One of the “as-yet-untitled” screenplays I’m working on began its life as a novel. The idea for which came to me in much the same way as the poems and story vignettes I wrote about in Summoning the Muse. It was a month or so after the 911 attacks and I had recently miscarried what would have been my first child. As often happens during times of stress or hormonal fluctuations (e.g., the phenomenon of post-partum hair loss), my hair had begun to fall out. In clumps.
In retrospect I’m sure my thinning hair didn’t even warrant a second glance from passersby, but to me, my visible scalp shone like a beacon, announcing to the world that I, a woman in her early thirties, was, in fact, going bald.
It was during this time that I began to try to focus on the positives. At least my job didn’t depend on my appearance. As a technical writer I could pretty much get away with keeping my head down in a cube for 12 hours straight or donning a cap in the office to avoid awkward stares. I started thinking about those people whose professions do depend on their appearance (actresses, models, athletes, public figures) and I started playing out some of those scenarios in my mind. How would people in their inner circle respond to this new image? How would someone who has always been defined by her appearance learn to see herself differently if confronted by an illness that radically changed her appearance? It was from these strands of thought that the first bits of my then novel started to take shape.
As it turns out, I did not go bald. My hair grew back. It fell out again after each of my subsequent miscarriages and pregnancies, but never to the degree that it had that first time. I count the dual stressors of the pregnancy loss and the recent terrorist attack as factors there, but really, who knows?
From those few thoughts a whole story began to emerge. Other characters came into view, their entire backstories handed to me to weave into the fabric of my book. So, you might ask, if everything came so easily how come I never finished the book? Well, there are a thousand answers to that question, but the most prominent reason is this: I couldn’t keep up. I’ve told a few friends about my novel/screenplay over the years and I tell the story like I’m recounting the story of a group of friends, or a relatives that I know well. I had all the plot points down cold. I just didn’t have the patience to let the story unfold slowly, to write down all the detail I had attributed to these characters. I just wanted to get it written already.
Several years ago when I was working as a technical writer, a coworker’s sister—who had previously written a few short film scripts and scripts for TV—had just sold a feature film script for one million dollars. His sister, my coworker told me, set out to write a “blockbuster”— like me, you’re probably thinking, “Doesn’t everyone?”— and holed herself up for six weeks to write the 120-paged script. This got me thinking. Maybe if I were to just try to turn my novel into a screenplay I could get it done faster. If all I had to do was to distill it down to the essential plot points, I could crank this sucker out in no time.
No time has turned out to be seven years. In fairness, I haven’t worked on it steadily over that time. I’ve taken large breaks to have children, earn a living, and work for environmental change. Having just had my third child, I’m recommitting myself to finishing this screenplay (at least a complete first draft of it) by the end of 2013*(see below).
So, how am I doing so far? Um, just Ok. I’ve got about 30 pages of screenplay written with the rest outlined into scenes that need to be written. I lost some of my scenes for the next chunk I plan to write because they are on an old computer that is no longer accessible.
But I’m feeling hopeful. After all, I’ve been thinking about these characters for twelve years now. It may take me a while to reconstruct some scenes, but I’m sure I’ll be able to put it together eventually.
Let’s hope I can get this done before another twelve years pass by.
*Geez, do I need to stop committing myself to dates publicly! If only wanting something to happen were a way to ensure that it would. My life is a stream of crazy these days. Writing this update seems like a luxury I can’t usually afford. I’m doing it at the expense of sitting in the tv room with my husband on a Friday night. That’s sad x2. Between the three kids, taking on the role of PTA Co-president for my kids’ school, serving on a nonprofit board and going back to graduate school. It doesn’t all seem to be happening. But you know what? It’s ok. It will happen. Maybe I’ll set the record for taking the longest time to write a screenplay ever. Like a year a page. One can dream. 🙂