Monday, 14 October 2013



...I've spent the last six weeks working on a production... a film called Pressure. The thing about this project is that it went from being written to fully financed and shot within a year of Alan McKenna writing it. Alan, who has a good CV as an actor, realised that even he needed to be proactive to make it happen. He made the time to write - and wrote himself into the film - whilst still acting, being a dad, and getting on with life. Alan had written other work but this was his first script to be produced. Now he's meeting with literary agents and researching his next project. So often we hear ourselves and other writers say that they don't have time, or that when they sit down to write they would rather be elsewhere. No one is questioning the desire to write but if there isn't the action of writing - then the desire can seem like talk with no substance. 

Diablo Cody wrote in her recent piece on 7 Lessons of Being a Screenwriter that when she made Juno, suddenly everyone she knew aspired to be a screenwriter. Her response was to say: go ahead, take a crack, because it is the best job in the world. Out of all the professions in film - acting, directing, writing - writing is technically the only one you can do yourself. With acting you have to be cast, with directing you need a script, but writers create the work that gives the actor and director something to do. I've also written before about not confusing passion with desperation, and there is also a difference between failing and not starting to begin with. I don't believe anyone who says they are passionate about something when they don't make the time to do it. There is no point being well-intentioned - a writer must write. 

My Ten Rocliffe Tips:
  1. Set a time each day to write. Put on the alarm clock two hours early before going to work. Spend that time writing. 
  2. Create a writer's DNA. Ask: when do you write best - morning, afternoon, or evening? Do you write to deadlines? What environment makes you the most prolific? I know a writer who likes to write in a busy cafe, telling me the noise and bustle keeps him focussed. My favourite two places are the British Library (which is filled with writers and free to get a reader's pass) and a quiet cafe near me called Food Lab. I bumped into one of our Comedy Writers 2012, who regularly works in there too. Now there is a small community of writers who turn up and beaver away over a cooling cafe latte - and the cake is good too. 
  3. Writing has to be something you love. Think of it as spending time with someone you love: if you hate writing or what you are writing, then why would you spend time doing it?  
  4. If you can't work within a timeframe of an hour, then set goals of page count, scene count or word count.  Don't let yourself leave until you have achieved your goal
  5. Should you find yourself struggling to write, go back and edit the work you have written. Check that what you have changed now works within the framework of your story or plot. Take a storyline or even a news article and play what ifs with it - integrate these into the story. List 20 what ifs to get the stories going. Be as crazily creative as you want - it will free up the story and will refresh you. 
  6. Build in eye breaks to your writing schedule. Allow yourself time to go to the toilet, surf the internet, tweet or facebook but TIME it.  Less guilt is involved when it is part of the schedule - 5 minutes at the end of each hour. 
  7. Allow yourself to take story or script problems for a walk, sleep or meditate on them.  
  8. Don't tell people that you've started as you'll have them asking how's it going or when can they see what you've written? It can feel like the writing is a sentence rather than a creative opportunity
  9. If you work, however taxing the job, take some vacation and go on a writer's retreat, sign up for a writing course or join a weekly writing course or group. All of this will stimulate you and you will look forward to the time to write. 
  10. Find a reason to write - for pleasure, work, purpose, exploring a truth. You need to write with purpose. I can't write all the hours God sends, but I can sit down and write. Start by writing an outline - a beginning, middle and end and then fill it in. Remember writing is a privilege. 
I come from a family of writers on both sides - Libyan and Irish. My childhood was filled with my father writing for two days solidly through the night before he would stop, sigh in a satisfied way, and then sleep for twenty-four hours. When it became too dangerous for him to write, during the Gadaffi regime, he took to painting as he said they were too stupid to politicise art. There was an intensity to his creativity that fascinated me - to this day, be it art or written word he is still as prolific. Summer holidays with my uncle (poet Macdara Woods) would have the house vibrating with the sound of him typing one of many books on his woodstock typewriter, which he used until 1989. I envied their ability to sit and write. During the Libyan revolution I was asked to write articles to tight deadlines with a word count for newspapers. I had to, because my work was informing people about what was going on. My proudest moment was when I published a piece on returning to Libya after three decades in the Irish Times because I finally got to tell my story. 

Scripts, stories, books can do that too - they tell a story, your story, your characters' stories - but what use are they in your head?  

My writing quote of the week:

Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen ~ Michael Jordan

Keep writing.