Wednesday, March 11, 2009

365 Sketches

So... I am writing 365 sketches this year. Yesterday, I posted sketch number 51. Today is 52 and, at this point in time, I have no idea what I'll be posting tonight.

Writing 51 sketches in one year is quite an accomplishment. On top of that, I have liked them all. Some more than others, but I don't think I have posted anything that would bring shame to me or my family or mankind if it were staged. I could stop now and not worry about showing up to a Robot vs Dinosaur meeting empty handed for the rest of 2009 and well in to 2010. But, that's not the game I set up for myself. I said 365 and I'll do it.

I've made up lots of reasons justifying this project - creative challenge, experiment in writing, breaking the myth of writer's block, etc. Truth is, I'm having a creative mid-life crisis. In any group I find myself in - classes, RvD, even hanging out socially - I'm usually the oldest guy in the room. It's been over ten years since I wrote for Jellyvision and WNEP's Metaluna debuted. That Emmy Award in my bio was almost 20 years ago. I'm out to make a big noise with my writing. Look at me! The kid's still got it! Well, hello, ladies, why, yes, I'm single...

What I didn't fully expect was to learn something about myself and writing.

Here's what I am learning...

- You don't have to know what you are going to write before you start writing.
Yesterday, I had no idea what I was going to write. I was on my lunch break at Columbia College when I realized I had nothing. I grabbed a RedEye and started sifting through it. Nothing. Two other teachers were nearby and they were having a conversation about Scientology. That had me thinking about aliens. I also have discovered a love for comic monologues through this project. I knew I wanted to write a monologue. How could I meld the two ideas? That led me to thinking about The Day The Earth Stood Still (the original) when Klaatu and Gort emerge from the spaceship and address the humans. So, I just started writing without any idea what my comic premise was going to be. As I wrote, I realized that we have been looking to the skies for decades and that this might actually be annoying. Stalker-ish, even.

- Trust yourself. Anything you write can be shaped into something worth having written.

- The actual act of writing can be tedious and is the main source of procrastination for me.

- What I have learned as an improviser I can apply to writing. Often, my writing is just transcribing the improv that's going on in my head.

- The fear of sucking makes me work harder.
By making this such a public endeavor, I'm more aware of needing to mix things up and keep things fresh. I'm trying new things, more aware of conversations around me, always trying to find new names to use for characters.

- By having such an output, my work is less precious to me and that's a good thing.
As a writer, it's easy to become enamored with the last thing you wrote and fearful of moving on to the next thing, which might stink.

- Writing every day sharpens your skills as a writer.
I'm learning to write faster and am able, I believe, to deliver first drafts that don't need major overhauls. As I write, I am able to anticipate and guide my writing. This is distinct from editing as I write a first draft. That usually comes from my internal editor freaking out and telling me something's not funny. This is more like a guided exploration.

- I'm not done yet.
While I am proud of my accomplishment, so far, I am far from done. I still have 314 more scenes to write. It's scary to think of it that way. Like a recovering alcoholic, I'm taking this project just one day at a time.


gramarye said...

Nice, Joe. I'm impressed that you've created this project for yourself. I'm still struggling mightily with myriad writing fears and demons, and this inspires me to take some kind of action. I bet something amazing will come out of the project for you. Lisa

Chris Othic said...

Nice post. I need to get to this point myself. I have a habit of wanting to "solve" a scene before I write, yet I have sat down numerous times under a deadline and flat out wrote a good scene. I think procrastinating or editing as you write are just habits that can be broken. The time constraints of your project have forced you to break those habits, and it looks like you are building confidence and the actual writing process is getting easier. Kind of like you have been doing pushups every day for the last 51 days, huh?

Please check in on the project like this from time to time. I think I enjoy learning about aother writer's process almost as much as reading their material.

Nat Topping said...


Joe Janes said...

Thanks, all!

Jeannie said...

This commentary is helpful!! I guess like Chris said, for me it is interesting to read about the process. I am not a comic writer or sketch writer, actually not exactly sure what kind, but most of it is in my head and the stuff on paper which I think is great when I am writing it, I think suck afterwords, so for me seeing your discipline of producing everyday is really helpful!!!! And if u need any material on neurotics or psychos, feel free to email me.