blog: what I haven’t been able to admit even to myself

I’m very happy to report that my dark and miserable night of the soul is over … at least for today.

It all started in responding to a friendly email from my pal Sheila the playwright, where In the privacy of a private email, I was able to choke out the words and admit what I haven’t been able to admit even to myself:

“Am between rock and hard place (I resist saying ‘death spiral’) with this rewrite of the pilot. Filled with fear and shame. I don’t think like a writer. I’m NOT a writer.”

It seems that those two lines to Sheila were lead that turned to gold. They miraculously jimmied open my psychic log jam and I was able to look squarely at the enemy: I’d described it.

Effortlessly and without thought, within seconds, I was madly googling ‘tv pilots’ and other related terms. It quickly became clear what my problem is and that it’s not uncommon.  

a) I’m basically self-taught, work intuitively and have no external criteria. I absolutely love everything I write until I reread it the next day and decide it’s terrible.  

b) ’Structure’ has never been my friend. But without any structure to grab on to, it feels like I’m not merely circling but actively going down the drain.

Making episodes of The Louise Log, I got away with working intuitively, without learning any craft. They were short enough and I didn't have to show the scripts to anyone to get financing.  For this tv show, I figured that I’d gotten a Get Out Of Jail Free card by lashing myself to my structure-wizard co-writers. They could deal with all that and I could just channel my part of the script.

But after this past month of churning like an egg-beater, writing up a storm, rewriting up a cyclone and coming up with nothing usable, I’ve felt a level of confusion and insecurity I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. To make the leap up to a half hour show, I’m going to take a workmanlike attitude, learn what I can about structure and the craft of television writing and put one word in front of the other. I'll keep you posted. 

Structure, baby. 

Structure, baby. 

Postcard from my brain

I recently heard about Everything is Copy the new documentary on HBO by Nora Ephron’s son, Jacob Bernstein. Apparently Nora Ephron used that expression, that everything was material for her writing, up to and including her messy divorce from Carl Bernstein … until she got cancer. When it came to cancer, Ephron told almost no one and avoided using the experience as source material for anything.

Well I totally understand Nora Ephron’s inclinations. I’ve long thought of my life, the emotional as well as the physical, (and Mr. Green’s, when he’s willing to let me use it) as ‘copy’. Yes, it’s often been exaggerated or transposed (hey, I’m not a housefly), but I haven’t wanted to talk in this blog about my recent bout of being a little under the weather. (emphasis on ‘a little’)

The fact is that this extremely minor blip in my generally excellent health is not even worth talking about. But between it, the cure for it and my battle-to-the-death with this rewrite, I’m exhausted, feeling bouts of hopelessness and seeing the glass half destroyed.

As this is supposed to be a ‘reality blog’, now you know the hard dull facts of why I’ve recently made myself scarce. Thank you for your patience. Please don’t feel you have to prop me up. I'll be roaring back. Soon. 

blog: inspiration from a web series called "Feathers & Toast"

It's nose to the grindstone here. A psychic told me that I'd be stepping into a "100 mph zone" in April and how can that happen if I'm still sitting at my desk?

So I'm working away on the rewrite (as are Mr. Green and William M. Hoffman when it's their turn) and it feels like we’re getting close to having a draft to take out on the road (trumpet fanfare)!

One of the few diversions I permit myself is to watch other shows for inspiration. Feathers & Toast is a charming, intelligent and completely unique web series. It's the craziest version of a 'cooking show' ever. (Talulah teaches you how to do things like poach an egg and make 'hot water, lemon and honey'.) Meanwhile all hell breaks loose on screen and behind the scenes.

Feathers & Toast has texture, wit, style and the tone of an I Love Lucy show all in around five minutes an episode and its creators, Mhairi Morrison and Holly Payberg, are in the process of pitching it as a half hour comedy show for tv. I'm putting my money on their getting a deal. Take a look!

(Now just in case you want a second opinion from someone you trust, Mr. Green is a huge fan of Feathers & Toast. Click on the first video below, which is only 111 seconds long.)





A Stormy Story Conference on the Rewrite for the Pilot Episode of the TV Series based on The Louise Log

patiently transcribing Mr. Green's notes on the rewrite

patiently transcribing Mr. Green's notes on the rewrite

I’ve been nose to the grindstone this week working in a very focused and disciplined way on the rewrite. And this is thanks, in large part, to the excellent suggestions you made on the fb feed last Friday. Thank you again!  I had some bonafide breakthroughs and am feeling very very excited, so much so that I've recently switched songs and am now listening to The Cranberries’ Zombie on repeat.

One of my co-writers, Mr. Green, (who actually is kind of overworked) carved out the time tonight to read the draft and to sit down with me to discuss it.

I asked him for a simple summary of his reaction to the new draft. He obliged me.

 “It’s very much closer and is a lot funnier.” I asked him to elaborate. “No I can’t do that.”

He's very good with the boundaries, a fact which sometimes angers me.

“I don’t like your attitude.”
“Well I don’t like YOUR attitude!”

We managed to make it through all twenty-nine pages, me carefully taking notes on every one of his (often excellent) suggestions. And then Mr. Green pushed me over the edge. He asked if I’d ‘make a deal’. Having been married for a while, I knew where he was headed.

All week, in gratitude for the time and energy he was eventually going to give to this story conference, I’ve been catering to Mr. Green, peeling his oranges and even accompanying him today on one very long and boring errand. His ‘deals’ usually have something to do with chocolate. Tonight I flatly denied him. No deal. I didn’t even want to hear the terms.

Knowing that this was going to be the subject of tonight’s still unwritten blog, Mr. Green responded: “Well you know what? Everybody’s going to feel sorry for me and you’re going to get a lot of comments because my wife won’t walk to the store with me to get a little piece of chocolate. Imagine! A husband can’t get his wife to take a walk around the corner to satisfy his chocolate addiction.” 

Mr. Green likes to say things two times.

Sometimes I have to make hissing cat noises to hold my ground with Mr. Green.

Sometimes I have to make hissing cat noises to hold my ground with Mr. Green.

Recognizing my Denial in Trying to Write this Show for Television

I have a problem with denial and I'm sorry, dear reader, that with this blog, I drag you right into that pit with me.

In my ‘post-story conference’ blog last Friday, I neglected to mention that one of my co-writers had initially pronounced the most recent draft “very good” (emphasis on the ‘very’ ... and said with feeling). Naturally this went to my head. I’d forgotten just how kind and diplomatic he can be.

So it came as a bit of a surprise that after the two hour conference, I heard the words: “You’re looking at a major rewrite, kiddo.”

With my huge capacity for denial, I shrugged that right off: “Oh I’ll knock it off this week!” Who wants to be bent over a keyboard and reams of scrap paper with my Writing The Natural Way doodles for even that long!

In heavy denial

In heavy denial

So here we are, one week later and I’m realizing why I spent my childhood walking on my hands and climbing trees. Constitutionally and temperamentally, I’m better suited to physical labor than to working at a desk. Give me a physical challenge and I can usually figure out how to tackle it. The same is not true for the non-physical. I feel lost, out of my depth and both frantic and lethargic.

In a blinding insight on exiting the supermarket, I realized that I’d had the same reaction to cutting the highlights reel and to writing the pitch. I start off with great enthusiasm and a wildly unrealistic idea that I’ll ‘knock this off’. The highlights reel ended up taking almost a year and a half. I can’t even bear to figure out how long the pitch took.

Fortunately, while dragging my heels back to my desk, inspiration alighted. Nancy Baker, the brilliant film editor who did the unimaginable job of lifting the movie Harlan County USA out of the hundreds of hours of 16mm footage shot in the hope of making it, once shared this simple tip.  (paraphrasing) << A lot of the job of film editing is sitting watching the footage go forward and backward, forward and backward … until you get an idea of what to do.>>

Impatience is not my friend in tackling mental jobs. To sit at a desk feeling lost and frightened, asking questions and waiting for answers is harder for me than digging a ditch.

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