Thursday, April 24, 2008

Two weeks in the life

I've been incredibly busy for the past 6 or 7 months, and I'm always popping into the blog and going "ooh, I'm so busy", but what does that actually mean? Do I loaf around and then do 5 minutes of work in the afternoon (that's the goal), or am I really that busy, frantically working every waking hour? Usually it's a nice mix of the two, but for the past few months, it's been mainly frantic. So here is a breakdown of the 2 weeks leading up to the broadcast of my Doctor Who episode, to show what it's been like lately. I'm not posting this asking for sympathy or anything like that, so please hold off on the letter writing campaign to Amnesty International - they will just laugh at you. This is purely so you can see what I've been working on and how busy things can get. As they say, it's for information purposes only, and not to be used for any illegal activity. So don't print it out and choke someone to death with it, whatever you do. Unless they really deserve it.

Monday 31st March: I have two weeks left to finish writing the first draft of my CurrentJob script, so today is mostly spent working on that. I started it a couple of weeks ago, so it's in good shape. When things are getting close to the deadline, as they are now, I get up, have breakfast, and start writing. I don't stop until I'm too tired to go any further. Sometimes this is 6 or 7pm, sometimes much later. I'll stop for dinner, then just keep going.

Tuesday 1st April: Writing CurrentJob in the morning, then heading out in the afternoon for the Doctor Who press launch. I'm really excited to go, but it does mean losing half a day where I could be writing. Shouldn't be a problem though, I've still got nearly 2 weeks until the deadline. Although many of those days will be taken up with meetings, but it should be enough time. Right...?

Wednesday 2nd: Writing in the morning, but then have to go and get a train for tomorrow's story conference - I'm staying overnight. Was going to write on the train, but prepare for the story conference instead.

Thursday 3rd and Friday 4th: 2-day story conference for New Secret Thing, 10am to 5pm both days. Goes really well, but I don't get any writing done on CurrentJob, because my brain is too full. Get back home late Friday night.

Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th: Writing CurrentJob all day, till late, very late - usually midnight or thereabouts. Also do a short script for an online thingy (will announce that soon, secret for now). Starting to get frazzled, and occasionally startled by the bewildered, unshaven madman in the mirror.

Monday 7th: Primeval readthrough in the morning, which goes very well, but then I have to go straight back home to keep writing CurrentJob.

Tuesday 8th: I need to keep going on CurrentJob, but also do an outline for Other Popular Show, and an outline for New Secret Thing (based on the story conference notes from last week). Work on all of them today. Just over two days left for CurrentJob. Not panicking at all. Screeching in terror now and again, but that's perfectly normal.

Wednesday 9th: Same as yesterday. Finish off both outlines, and keep going on CurrentJob. But - I get an email from the producer of Different New TV Secret Thing, asking for some extra ideas for the outline I gave them a few weeks ago, so have to come up with some paragraphs for that and email it off. Start to pull my face off and howl at the moon, but it's perfectly normal, and nothing to do with the workload.

Thursday 10th: Was planning to spend the morning in town picking up some stuff, just relaxing and having a day out, but have to cancel it, stay in, and continue writing CurrentJob. Make some changes to the New Secret Thing outline, after a quick phonecall from the script editor, and send it off. At 5pm I've got a script meeting in town for Other Popular Show, which helps with that outline a lot, but I don't get back home until around 8pm. Continue writing CurrentJob, finally finishing it at 20 past midnight. Check through, send it off. Had to be finished tonight, even though tomorrow is the deadline, because I've got an all day meeting tomorrow. Crawl into bed, giggling at the moon, but that's perfectly normal.

Friday 11th: The second story conference day for New Secret Thing. Another all dayer. This finishes about 4pm, and I have to come straight home and finish getting the house ready for the weekend, because my Dublin mates will be here in a couple of hours. So everything finishes in the nick of time, ready for me to relax and get very, very drunk.

And that was my fortnight of mayhem.

But it doesn't stop, it just pauses briefly. I had a great Doctor Who weekend (see the previous few posts), but as soon as it was over, everything kept going - on Monday and Tuesday, I had a 2 day CurrentJob story conference. Then two other meetings on Wednesday. And another one Thursday morning, which I had to rearrange because I'd just got too much to finish. Then at the weekend I had to revise 2 outlines, write a new one for Different New TV Secret Thing, and do a quick script polish on something else of mine.

And by the end of April/early May I need to finish a short story, do a 2nd draft of the CurrentJob script, then start the Other Popular Show and New Secret Thing scripts. In May, I'll have to do the first draft of my next CurrentJob episode (I'm doing two), after I finish the Other Popular Show and New Secret Thing scripts, then probably start the Different New TV Secret Thing script. Which will take me into mid-June. And then I'm going to need a holiday. Or even just a weekend off. I've been in this room for eight years now, Clarice. I know they will never, ever let me out while I'm alive. What I want is a view. I want a window where I can see a tree, or even water. I want to be in a federal institution, far away from Dr. Chilton.

Why do things get so busy? Just the way it is, sometimes. I'm also in demand a bit, partly because people like my stuff, partly because I'm busy - if they think they can't have you, it drives them bananas and they want you even more. When I was flogging a movie thing around town ages ago, I was due to go away for a week somewhere, and let my agent know. Suddenly, every producery-type in town wanted to meet me *right now*, before I went away. I explained that I'd be back after a week - that's what "a week away" means - but they didn't care, had to be now now now. Just in case. They thought that if they left it, someone else would meet me before they did, buy the thing, and make it a huge hit. So I had to cram a load of meetings in before I left, it was hectic but very nice to be wanted. And in the end, as you've probably guessed, the thing didn't sell. What's that all abaaaht, eh? But in TV Land, when you're in demand, people actually hire you, and treat you nicely, which is A Good Thing. Also, I had a 6 month period around the release of Severance where I had no work whatsoever, and thought that maybe it was all over. So right now I'm taking full advantage of my position, and am able to pick and choose what I want to work on. Which is also A Good Thing.

After burning out a bit in February, I've been organising things properly so that I don't have too much on at once. But all it takes is one show to move a schedule forwards or backwards, and then there is a critical overlap - which happened in Jan/Feb, when two things moved at the same time and caught up with me. I can usually do two major things at the same time without any trouble. Any more, and things can get... hairy. Right now I'm working on episodes for 4 different TV shows, all at different stages (see above). According to the plan and schedule, at any given time, 2 are at script stage, and 2 are at outline stage, which is manageable - I do a draft of the 1st, then do a draft of the 2nd while waiting for notes on the 1st. So I'm hoping that things don't get moved around. And that's how I manage my time at the moment. Ask away if anything's not clear. I'm about to sign contracts on Other Popular Show, so I'll be able to say what that is soon.

Now I have to go and lie down for a bit, and foam at the mouth slightly. Don't worry, it's perfectly normal.

Update from 2011: My organising didn't quite work, as some things moved again, and I'd taken on WAY too much work. The next few months were... difficult. And exhausting. Writing started to feel like a job, which it never did before. Lesson learned: don't take on too much work, it'll physically and mentally pummel you for a while.


BaaBaaDoodle said...

That was a very enlightening post! Thank you for talking about the daily grind.

Hope you have a spreadsheet or project planner or something. If I were juggling all that, I'd probably end up confusing all my projects and writing a scene where the Tardis lands in Brooklyn or something (where our L&O is? I dunno) or where a guy who can't die works for the NYPD...wait hasn't that already been done? :)(New Amsterdam...don't know if that's reached the UK. Was pretty good.)

Just catching up on series 1 of Primeval now, enjoying it and looking forward to more. Can't wait till some of your new projects are announced.

Rob Stickler said...

That's really interesting, it's nice to get an insight.

You are obviously insane though, n'est pas?

Dom Carver said...

How you stay sane with that work load is beyond me. Maybe you should get you wife to remove all the sharp objects from the house. It'll be safer that way. Oh, and remove all your shoelaces.

Karen Funk Blocher said...

Suddenly I feel really, really lazy. Slothful, even. Good luck with all of it, and remember to breathe. And sleep. Sleep is good, they tell me. Not at a meeting, though. Producers don't like it when you snore.

Peter Pan said...

Very busy indeed.
And of course moon barking is a perfectly normal thing. I do it every month.

Jason Arnopp said...

Work-shy fop.

Paul Campbell said...

You've got far too much on your plate.

Listen, as a favour to you, I can take some of that stuff from you. A couple of episodes here or there. Think how much your life would improve. You might actually avoid that impending breakdown.

I wouldn't mind. Honest.

Lucy said...

I was going to say that Paul! Don't you have a sodding CASUALTY to write or something, hmmmm?

Look at me, the TV writing beggar, look at my torn clothes, look at my starving children... This is all your fault James for taking all the work!

And Paul. Just because it is.

Martin Fisher said...


I wish I was that busy writing wise.

No, seriously, I wish I was.

Dozeymagz said...

I have a rather unhealthy interest in knowing the everyday details of other peoples lives - so this post made me very happy indeed.
What a busy chap you are!

That makes me sound a bit of a stalker doesn't it?

*Looks around to make sure no one is watching*

I'm not.


Anonymous said...

I want to say something sympathetic, but "sorry you are so busy," just doesn't seem right some how. :)


Amanda said...

I'm fully expecting four televisual treats of differing series to feature characters from all four shows appearing in each one. And the storyline to be EXACTLY the same in each. Probably nobidy will notice becae the directors/production values will be different in each one, but I will. Oh, yes, I will.

Oh! You're off to mingle with the Marsters tomorrow, oui? I wanna come with. *pouty, sulky pout*

Ian C said...

James, when did you give up your other work and start writing full-time?

PammieJR said...

Ya, know, I used to think I was good at multi-tasking until I read that post...HOLY BALLS, I am impressed!

As I am not a writer and could never be, because I don't have that talent...that entry was a neat insight as to what script writers actually do, thanks!

FlatlandDan said...

Great to meet you yesterday at the Rift! It's a pity they didn't just give the writers a table so we didn't have to accost you in the halls.

Dan said...

Oh balls, I always arrive at these things late. If you're still there, what was your agent's take on the six month period of no work? Could it have been that after a success it needs time for your name to filter through to the right people?

joelmead said...

I wish I could write full-time but I have needed to sub as well to keep the wolf from the door. This post was very interesting and I hope I can switch to just writing one day. Oh well, you can dream;)

rob said...

Hi James,

Just wondering how the Law and Order: London process is going since you haven't mentioned it for a while.

I've been binging on L&O on the Hallmark channel and am now absurdly excited about the London spin off.

Is it fun to work on something so relentlessly gritty/real world instead of genre stuff for a change?