May 1st was supposed to be a day of accomplishment. Since December of last year, I’d been writing nonstop on a script that I would enter in several screenwriting contests. Today I would have taken a shot at two of the most prestigious opportunities for new writers: The Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting and Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab. Alas, May 1st will just have to be another Tuesday. Where does that leave me? As “Aleke” from PARIAH said, “I’m not running, I’m choosing.” It was a difficult choice, but I have decided to take a writing hiatus from screenwriting.
Hindsight is 20/20, of course. When I finally admitted to myself that I didn’t really WANT to tell this specific story, everything suddenly clicked. The countless outlines. Pulling out my hair like “Mavis” from YOUNG ADULT. 80 page first draft. Developing a hermit lifestyle. Feedback that screamed “you’re close, but something’s missing”. Constantly extending unrealistic personal deadlines. All of the chaos of “Operation: PILLS & POWDER” (PILLS & POWDER being the name of my script) concluded with one beautiful moment of clarity.
I DON’T HAVE TO DO THIS.
It was a beautiful thing to say to myself. I’m not in school anymore, so there wasn’t an academic grade at stake. I’m not writing for an agent/manager calling me everyday for the next draft. No writer’s circle or writing partner either. I was writing purely for myself. I think in the end, that was why it took so long for me to step away from the script. I was clinging to it like a life raft in order to survive the rough currents of transitioning from a film student to a filmmaker. If I was at least putting words to paper on a daily basis, tweeting my progress with #writing and setting lofty goals for myself, then maybe it would be good enough. Correction: Maybe I would be good enough. I could explain away the fact that even though I was unemployed, living back in my Florida hometown with no clear film prospects, at least I was WRITING. It was an ego booster as others saw my commitment as noble, something that they wanted to do but didn’t have the spare time. When I spoke with more writers, I felt as if I’d earned a spot in a coveted inner circle: brave souls who would gladly write for three hours a day each week to tell the untold stories. In reality, it was an isolating crutch.
I began to hate it all. I hated the writing process, the script and of course, my stubborn self. The contest deadlines were approaching and I had to make a choice. I could either go insane working on a script that was going nowhere or I could shut it all down. I’m not a quitter and that’s why I am calling this a “writing hiatus”. Like in the television sitcom world, my love of screenwriting has not been cancelled, but taking a break to come back stronger than before. I set out to write a feature script that would serve as a love letter to my hometown of Lakeland, Florida. I ended with a hot mess of drafts starring an Adderall dealing/former air hockey champion college freshman conning her AVON grandmother out of $5,000 because she was being blackmailed by her Meryl-Streep obsessed classmate. See, complete hot mess? So, I sat in the quiet and tried to go back to the original plan. What sparked this feeling, this need to show the world what it was like growing up Lakeland? I now realize that if I’m going to answer that and many other questions to tackle writing again, I need to do it at my own pace.
I thought I had a stroke of genius when I created a calendar of screenwriting deadlines. It would be my focus and add the high stakes that I was missing since graduating college. Silly me! There was a reason I never could finish a script in my undergrad writing courses. While pressure for writing short film scripts is great, I’m not yet skilled enough to work under the same conditions with features. It’s a whole nother animal, indeed. It’s easy to follow the three act, eight sequences, lots of white space formula. It’s another to show an audience what it’s like to live in a specific place for most of your life, only to leave it for the unknown. I want to show the unique ways that Lakeland shaped me, yet could be universal for any person (small-town or big city). All of this has nothing to with Adderall or AVON. PILLS & POWDER was ultimately so full of plot holes, bad dialogue and underdeveloped characters because it came from a place of fear. Who in their right would want to read that? I know I sure didn’t want to write it. I’m coming back for next season’s round of screenwriting contests, but this time I’m writing with my soul. No formulas, calendar deadlines or ego trips allowed. At least for the first draft.