The Writing Journal #33

It seems there is a glut of phenomenal TV on our screens at the moment.  The Virtues, Years and Years, Ghosts and What We Do in the Shadows to name but a few (before you even begin to add in Big Little Lies, Killing Eve and The Handmaid’s Tale starting back up again the weekend past as well!). All of these shows are incredible in their own ways, and could more than happily justify a blog entry on their own (and more than likely will once I have caught up with them fully!), but the one that struck the biggest chord with me this past week is the outstanding Sky Atlantic/HBO drama Chernobyl.

It came to my attention with a lot of hype surrounding it – it’s the first time I’ve heard the phrase “highest rated show on IMDB” used in promotional material before – but it’s easy to see why. The whole show is captivating, from the first few minutes of the first episode to the closing scenes of the last, with a jaw-dropping balance of scale. It accurately represents the global implications that are still being felt more than thirty years on, whilst simultaneously building deep, human connections around the incredibly personal, individual relationships that helped avert an even bigger catastrophe from occurring. It represents themes of sacrifice and human compassion in ways that are not melodramatic or cliché – every person who went into that situation was a hero to everyone alive today, yet they were depicted as real, everyday people accepting that there was more to this world than themselves and doing their part to protect the greater good. Add to that the bold choices that were made throughout, both blunt (stark, graphic injury detail) and subtle (allowing detailed discussions about nuclear physics and reactor cores in a mainstream drama) and you’re left with a truly remarkable piece of work that felt reflective and current at the same time. It’s all too often a show is referred to as “must-see”, but Chernobyl truly does fit that moniker, particularly if you have any interest in working with TV drama. It’s also doubly useful for study as all of the scripts have been made available here and are just as brilliant for writers to learn from.

Target Number 1: Spend a minimum of 20 hours editing my novel.

It’s the first time I’ve used time to set a writing target, and so I must admit I found it hard to gauge what would be a “sensible” target to set myself for a month. On the one hand, I didn’t want it to be so low that I could achieve it in a day, but similarly I didn’t want to set it unrealistically high either. On this week’s evidence – just under two and a half hours in total – twenty seems about right for now. I certainly need to up my game in order to meet the target by the end of the month, but not by an unachievable amount either, especially if, like last week, I have an influx of other work that takes priority.

Another first to come out of this target was the use of a stopwatch to accurately record how much time I was actually spending on these edits. I’m often guilty of rounding up time, either for sake of ease (“I worked on it for an hour or so”) or to try and make myself feel better (“I worked for a couple of hours”). By running an accurate stopwatch for the last week, however, I have discovered that those periods that felt like “an hour or so” were anything but in reality, and were much shorter than I’d anticipated, which came as a bit of a reality check, especially when trying to allocate tasks to a schedule. The aforementioned guilt sometimes extends to not thinking much can be achieved in twenty minutes, therefore there’s little point to starting anything in that time; this week’s evidence doesn’t necessarily corroborate that.

Using a stopwatch also helped me to focus more on the task in hand. Procrastination is a constant battle, particularly in the editing phase when details have to start making sense and you want to run and hide from them. But by putting a literal ticking clock by the side of me during the sessions I set aside for the novel, it really helped to reassure/remind me that it was a set chunk of time for that task that I had to stick to rather than seeing things as more abstract “session” and thinking I had plenty of time to both write and “check in” on Twitter…again…

Target Number 2: Write a first draft pitch document for a TV show.

As briefly mentioned above, last week saw an influx of other work, meaning that my own deadlines had to take a back seat until it was done. In the bigger picture this is no bad thing, and indeed to be encouraged (please do keep sending me things to read, it is a great boost to the Keep Dave Fed and Watered Fund) but for this particular target, it meant no real work was done to further its progress this week. I’ve chosen the show I want to work on, and I’ve pondered on a few details that popped into my head around it, but no more than that at this early stage.

It’s been a relatively slow start to this month’s writing targets, but only because other work came along which is certainly not a bad thing. That seems to be the way of things at the moment, where anything can, and seemingly does, change week to week. The new goals should keep the writing train rolling now though, and with a fresh head of steam growing with the novel in particular, I’m confident it can continue to do so, whatever lies ahead on the tracks.

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