This past month, something odd’s happened: I’ve been revisiting an old project, one that I started working on probably three years ago. It’s been an intermittent presence in my writing career, showing up to haunt me on a number of occasions before diving back into the deep. My relationship with it is fraught with wonder and frustration, because as much as I’ve enjoyed tussling with it, it’s never been quite right.
If you’ve been following the blog, you probably know I’m aimed largely at writing for television, though I dabble in other types (like, say, blogging!). Three years ago, I cooked up an idea for a sitcom pilot that I thought had magnificent potential. Not long after, I wrote a pilot for it. Suffice to say, it didn’t quite work.
The sense of humour was childish, the tone was inconsistent, the plotting cloppy and the characters’ voices ill-formed. It was, to be short, a mess, even if a handful of readers really enjoyed it. However, I still felt like I needed to continue with these characters, and though the cast has changed a little since then, it hasn’t changed much. It’s still this core of six main characters, whose voices and interrelationships delight me. A year ago, I pitched a revised pilot to a website that airs script series, and the critical reaction was not exactly in my favour. It feels like a lot longer ago, but then again, the pilot from last year was a number of rewrites after the initial draft.
The verdict of the judges did two things: it sent me into a creative tailspin that lasted for months, and it made me set the concept aside for a long time. However, I’d done plenty of plans and written a second episode (and part of a third) I was much happier with, which deeply confused my feelings about the whole thing. I’d found what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t say it in the pilot because I couldn’t figure out how to write a decent pilot. But had that sample that showed what I wanted, if I could just figure out how to emulate it.
But I set it aside for a full year, working on other projects and ignoring the occasional twinge toward redeveloping it. I still hadn’t isolated exactly how to make it work, after all, and there was no point beating a dead horse. It wasn’t until I had a high-pressure deadline on the way that it reared its head again, and filled my head like a roaring siren’s song.
Suddenly, I had an outline that was potentially funny, tonally consistent, and fit the series formula.
Suddenly, I had the burning need to write the pilot, and nothing else.
And almost just as suddenly, after a quick three week’s work, I had a new, complete, 40-page pilot. Still very rough, with some sections needing complete rewrites down to the plotting level, but a complete pilot that felt right in a way the previous ones didn’t. It’s an exhilarating feeling to finally have, after three distinct versions, each with their own labourious series of rewrites, a pilot that feels like it belongs to the show I’m building. Since writing the new pilot, I’ve also gone back to what was planned as the third episode (now the fourth) and written it to the halfway mark, with the rest roughly plotted and ready to be written.
Sometimes an idea is too big, or just wrong, for the time in your life when it surfaces. It might need to be set aside until the fire in your belly yearns to write it. Then, you’ll know you’re ready. And that’s a wonderful feeling.