Keep a daily blog

Well, that backfired.

But let me back up. I wish I wrote more. Relatively speaking, I’ve done a lot of writing over the years: sketches, a few murder mysteries, short stories, a couple of hours of stand-up of varying quality, co-authoring of a TV show, contributions to a book or two and a semi-devised script for a promenade show at a dubious pharmaceutical research facility as they were beginning human testing. You know, the usual. But all that writing is spread thinly over an uncomfortable number of decades, which is because each time it’s like getting ink out of a stone.

I just find it difficult to put my mind to it. I’ve always found it hard to share the writing process with another, but unfortunately I also lack the discipline to write on my own. All my essays, stand-up, scripts and other odds and sods have been written at the last possible minute, with the deadline forcing my hand. Douglas Adams famously managed to operate on that basis, and perhaps, were I significantly more talented, I might be able to get away with it as well. Unfortunately I need to work really hard at it, and as a result I generally feel like everything I’ve ever written isn’t quite finished or good enough to be published.

There’s a pretty well-known challenge faced by stand ups and comedy writers, which is that something that seems pretty amusing in your mind suddenly becomes dull and unfunny when you try and get it down on paper. Like having an abstract notion of a sculture in your head, then sitting down with a big block of stone and a chisel, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. In my case I don’t want to start tapping away with the chisel lest the results be disappointing; even in this digital age, turning an idea into words feels somehow permanent. And let’s face it, in writing and comedy, the results usually will be disappointing. It takes a while to craft the words just so to best communicate the core joke or idea, and the first few drafts are probably going to miss the mark.

Here’s another unnecessary analogy because I’m on a roll. If your pure, brilliant idea is a steak of flawless kobe beef, then the writing process is trimming, cooking, seasoning and serving it up with various accoutrements, all of which can detract from the original ingredient. It’s tempting to keep that pure idea in your head, rather than risk screwing it up by developing it. It’s a kind of perfectionism, which in writing is just another form of writer’s block. For me it’s an excuse not to write in the first place.

I think part of the solution, for me, is just to develop the habit of writing regularly and frequently. A good stand-up might write ten jokes and throw nine out; the important thing is to make it habitual and get to a place where ideas can just flow. That’s where blogging comes in. Posts are updated frequently (generally), and the bar for quality is lower. Not that blogs are inherently badly written or anything like that, but I think people expect them to be a little more rough and ready, a little less polished, than your average essay or newspaper article. The odd typo or unrefined turn of phrase isn’t going to be a big deal, and that means less time spent on the bits I dislike, such as editing, and more on the original ideas and first draft, which I enjoy.

So obviously you’re reading this on my blog, about my weekly lifestyle changes, and I should probably explain that the idea for the blog came first. The weekly challenges were, partly at least, to give me something to write about. Not that I’m not enjoying all those little life-style changes, which occupy considerably more of my time and energy than writing each of them up, but the idea came about when I was trying to think of a way to get me writing regularly again.

I’d always intended to spend one of my weeks focused on the blog itself one way or another, switching from weekly to daily updates to up the challenge, but I hadn’t been able to figure out logistically how to make it work. This is after all a blog about doing weekly challenges, and if the weekly challenge is to keep a blog, and I then write a blog about it, well, that’s all getting a bit meta and self indulgent, and it was already pretty far down that path to begin with.

…which has never stopped me before, so let’s go. And by happy coincidence, I missed seven weeks of blogging because of the birth of my second child. I kept up the actual weekly challenges, but fell well behind on writing them up. So this week’s challenge was to write daily blog posts.

I have a few writing goals planned (including this and writing a short story), so this seemed like a good time to check-in with David Scullion, a good and time-generous friend, and the most motivated, prolific writer I know. I asked him about writer’s block and how you maintain motivation, but he was singularly unhelpful in that regard. Turns out that’s never been his problem.

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.”

(Read the full conversation with David Scullion here.)

Well, that rings true. Lack of time is my go-to excuse, especially now I have two young children. Give me 15 spare minutes, and I’m going to spend them sitting down watching TV or fiddling with my phone, thinking as little as possible. I also spend all day every day in front of a laptop at work, and opening it back up once I’ve wrestled the kids into bed and cleaned up the kitchen requires discipline that I apparently lack.

Still, that’s the whole point of doing these weekly lifestyle changes. They’re not particularly big, challenging things, just little ways to prompt me to find new habits and get to things I’ve wanted to for ages. So I found the motivation in those tired evenings, and wrote daily blogs for a week.

The week itself went pretty well (don’t worry, it all falls apart in a bit, failure-fans). I wrote six articles (plus the write-up of the week), one a day, though spacing out the publishing.  Here they are:

And that’s where it all fell apart. Having spent a week writing every day, with a bunch of posts queued for publication, I felt like I was ahead and relaxed. For several months. I kept doing the weekly lifestyle changes, though not every week, and I have a lot of scribbled notes and stories, but the blog lay dormant.

I’ll write about the year as a whole, and that general failure, shortly. Within the next three months, for sure. Maybe four.

Write every day. Every day. For 5 minutes. For four hours. Every single f–king day. Write. Read. Repeat.

Yeah, all right, stop going on about it Dave.

  • Difficulty: Mederate. It takes discipline to get started, but gets easier as it becomes a habit.
  • Worthwhiliness: Moderate. If you want to be a writer, this could be an excellent enabling habit to get into. For me it backfired, sapping my motivation.

Seriously, go read my conversation with David Scullion. It’s a stream of conciousness that gives rare insight into the mind of a quasi-lunatic, and it’s packed with good tips for writers of screenplays, novels and more. Win-win.

Header image by Drew Coffman

Conversation with writer David Scullion

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?

  1. Presumably so they wouldn’t have to receive another one of my huge packages containing terribly-written horror shite…
  2. 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!

  1. Why Horror? A discussion about Horror in general, and then my specific love of it.
  2. 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?)

Time.

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.