasured possession is…

4) This is also a good time to do any research you might need to do for your character and story. I need to research different types of camper vans, sizes and styles,  and what one can fit inside. I also need to research names for the Van Gogh kids and decide whether I want to name them after artists or if that would be too much.

Have fun with it! I’m not sure how often I’ll post chapters of the screenplay saga, at least once a week.


Filed under screenplay: the exercise, weekend workout, writing exercises

2 responses to “Screenplay – the s(t)uck (ii)

  1. Pingback: Screenwriting - laying it down (3.i) « The Accidental Novelist (Writes Again)

  2. Pingback: Screenplay: The Frenzy – Preparing for the Challenge « The Accidental Novelist (Writes Again)

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