So today I'm starting a new script. I have 35 blank pages ahead of me that need to be filled with people talking, stuff happening and jokes. This is the part of the job that freaks out most normal people. A long time ago, Mitchell and Webb did a splendid Edinburgh show (yes, I said 'a long' time ago) in which Rob's character was trying to write a play. He sits at his type writer (yes, 'a long' time) and stares at it blankly. David comes in and asks him what he's up to and Rob says 'I'm trying to write a play. But I don't know what to put.'
The fact is that most writers do know what to put - roughly. In fact, being told what to do is our least favourite thing. We like the freedom of a blank page on which you can write 'The Prison Guard kicks the prisoner to death' or 'Leonardo Da Vinci grabs his helicopter and flies off into the sunset', depending on your mood or intention.
Besides, you don't start with a blank page. You're writing a script based on an outline (unless you're Carla Lane who, let's face it, was more successful than most current comedy writers combined). My outline is a fourth draft of a show and character that I've been mulling over for several months. The outline contains lots of jokes and bits of dialogue. And it's 3000 words long. The finished script should be less than 6000 so, if you like, I've already written half of it. The least I can do is turn the outline into talking and stage directions and I've got something half-decent. And other jokes will come. I know they will. They always do. I've written or co-written over a hundred half-hour scripts for TV and radio. And the jokes do turn up - if I've set the show up right. But every time I think they won't - because the times they don't is because the show is flawed and the outline needs more work. Or you need a fresh idea. But that doesn't happen all that often.
The opening scene is the hardest because you're priming the pump. You're setting stuff up, establishing story and character so that it'll be funny later. But it needs to be funny now or they won't stick around for the end. We want to hear the audience laugh four or five times a minute from the start.
But I can do this.
I've done it before. I can do it again.
I should be fine.
I should make a start.
Any minute now.
Once I've closed Twitter, having checked it.
And closed Facebook.
And my email (wow, the Mac Mail package is useless. What's that all about?)
And now I need to find the right mood music on Spotify. Something familiar, but not boring. Ideally without lyrics. Bach? Scott Joplin? Chicane?
It's all in place. So, erm, I should probably update my blog. Hence this post.
But I've done that now.
So, I should just start typing. It'll get funny. I'm sure...