Stand up comedian - improviser - writer
  • The Ghost Crux - How Writer's Block Snuck Up On Me (But Didn't Slow Me Down)

    Tue 16 Jun 2015  ·  1:42AM
    It is claimed that the blank page is the thing writers fear most; that starting a project is the most difficult part. That is - SPECTACULARLY - not my problem. As I sit typing this, I currently have many projects quite happily begun, but woefully unfinished. Many of them are quite good, as the artistry of that last sentence really ought to reveal. I regularly struggle to finish projects that don't have a deadline attached. Why? Well, because i know the ending - it's all in my head - and unless someone is going to pay me money to commit said ending to paper, what else would justify the time spent on finishing it? I blame my uni course. Literally, the first day, one of our senior lecturers - a man I both respect very much and regularly disagree with, called Alan Smith - declared, "let me say this from the off - everything you do is useless unless someone writes you a cheque. Thus began three years of him being baffled every time someone hadn't bothered to complete the weekly writing assignment. Not exactly the most motivating sentence for coursework you'll ever hear in your life. Consequently, as things stand my list of unfinished projects includes:
    • A novel by the name Unsung Hero: The Dave Bolton Story - about a British Superhero called Dave, who lives in a world where superheroes are common place, and as such have organised themselves into a hierarchical structure. Dave's the junior-hero for the city of Birmingham (possibly changing to Leicester if I ever get around to editing it), who enters a TV talent show in order to try and get a better job, competing against people who are less talented than him and attempting to foil an assassination attempt along the way. 86,000 words of this have been written thus far. Probably another 20,000 (minimum) required to finish it. Reason for not finishing? 10,000 words were submitted as my uni dissertation, after which I was told that the course leaders felt it wasn't a strong enough concept to sustain a whole novel (slightly harsh analysis based on the fragment I submitted - but it was enough to kill my confidence in it). Currently think it might work better as a Game of Thrones-style TV show (though not as gratuitous).
    • A piece of Harry Potter fan fiction which I began writing after I graduated in a bid to do something that was light and didn't feel like work, but would be interesting enough to keep me writing. 90,000 words in and nowhere close to finished. I return to it roughly once a year and add a chapter, much to the delight of the now 500 people (roughly - I suspect some are duplicates) who subscribe to it. Currently unfinished as I'm busy with things that actually make me money, and writing each chapter is one hell of a time commitment to something that's free.
    • A Doctor Who audio podcast, in which me and two friends watch every episode of Doctor Who, and rewrite the stories with self-referential/inside jokes. Again, a huge time commitment for something that won't necessarily make money (licensing would be a problem if it did). I've written three scripts, that are pretty funny (for "An Unearthly Child", "Rose", and "The Daleks") - if you're a DW fan, but none have yet been recorded, and the mere thought of starting the next batch of scripts currently seems like an insurmountable challenge (each script takes upwards of 6 hours to complete from start to finish).
    • A somewhat meta concept for a stand up show about musical theatre, that is - itself - a musical. It would use existing melodies from famous shows, to tell the story of how those shows came into being. Seriously, this one's a logistical nightmare. I'd need a small orchestra, the music licenses, a cast of about 8-10 singing actors, a theatre willing to put on a ridiculously high concept piece, and an audience who'd actually want to see it. Don't see this happening for a few years yet.
    There are, probably, many others, were I to go trawling through my hard-drive looking for started scripts/novels that barely limp past page one (and now I've started using clichés! How fabulous! Whatever next? Dramatic asides to the reader delivered through brackets?! What hackery!). To make matters worse, for the last nine months, I haven't really written any new stand up either - sure, the odd joke here and there, occasionally something topical, or an extra line that would fit nicely into an old routine, but I've certainly not written any substantial chunks of material longer than about three minutes in that time (I am aware that some comics would consider a new three minutes a massive win, but I'm the man who wrote four new hour shows in four years, only to have to do a mildly-disguised "Greatest Hits" show this year - a handful of three minute routines really doesn't cut the mustard - which, for the record, can be done easily with a knife once applied to bread). Even this blog, you may have noticed, has been left unloved and underused for the better part of six months, prior to this post. Why? Well, therein lies the rub (probably a mustard-based dry marinade).
    In a period where I've barely written a single thing for myself in the last nine months - ridiculous though it may seem - I've never been creating more work than I am at the moment. The problem is, it's either a commissioned piece for someone else, or it's been improvised. Regular readers of my blog - assuming there are some - may have read a post I wrote around 18 months ago, about an experience I'd had at my own gig in Northampton, taking questions from the audience and riffing with them on stage. It was the funniest gig I've ever done, but I was concerned that it lacked substance; that it lacked anything of my own world view; that it lacked anything actually relevant to who I am. Foolishly, I didn't heed my own warning - and that gig was probably the beginning of the end for my previously prolific portfolio of written work. It was a whetstone to my confidence in the ability to improvise, and I have been doing that at most gigs since - often riffing with the audience and just letting the gig take me on it's own current. This has really been for no other reason than it's easier than the effort required to write material in advance. I've been doing the stand up equivalent of a fat man in a rubber ring at water park, on one of those lazy rivers; I can't be arsed to paddle - I'm already moving, so why bother? Having said that, I am, at least partially, concerned that the reason I've not being writing new blogs or new stand up lately is because I've currently got nothing new I want to say, and that's death for a writer and for a comedian. I can still write jokes on almost any topic when commissioned, no problem - or when prompted with ideas from others - but nothing of my own initiative. It's become a concern; maybe I've already said everything I've got to say during this phase of my life.
    However, this has coincided with the gradual rise of The Same Faces. I've been in love with short-form improvised comedy since 2004, and - having been performing in the format since 2008 - finally formed my own group in March 2013. This has meant that for the last two years, I've been running two monthly improv gigs (one in Leicester/one in Northampton, plus the stand up gig in the latter), two weekly workshops (again, one in each town), some schools workshops (including a weekly one), and we're now talking about a Same Faces' podcast (as soon as we can either cheaply lay hands on the equipment or find an existing studio who'll let us use their facilities for free). The side effect of this is, I'm not short of a creative outlet! I'm being funny on an incredibly regular basis and without the hassle of having to pre-write new material. It's great - but so very temporary; jokes are said one minute and forgotten the next, never to be repeated. So if this is all i'm doing, why did i spend £9000 on a Creative Writing degree a few years ago?
    Because I love writing is why - I really do - but it's like a marriage (I imagine) - keeping the romance alive takes effort, on both parts. Instead, I've wandered right into the middle of the battle between Art & Commerce, and - for the moment - I literally can't afford to side with art for the sake of art. I need to get the cheque Alan encouraged me to pursue on day one, and shoot romance in the foot by doing so. I'm fortunate that I'm able to enjoy my improvised mistress in the mean time (which I do, a lot; there's a reason this website has a three-pronged subtitle). That said, if anyone reading this would like to take a punt on a young man (26 is still young, right?) with ideas above his station, do get in touch.
    Ok, so, perhaps it's wrong to have used the term "Writer's Block" in the headline for this. I'm not really blocked. I've just written all this inside 90 minutes, after all. Plus, I'm on a mission to write a new blog post every night this week (I've been watching some new stuff on Netflix lately that I REALLY want to share some thoughts about, and I'm just egotistical enough to truly believe that other people want to read my thoughts on it - wait, I think I just re-invented Twitter...). The truth is, I'm not suffering from writer's block. I'm suffering from lack of motivation. I've got plenty of things I'd like to work on, but unless someone's actually going to pay to make them happen, I've really got to focus on the jobs that are actually paying me for my efforts - be that ghost writing, commissioned script-writing, improv gigs, or workshops. I just need to find some time to work on my own things in between - besides, what better way to unwind after work each day than to write 1000 words of something that'll probably never be seen...?