Part of the point of taking on these weekly mini lifestyle changes was to give me something to write about here. With that aim in mind, and planning a few writing-themed challenges too, back in May I bounced some questions off screenwriter, author and old friend David Scullion.
I wanted to ask him about his process, what inspired him and how he dealt with writer’s block. He was singularly unhelpful on that last point, but for interesting reasons, and he had a lot of great advice. Read on…
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I don’t even remember what I had for breakfast! Who are you again? Yeah, my memory is atrocious, so I won’t lie to you; I have literally no idea when I decided “I shall be a writer!”
I have always been creative and enjoyed entertaining. Recently I was searching through some old boxes of childhood shit at my parents’ house and found an old comic I’d written when I was about eight. It’s called “Rad Magazine” and formatted like The Beano, featuring dozens of different sketches from “Ginger the Cat”, “The Ghastly Ghostly Gang” and the tastefully-named “Fat Man”.
I went from writing and drawing comics to acting and writing in little sketches on the Scullion family video camera (now all lost to the damp-loft disaster of 2004) which included informative bonkers TV show ‘Scully News’. Then I moved onto writing pulpy horror novels…
My move to screenwriting came during a final batch of novel writing. I’d sent my latest ‘masterpiece’ to the usual 500 agents and publishers, printed and sent by post, literally funding Royal Mail for years. Usually I’d receive silence as a reply or a generic rejection letter or a ‘cease and desist’ letterbomb… but in the space of one week I received two personalised letters!
Rejection letters, but still! Actual handwritten words! Eeek! Thrills abound etc…
They both generally said the same thing; “write screenplays”. Why?
- Presumably so they wouldn’t have to receive another one of my huge packages containing terribly-written horror shite…
- They liked ‘some’ of my writing: the pace, the dialogue, the characters and the general story. It was just the ‘description’ that was… lacking. Or missing.
And with hindsight they were damn right – I couldn’t be bothered to write about the ‘feeling’ the kitchen evoked or what the contents of the fridge meant to the main character. I just wrote “There’s a knife rack and a clock shaped like Mickey Mouse’. I drew a scene, not an evocative passage of novelesque literature.
That week I packed away my novels and began writing for screen. And I haven’t looked back.
Well, I have looked back… and stolen ideas vigorously from my back catalogue of utterly shitcakes unpublished horror novels. No idea is worthless. Even Paul Blart.
What’s the first thing you ever wrote? Did you learn anything from early experimentation?
Yeah… this terrible memory of mine doesn’t help!
I wrote a few plays at university, but they’re lost on some floppy disc drive, probably hiding in a museum somewhere with my Amstrad and Monster in my Pocket toys.
The first full screenplay I wrote was for a sitcom called RETAIL, which I based around the HMV I was working in at the time. HMV? Wow, we seem to be having a real history lesson today! Listen up, kids – later I talk about C&A, MFI, the haunting demise of Woolworths and a magical place called ‘Blockbuster Video’, which sold something called a VHS.
I learned a LOT from writing Retail, about collaboration, runtimes, concept, tone, character and the small fact that you DON’T need to write the entire series in advance… Only the pilot and the series ‘bible’.
Lots of lessons there, including one that’s quickly becoming a theme in this interview; never give up and keep going or – in less polite terms – “Don’t stand around in a pile of your own shit. Move on and make something better. Or stand in crap. See if I care. Crap stander.”
Why are you drawn to horror in particular? Ever considered romantic comedies?
Why Horror? Why not? Oh, because it’s demented and horrifying and WHY CAN’T YOU JUST WRITE SOMETHING YOUR MOTHER WOULD LIKE, DAVID?!
The first thing I was commissioned to write was an episode of a Children’s TV series. I’ve written Action, Comedy, Sci-Fi, Drama etc… but Horror is definitely the genre I prefer to play in and am happy to be pigeonholed into*. That and comedy.
The two projects I’m working on now are both Horror-Comedies (Dearly Beheaded and Hipster Massacre) so it’s definitely a genre/subgenre I’m comfortable with.
* Pigeonholing has got to be a sex act of some sort, right? If not, then someone should make one up. Hey! You! Blog-reader! Put your suggestions in the comments section below. Yep, I’m sabotaging Brendan’s blog. Fill it with dirtiness! Do it, or I’ll pigeonhole you…
Right. Sorry about that. Why horror? Man, that’s such a long answer that it’d take a giant blog post to read…
Wait. What’s that? I’ve already written two Blog Posts about that on my own Blog? Well wadda you know!
- Why Horror? A discussion about Horror in general, and then my specific love of it.
- What made ME specifically like Horror? This blog is my origin story. Kind of. Includes pictures of “Rad Magazine”, so it’s goddamn unmissable!
You back? Good.
One addendum to that: I’m also an evil little psychopath who eats the homeless. With a side helping of Chihuahua pie. That’s why I like Horror. I AM horror. Or something.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer? (ever suffer from writer’s block? or lack of motivation?)
The biggest challenge I have is time. Or – more specifically – a giant lack of it.
Writing takes time. I’ve been doing it for YEARS and am still working full time in an office job (you know, in order to live and stay clothed and buy The Walking Dead comics and food and other essentials). I have so many ideas and am desperate to find time to write them, but life gets in the way.
I write on lunch breaks, in the toilet, on public transport. I’m writing this on the London Underground between Leytonstone and Oxford Circus. Thankfully I have the most patient partner in the world. She tolerates a lot of ‘forced alone time’ while I tap away in the next room all evening and weekend. She’s a f–king saint.
I have taken annual leave days from my day job to take meetings, write or (like Tuesday just gone) do a read through of a script in development!
Friendships suffer too. I don’t see my friends nearly as much as I’d like and spend moretime with producers, script consultants and directors than I do my own family! But most friends and family members are understanding and other simply send me a dead pigeon in a box (the correct way to officially sever ties with a friend).
Writer’s block? Not really, no. Lack of motivation? Hell no.
I don’t think I’m rare in this either. Most of the professional screenwriters I know are hugely motivated and don’t have time to get writer’s block. Don’t have time to get it?! Yep. That’s not a valid excuse for a missed deadline so it HAS to be worked through.
Also… they love it. Writers love writing. We have to. It’s not a chore, it’s a passion. An obsession. Something we NEED to do. It’s impossibly frustrating at times and sometimes difficult to face it… but it’s a need. If a person doesn’t have that need, then this industry ain’t for them. Because writing your own stuff is the easiest part (not easy – far freakin’ from it – but easiest!). Wait until the notes come in, producers get involved, directors give thoughts. Then it’s really work, which is why you have to love it. It is hard. It is frustrating. It is your time.
And writer’s block? It exists for sure (I’d never deny it) but like I’ve never been there. Like Mongolia. Never been there, know it exists.
Got any tips for overcoming writer’s block?
How would I get over it? Write anything. Anything at all. This blog post. A shopping list for a fictional character. A totally different film / play / sketch etc… A short story. Another scene from the same script. A suicide note. Write something ELSE because that block will dissipate.
Also, PLAN. Make sure you PLAN your work. Most writer’s blocks occur because the script wasn’t planned well in advance and you find yourself in a place which often means one thing; immediate rewrite of everything you’ve done so far. Planning eliminates a lot of story and character arc problems that may appear later on. I plan in detail a script before ploughing into it, and it makes the writing SO much easier and fluid.
But that’s just me. Not everyone plans.
Other ways to break a block? Go for a run. A walk. A swim. Have a fight with an imaginary goat. Or – if it’s really stopping you writing – ask someone else for help. Get their opinion. Share your problem. Halve it.
But keep going. That’s always the answer. Persevere.
Any advice for me (and others like me) as a wannabe writer?
So much advice… but one piece? Read scripts. Once a week at least. Especially in the genre & format you’re wanting to write in. Read read read.
Amateur stuff and professional stuff. Work out which scripts fly by and which are horrible, trudging reams of endless boredom. Work out why. Understand what made the script enjoyable or frustrating or unreadable.
Scripts are not hard to find online. Ask other writers if they have any (I’ve got loads of pro scripts kicking about) or jump on forums online. They’re easy to get hold of.
And write every day. Every day. For 5 minutes. For four hours. Every single f–king day. Write. Read. Repeat.
Anything you’d like to plug?
The hole in the ozone layer? *coughs* Hello? And that’s why they pay me the big bucks. Well, no bucks. Starbucks once. Yeah…
You can plug my Blog! Which I forced you to plug anyway. Twice.
If you wanna see an amateur writer’s journey, tracking it from amateur to something a bit more than amateur, then it’s worth a look. Warning: it does contain sarcasm, contradictory advice, swearing and one epic rant about an infuriating cinema experience I had…
So there you go. Huge thanks to Dave Scullion for his candour and willingness to spend some of his valuable writing time on me and this self-indulgent project of mine. As well as his blog, check out his website www.davidscullion.co.uk where you can find a biography and lots examples of his work and projects, some of which were mentioned above.