Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Speedy Gonzalez

Last night I enjoyed some drinks with a handful of writers in various career stages. I love when I get that opportunity because just sitting and chatting with no real agenda is a great opportunity to learn and ponder your own choices.

One of the things we discussed was the speed of writing. One of us, who I will not out unless said person wishes to out said person's self, writes what must amount to like 90 pages a day. I asked "How fast do you write?" and he said "When's my deadline?" and then told us about a script he wrote in three weeks that was shot. I'm jealous because he does this for a living and he does it well.

TV writers have to be able to do that. Michael Sullivan (Red Right Hand) is good at that. The boy's got like eighty pilots in the works and like a million spec episodes and somewhere in there he found time to write a play that's heading to the stage on Saturday. And his stuff is largely solid.

I can't do that. I used to think I could do that. The first day I ever started a screenplay I banged out 20 pages. I thought you had to write the script in a month or you weren't writing enough. I gave myself a month to plan, a month to write, and a month to revise, which sounds great but doesn't really take into account a day job.

I wrote a lot of scripts that way and that's how I ended up with a lot of weak scripts. I was more interested in having a lot of material than in having one quality piece.

Not Dead Yet ended up taking almost two years to get into shape. I wasn't working on it solid for two years - I took a few months off and wrote something else in the meantime that I'm probably going to abandon for good but that's another post - but then I went back to the script to make it stronger. And even though it took a lot more time, I have one solid script instead of another piece of crap that goes nowhere.

It's easy to be in a hurry in the beginning because you just want to quit that dayjob and write full time and the only way to do that is to get a script done. And if only I can get this done and in somebody's hands it will all be perfect. But it's far more important to make sure that script that lands in that somebody's hands is perfect, even if it takes extra time.

On my new project I have this urge to work faster, like I'm not accomplishing enough unless I'm cranking through 5 pages a day. But since I don't have a deadline and nobody's paying me, it's completely okay to slow down and concentrate and make sure I get it right. Then I'll have two whole good scripts instead of a bigger shitload of crap.


  1. 90 goddamned pages in ONE day? Wow, I can't do that, since I don't have time, due to my job and level of discipline. Someday I would love to reach that level of commitment, though.

    It does take a lot of work and discipline to be a good writere and be busy doing all those projects.

  2. I was exaggerating about the 90 pages, but it's still a lot of pages.

  3. I wish Nicholl happened two or three times a year. Self-imposed deadlines don't work so well for me.

  4. Anonymous6:10 PM

    when I didn't know what the fuck I was doing, I wrote very fast. Then, I got educated/burdened with theory and I slowed way down. Sometimes (always) I wish I could find my first three screenplays- they were either genius or crap.
    The main thing is to be READY for it to strike. Last night, after some, uh, quality time -actually, kind of right in the middle of quality time- I was hit blam with where to insert some exposition. I got up after a few minutes of cuddling and made notes.
    Damn right I'm going anonymous this time!

  5. I write really fast in the beginning.

    Then the editing starts.
    And it's like pulling wisdom teeth.

  6. I did a post kinda on this...

    Part of the speed thing is practice, just like anything else.

    - Bill

  7. I don't remember that post. Thanks for sharing it.

  8. Thanks for the plug, yo.

    Speed ain't all it's cracked up to be though. Sometimes being to swift tricks me into thinking I've got something then I get to the end and wind up trashing the whole thing...but then sometimes I pull out that trashed thing and wind up rewriting into something largely solid. But mostly, it stays trashed.
    My Pushing Daisies spec for one.

  9. I like to finish a script from concept to (my) final draft in between four and eight weeks. Anything longer than that and I'm just spinning my wheels.


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