Juggling projects, juggling murder, murdering projects. It’s been a pretty scattered time of late, but I’ve tried to pull together some different things I’ve been thinking a lot about this past month. Maybe there’s something here to interest you too?
TELEVISION TELEVISION TELEVISION
Ok, so I know everyone is watching inordinate amounts of television of late. But this month, I was particularly impressed with two new series. Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist has all the hallmarks of a show that would normally make me vom, but after a friend’s recommendation I gave it a go. And I devoured it in a weekend. I have since recommended it to almost anyone who’ll listen for it’s playful vitality and joyous silliness despite it’s occasionally crushing subject matter, grief (my increasingly favourite topic of late). Be warned, it is not only a musical comedy, it begins with the most utterly ridiculous premise ever. But if you can get past that, it is so worth a look (and so is the soundtrack)… The other series I’ve inhaled is Dead To Me Season 2 (pictured), about two middle-aged woman spiralling towards mental breakdowns as they desperately try and hide their involvement in murder. I adored the first series so was very excited to see the second drop a couple of weeks ago. Part of me was nervous going into it – I found the first season of this black comedy so moving and original, I was a touch concerned that the second wouldn’t live up to it. But boy, has it been grand! The interdependent, fractured yet beautiful friendship between Jen and Judy (played respectively by the spiky Christina Applegate and luminous Linda Cardellini) is breathtaking to watch, and the series miraculously moves faster and faster, becoming more and more gripping as it heads for another shocking series cliffhanger. Highly recommended, and yes, Dead To Me is all about grief too. Honourable mention goes to Dispatches From Elsewhere, which I’ve only just started but the truth is I’ve already fallen for its surreal bizarreness. I imagine it too is ultimately about grief but I’ll need to get back to you to confirm…
WRITERS’ AVERSION TO SELF-PROMOTION
I’m currently on the NSW Committee of the Australian Writers Guild, a fun thing to do as it normally entails occasionally pitching in on monthly events, labelled as Write Night, for the Sydney-based screenwriting and playwrighting community. Late last year I volunteered to take care of Write Night’s Facebook page, but with our current health crisis, what was an occasional item on my to-do list has swelled into something a little more substantial as we try and make up for our lack of real world events. I decided to put together a little questionnaire and have recently launched a regular post series called ‘Home Office Check-In’ which does exactly that – screenwriters and playwrights send me their answers along with a selfie from their home office, and I pop them on Facebook. They’re also being posted on Write Night’s Instagram too (where it was for some reason renamed ‘Quarantine Check-In’, but whatever, at least it’s getting out there!). It’s been so fun to do, but I have been both fascinated and disappointed by the lack of response from many of the writers I have reached out to. Is this sort of thing uncool? Do they not want the publicity? Too busy to take a selfie? Who knows. I imagine it’s all of these things and it makes me ponder how reluctant (for a myriad of reasons) we as writers generally struggle to self-promote. No one ever seems to know we even exist outside our industries, and even then it can be touch and go. A sad, layered failing in my opinion in that it’s writers who come up with and craft the stories, and where exactly would everyone be without a decent script? In any case, I soldier on and am always completely delighted when I hear back from a comrade at arms. Please feel free to take a look and scroll back through the posts to meet some of these wonderful people making a living by making stuff up. Hurrah! And if you happen to be a screenwriter, playwright or just generally interested in writing for performance, and you live in or around Sydney, I encourage you to join the community! Like the Write Night page and follow along. Hopefully we’ll be back to running regular in-person events soon.
WORKFLOW AND THE ART OF JUGGLING CREATIVE PROJECTS
I’ve never been great with managing my workload, despite managing to get a hell of a lot done. I often feel overwhelmed, lost and, frankly, like I’m drowning. Pretty sure this is common amongst most creative freelancers. Since trying to actively shift my priorities to include time to properly focus on personal projects alongside my paid work this year, I’ve been looking for ways to juggle creative priorities in a way that won’t lead to crippling burnout. Been there, done that, a little bit over it. I signed up to a class on CreativeLive called Workflow, Time Management and Productivity for Creatives hosted by Lisa Congdon, an artist and illustrator I greatly admire. She is amazingly prolific, and seeing that she had actually put together an online course on juggling creative projects, I thought I should give it a look-see. I’m not even half way through and already her explanation of how she uses a traditional workflow system has changed the way I see my work. It’s helping me better grasp how much I actually have taken on at any one point, and helps me track where I’m at with various long-term projects at a glance. I am far from perfecting this system, and still have lots to learn about discipline and focus, but I’m approaching it with baby steps and it’s proving positive so far.
If you know anything about Sandi Toksvig, regular host of long-running hit panel show QI, you’ll know she’s not only a voracious reader, she is a seemingly endless font of knowledge, a keen author, and staunch feminist. The picture above is my friend Amanda and I photographed with Toksvig in 2014 when she toured Australia with her one-woman show, which was lots of fun. She has most recently been hosting a web series called Vox Tox from her home library (her wife films her, and one of the QI researchers edits and publishes the show). Vox Tox are a collection of short, bite-sized episodes where she shares fascinating tidbits of history, often about relatively unknown female historical figures, delivered in Toksvig’s dry, genial way. It has been such a pleasure to unwind watching these while I’m curled up in bed at night wondering how to get to sleep (it has proven elusive this month). As someone who’s worked in TV development for a very long time, and done endless amounts of research on all sorts of topics, you can sometimes get a little jaded thinking you’ve probably heard about most of the good/interesting/weird things there are in this world, and then someone like Sandi Toksvig comes along to blast that notion well and truly into the stratosphere. It is wonderful and inspiring and I am so very glad it exists.
WHEN NOT TO KILL YOUR DARLINGS
To cut a very long story short, I had until earlier this year been working on the (funded) development of a vertical narrative series I co-created with a friend that just so happened to be all about a young woman caught up in a deadly pandemic. With the world now finding itself enveloped in a very real pandemic, the gloss of this project has worn off a bit. Who the hell wants to watch anything about the unease and terror of living through a plague when we’re all literally living through a plague? Anyway, after actively avoiding talking about it for a while and having an ugly cry or three, the last couple of months have seen us ask ourselves exactly what we want to do with this project that, for all intents and purposes, seems dead in the water (note the Dead to Me reference here). We had two options available to us – deliver what we had already done to our generous funding body and quietly kill off any thought of further pursuing the project and move on with our lives… or we could try and salvage something from this professional and emotional hot potato. We have opted for the latter.
A big part of our recent development on this project has been to more deeply explore our main character – her motivations, her needs, her drive. It has left us with someone we have kinda taken a shine to, and the knock-on impacts to the supporting cast have been fruitful. It seemed a shame to throw the project away completely – it was the world these characters inhabited that had become the problem, not the characters or the bigger message of the project itself. Do we think we can reshape the world our protagonist is in? Can we reframe her dilemma in a way that leaves pandemics behind yet still tells an intimate coming of age tale about isolation and responsibility? For the moment, the answer is yes.
This is all daunting yet, honestly, exciting too. We are leaning well away from reality – the series will now have a distinctly sci-fi bent – and we are positing our protagonist’s crisis as a much more personal rather than global one. At least, that’s where we are right now. Fingers crossed this is going to lead us somewhere…
The whole affair has left me thinking a lot about when and why to kill off creative projects. When is it right to plough on despite set-backs and challenges, and when is it better to draw the line and chalk it up to experience? Certainly in the business of film and TV, we must maintain that tricky paradox of not getting emotionally attached to projects you invariably pour your heart and soul into. Projects slow down, twist away, morph and end all the time. But to be honest, I’m a great believer in the notion that creative projects never really properly die. They may go into a drawer or onto a server to collect dust and perhaps even be forgotten about for huge slabs of time, but total death is a weird rarity. There’s usually something in a failed project – an interesting idea or character or philosophical question – that can be salvaged as raw material for something new. In that way, all our work continues on as a personal repository of research and knowledge, a jumble of bric-a-brac we can dive into and rearrange into something new in the future. It can inform us, guide us, and sometimes give us the key ingredients for something all together different.
Perhaps I am an optimist. If I believe it’s all useful and failures are just the compost for future successes, I never really have to say goodbye to or give up on anything. And I guess that suits me fine. Freeing yourself completely of a failed project can be totally liberating – but where’s the writerly flagellating torture in that?
So yes, as the saying goes, we should always be prepared to kill our darlings. But that doesn’t mean we can’t store their lifeless, imperfect bodies in the chest freezer out back, ready to be thawed out if and when necessary.