Life seems to be full of perplexing experiences at the moment. I'm not sure I like 'perplexing'. I had twelve whole child free days to write a fortnight ago. I didn't enjoy them. I wrote, or rather I planned. This was a film project I've been trying to get 'good enough' to submit for development money for some time. My experience writing a novel has made me much more of perfectionist. I find it hard to slam a synopsis together, submit and say 'let's see'. So, I picked away at my story, stuck post-it notes - with fluorescent coloured name tags attached to them for the sake of beautification – all over the bedroom wall, ate too many crisps and drank too much wine. Plus ça change…
An interesting thing happened though, on the day before my daughter returned. Whilst planning my screenplay, in the evenings, I'd been researching an idea for a new novel, which involved reading about the eighteenth century German military. In German. A painstaking task for someone who's lived in Germany for a year and relies almost entirely on good Dutch to communicate in German. But something, an idea, a feeling, had been developing as I forced myself through between two and six pages of reading per day. With a few hours of freedom left, I sat down and wrote. Within a couple of sentences, I was excited, because I knew I had a voice for my central character. I've just read through what I wrote. It's less than a thousand words, but I was right, it's a voice.
I'm not sure what to do next. I'd thought that I would research for months. But now I have a voice, and I sort of know where I want the story to go, I'm tempted to write first and research later to fill in the gaps. Part of me, though, knows that I'm not the world's strongest researcher in the first place. Hey, if were interested in facts, I'd write non-fiction, wouldn't I? While writing my first novel, also set in the past, I did have 'film director moments' where I stared blankly round the room wondering where my art director was. As I didn't have one, I decided to ignore the areas of architecture, furniture and clothing. Except when I needed one or other of them to have a psychological impact on one of my characters. If I leap in now with my new novel, it'll be same again. Possibly even more so.
There's also the risk that I want to throw myself in at the deep end straight away just for the buzz of writing a first draft. I could seriously do with an adrenaline rush at the moment. During my twelve days alone I really missed what a commissioning editor I once met referred to as 'doing the vomit'. Writing feels so much better than planning. So I am aware of my own desperate need for the pleasure of getting words down on paper.
But, the screenplays I've written that I've actually ended up directing, have been written like this. There's been a strong urge. Screenplays are shorter, though. I can complete a feature script first draft in a fortnight. For a novel I need far more staying power, and life will get in the way. Will I be able to keep up the momentum?
Well, I'll have to see. My daughter has just come to sit beside me and is singing 'Everybody, everybody wants to be a cat.' The school holidays are nearly over… but not quite.