Monday, January 05, 2015

Writing A Sleepy Hollow Script on Spec

I'm back in LA for my winter writing residency.  I'm so incredibly happy to be here, and so blessed to have such wonderful friends (and such an amazing husband!) to gift me with 3 weeks to write each January!

I've been here nearly a week, but even though I've been writing pretty much from the second I arrived, it always takes me at least that long to start to feel human again, capable of engaging the outside world.

I stay with an old, dear friend of mine (he's not old; the friendship is old) who agreed last winter when I was first really inspired to write for television to serve as my mentor in a no-money-exchanged, no-degree-awarded MFA in Writing for Television.  I began my first spec here, drafting an episode of my favorite show, Sleepy Hollow.  Damn was that hard.  Damn was I clueless. At the end of my three weeks, Tim read my script and gave me thorough and fantastically helpful feedback, the best of which was (after pointing out how I had every single mistake in the novice book), "well, you didn't embarrass yourself.  Keep going."  In other words, I wasn't completely hopeless.  Always a nice thing to hear from a writer you really admire.

And I do admire Tim.  He's kind of amazing.  I've known him since he was a poor and struggling screenwriter and now...well let's just say he's not exactly poor anymore.  He's always struggling because he has exceptionally high standards for himself, and for story in general.  He's also a really generous, loving teacher.  Not everybody would be willing to give so much of themselves, especially as busy as he is, to help a newbie learn the ropes.  But with everyone he encounters, passionate about this work and life, he really tries to be patient, honest, tender, and encouraging.

At the moment, he has an overdue script to finish, so he's holed up in his office pretty much the whole day, every day, which I not only understand but wholeheartedly support.  This is how it is when you're on deadline, I know.  When I do see him, he's always kind and supportive (and as ever, hilarious).  It's exciting to be in a house where the Muse not only shows up every day but has her work cut out for her.  And I know once he's finished he'll make whatever time he can with me for reading my work, talking shop, in between his regular work of show-running an amazing drama.

So my job, all day, every day right now, is revising this Sleepy Hollow spec. for him to read once he comes up for air.  I put it through about 20 drafts last spring, showed it to him again, and he read it and said, "the first two scenes are really good.  They're professional."  As for everything else, it was back to the drawing board.  Since that was June, and I'm a farmer, and our season is pretty crazy straight through to October, I've gotten little done on it of late.  I'm also wondering if I shouldn't just jettison the whole thing and finish breaking this other idea I have for a Sleepy episode instead.

One of the really valuable things Tim helped me see is that I was so in love with my story, I wasn't servicing the needs of my characters and the series as a whole.  TV is a whole different kettle of fish from say, writing one's own short stories, which is the format with which I'm most experienced.  And that's one of the reasons I love it.  I love playing around in someone else's universe, but that does mean I have to play by their rules, and structure and boundaries are two of the most valuable tools, I think, in a writer's chest for engendering creativity.

At the same time, I'd love to try my hand at a Longmire episode (another awesome show).  I have a few more analyses of Season 2 Sleepy episodes I'd like to finish (and there's a new episode on in 8 minutes!! Whoo-hoo).  Doing those analyses has been very edifying for me.  I hope they're useful to somebody other than me (I am always in awe of and intimidated by the Sleepy Hollow writers' work, no matter how much snark comes out in my writing.  This shit is tough).

Good thing the farm is granting two days a week to write this year, even in the warm season. I'm incredibly blessed.  I'm going to need it.


  1. Just keep on going, my dear! You truly are a gift!!

  2. You are the gift, my guardian angel!