Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Upping the run rate

Today I've been chatting via blog comments with Phill Barron, who writes funny sketches and gets gobs more material into NewsRevue and The Treason Show than I do. Turns out he can also write material much faster than I can.

Which raises the question, how can I increase my speed? It's an obvious assumption that run rates increase with experience, and I've definitely improved at churning out screenplay pages fast, but if anything my sketch writing is getting slower. Am I second-guessing myself? Am I too used to working with a partner? (I wrote sketches with Piers Beckley for a long time, but he's busy with drama projects these days, so my recent output has mostly been solo.) Am I simply running out of jokes?

Suggestions on a postcard please. The winning entrant will get an un-funny sketch written about them -- but don't expect it to be finished for several days.


Blogger William Gallagher said...

It's easier to change things than to write anew: I'd whack the idea down on paper and then work it up into something rather than trying to script it perfectly from the start.

Which also has the benefit that you can see an idea on the page sooner and make an earlier decision over whether it's got legs or not. And because it's jottings rather than scripting, you can do it anytime instead of only when you're at your desk at home or wherever you usually write.

Plus, if you spend a long time scipting then you risk it showing: things can feel forced which you recognise and might then spend even longer trying to rework. I know one can't really separate scripting from writing, and I wouldn't if you could, but letting things go sooner is good: not only making the decision whether to ditch an idea and move on, but also when to say it's finished.

It also helps to have silly deadlines: I've worked in newsrooms and that's been a great boon to me. Not that you can necessarily tell from my output, mind.


7:05 PM  
Blogger Phillip Barron said...

For what it's worth, I find the opposite of what Will says to be true. I find it harder to re-work a sketch once I've started heading in the wrong direction.

Different strokes, I guess.

I grab a copy of The Daily Mail, (I never buy one, they can't have my money) and I read the headlines and the first few paragraphs with the expectation of finding something funny.

When I do find something funny, I think about the kernel of the idea and what the punchline might be. Then I think about how I'd present it: an interview, someone getting a bollocking, someone confessing they've done something wrong ... In some cases I just dramatise the event in a stupid way.

Then I start scribbling. Every other line has to be a gag, it doesn't necessarily have to be on topic, it just has to be funny or stupid. I like to meander away from the point for a while, sort of drift sideways then come back to it.

If I've managed to find a punchline before I started, I just head obliquely for that; if I haven't, then I get to the bottom of page two (most of my sketches are two pages long, never longer) I try and finish the sketch with something stupid.

Because it's satire, I try to have a point ... and that's about it.

I find if I can't instantly imagine half a dozen funny lines on a subject, I can't write a sketch about it - or I'll struggle. Best thing to do then is junk it, before I've started writing and just turn the page.

Does that help? I think I'm going to write a more in depth post about this.

10:06 PM  
Blogger Phillip Barron said...

Oh yeah, silly deadlines do help; and no sleep. And friendly rivallry with someone who's slightly better than you.

10:06 PM  
Blogger Christine said...

This is a slight re-tread of a comment I left on Phill's blog, but I think I'm going to practise silencing my inner critic and writing first drafts of my sketches as quickly as possible. If they're unsalvageable crap I can throw them away -- but I think there's something to what William's saying about agonising over things and in the end just making them seem forced.

Lianne (http://lightandshadeblog.blogspot.com/) has blogged about 'free writing' exercises, wherein you sit down with a piece of paper and a pen, and you don't stop moving the pen for x minutes (I think 10 is a common starting value). Even if what comes out is complete nonsense. I think I might give those a try.

4:08 PM  
Blogger William Gallagher said...

At one point I used to write for an hour last thing at night before going to bed - but not just smartly predicting when I'd be going, rather getting to the point when I wanted to go to bed and then making myself write for an hour instead.

And at times it was great, at times it was astonishing: you could see me falling asleep as I typed, these nightmareish sentences coming out.

It was free writing as you say and it was psychologically revealing, but it didn't produce much usable stuff.

So I stopped doing that but I have kept on the hour business. I get very easily distracted and I get a lot of calls and emails so I'll tell iTunes to give me one or sometimes two hours of music I haven't played in a while, and then I write. No stopping, no looking at the time, no answering the phone. Definitely no checking emails.

And as long as there's music in my ears, I know I'm within the hour or two.

Mind you, a couple of times I've not noticed for a long time that the music has stopped.


7:16 PM  
Blogger Piers said...

I'm a big fan of writing something - anything - that you can then change.

Re: Phill on reworking a sketch, I think they're too short to rework. If one doesn't work I junk it - after all, it didn't take that long to get a first draft out in the first place, and the reason for *that* is that I knew if it wasn't going to work out I was going to junk it...

It's a virtuous circle.

And even earlier than that, I find it easier to judge whether something's got legs if I've got a few words scribbled down about it. With a couple of cheap gags if they happen to occur to me. Then I can throw out the ones that are don't look like they've got easy-to-mine comedy in them before having to script anything.

So I would say that to increase your speed you need to write less-thought-through stuff. If it's rubbish you can throw it away without losing anything valuable.

Ooh, yes, and ditto on deadlines and friendly rivalry. Though personally I vote against lack of sleep.

2:45 PM  
Anonymous Lianne said...

I find the free writing technique very useful for simply getting started writing - I rarely find that what I write is useful for material, but it often turns up whatever it is that is currently holding me back or 'blocking' me in some way. I find both Jurgen Wolff and Angela Booth (http://timetowrite.blogs.com/weblog/ and http://copywriter.typepad.com/copywriter/) have a lot of useful writing tips. In terms of actually increasing productivity, I work at a snail's pace so am not the best person to offer suggestions on that one, but I do find that if I do a little every day - even if it's five minutes, it soon builds up. If I give myself too much to do, none of it gets done. If I take things in small chunks it will get done.

11:53 AM  

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