Writing As A Diagnostic Tool
The script I’ve written is called The Happiness Chain, and is loosely based on some of the ideas about deferred happiness I’ve been talking about in this newsletter over the last few weeks, and I’ve really loved writing it. Writing it reminded me of two things I think it’s easy to forget if you adopt too much of a “I won’t work unless I’m being paid” business approach to your own creativity. Firstly, that I actually enjoy doing this and would find ways to do it even if it wasn’t my job. Secondly, and more importantly for this week’s lesson, that writing is a diagnostic tool.
This was something that I chatted to the brilliant Desiree Burch
about a month or so ago, namely that when we’re in the early stages of a writing project we assume that our principal job is to market
the idea to people who could help us develop it further. The treatment and script feel like marketing tools,
things we need to write in order to convince other
people that the idea is good enough to be worth their time. What we forget is that, perhaps even more significantly than being a marketing tool, a treatment or script is also a diagnostic tool for ourselves as writers, to help us go “Oh! That’s
what this idea is really about!” I tend to brainstorm extensively, either out loud to myself, or down on paper, to identify all the different things a scripted project could
touch on, and the reasons why I think
it will be interesting, and the idea of actually starting on the script often gets kicked down the road because I think “But that’s the actual work.
I’m not ready for the work
yet, I’m still figuring it all out.
” We forget that the work is
the figuring out, and vice versa.
What I always used to do, back when the ideas I tended to come up with were for short films or simple sketches rather than full long-form TV shows, was to sit down and bash out a vomit-draft script as quickly as I could, because in the writing of that script I would figure out whether I actually liked the idea or not. Inevitably, that first draft script would not be particularly good, because I rushed it out as a diagnostic tool for myself, but in the writing and reading of it I would either think “Nah, this is rubbish, I’m not onto anything here,” or, more excitingly “There’s something fun in here. I want to keep going with it.” This was a mindset I always adopted when generating short-form ideas – “Just write it, then decide if you like it enough to keep going” – and it’s one I had so far neglected to apply to my attempts to write more long-form stuff. Of course, my agent’s standpoint is valid too – it’s an exploitative industry, this, and we should be more vigilant against the principle of working for free – but when it comes to trying to find your way into an idea, and figure out what it is you really want to say with it, I still think there’s one rule that trumps all others:
Isn’t that what you wanted to do anyway?
By The By – Script Consultancy Work
Bit of a self-plug, this, but I recently started scouting out for script consultancy work, where I’ll read people’s comedy scripts and give extensive notes on them for flexible rates. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed the work I’ve done in this field so far, and I know there are some aspiring writers subscribed to this newsletter. If anybody would be interested in working with me as a script consultant on their project, feel free to reply and let me know! I’m actively trying to build up a bit of a portfolio for more of that sort of work.
A Cool New Thing In Comedy –
The brilliant Stevie Martin and Lola-Rose Maxwell recently released Screen Time,
a pilot/taster weaving their viral social media-piss-take sketches into something more substantial and character-driven, and it’s great fun, with so many ideas and great silly lines in the mix. (Make sure you watch it on your phone)
What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – The visual gag in Season 4 Episode 5 of What We Do In The Shadows where Nandor keeps using Genie wishes to make his eyes smaller. Miranda spat her tea across the room and all that had happened was that the camera had cut to Kayvan Novak’s face.
Book Of The Week – Women Talking by Miriam Toews. I missed the film, so thought I’d read the book instead. It’s wonderful. The ending made me cry, it really took me by surprise.
Album Of The Week – No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith by Motorhead. This is absolutely brilliant. These guys are dumb. It’s one of the silliest albums I’ve ever heard.
Film Of The Week – Air. This is Ben Affleck’s latest directorial effort. I really loved watching a film like this in the cinema, it feels like they don’t come round all that often any more, but I think it’s not a brilliant film. It chooses to frame Michael Jordan’s story entirely through the boardroom execs who profited off him, then in the last five minutes pivots the entire thing to be about athletes triumphing over corporate greed, but ultimately its final message is still “And everyone made millions.” It feels a bit hollow, but I am glad that low-key adult dramas like this are finally getting cinema releases again!
That’s all for this week! As ever, if you’ve enjoyed the newsletter, feel free to send it to a friend or encourage others to subscribe! Take care of yourselves until next time, and all the best,
PS Popped into Barbara Chase-Riboud’s exhibition at the Serpentine this week, here’s a nice thing she made: