By Jenny Abel, May 9th, 2010

“What the hell am I doing? I can’t write. How do people fucking do this for a living?” These are the poisonous phrases of defeat that loop inside my brain prior to my turning into a robot and heading toward the refrigerator to binge on cheese even though I’m a vegan.

I’m a firm believer in rolling up your sleeves and jumping into whatever project moves you. Passion can be an immense driving force, even if you don’t have any formal training in a particular endeavor. This obviously precludes any dangerous stuff. I’m speaking creatively. I don’t want to get all ‘Life Coach’ on you guys, but I feel pretty strongly that anyone can go as far as their passion leads them. The only obstacle is self-doubt.

Jeff and I are writing a screenplay, a narrative based on my mom and dad’s life story. We’ve read the books we’re ’supposed’ to, we’ve brainstormed, we’ve nitpicked over tiny grammatical stuff to avoid the larger issues of structure, character development and figuring out the intricate puzzle of Act II. To all of the countless souls who have been down this path, we feel your pain.

Alan and Jeanne Abel

The creative cycle is as predictable as the seasons. You settle down to write, you get distracted, you procrastinate. Then you hear weird noises coming from next door, you’re thrown off balance, you lose focus. So you go eat some more cheese, walk the dog, make some coffee, sit down and force yourself to write a little bit, you gain confidence, not too much…oh no, here it comes…”What am I doing? I can’t fucking write!” Writer’s block is back.

Jeff and I take turns writing. We rely on one another. He is definitely alpha when it comes to making the larger decisions, because he is the one who started this project. It’s his baby and I don’t want to tamper with a direction or vision he may have. But having said this, if he were to bear the entire burden alone, it would be incredibly overwhelming. Not all artists want to work with others, but I’ve come to learn the value in partnering with someone you respect and admire. There are times when Jeff comes up with an idea, incorporates it into the script and I read it and get goosebumps. This is when I know it’s exactly what belongs there and how the story should go.

I think that Jeff and I make a good team because of our ability to communicate with one another. Again, we’re learning as we write. Since he and I are pretty green, the writing journey has been an especially slow process. We’ve been locked in our cave for the past year-and-a-half, not having shown a word of the first draft to a soul. We’re almost ready for a select group of writing friends to have a look. We’re both a little nervous. It’s going to be like standing up before a crowded room to make an announcement and then dropping your drawers…and there you are with all of your pimples and sagging parts, getting gawked at by critical eyes.

Some might argue that working in a vacuum is dangerous. I think that when you’re ready to let someone see your ‘creation’ it should never be a half-finished work or something that starts out solid and peters out because you’ve rushed to complete it. You cannot go out onto the stage without practicing first. Always put your best foot forward. Whatever the end product is that you’ve created, it has to be something that you are totally proud of…not something you half-assed in a half-baked state.

Our project started out as a 10-page treatment that grew to 40 pages over the course of several months and then the realization set in that, instead of trying to tell someone else how the story should go, we might as well just write the script ourselves. Jeff and I didn’t know what the hell we got ourselves into when we started working together on the documentary, but that film is still out and about and maintaining a steady momentum fed by word-of-mouth. So it’s not a totally radical concept for us to take it a step further and fictionalize my dad’s life story for the big screen.

Whatever it is that you want to create, study what others have done before you, not to mimic, but to be shown the light. Jeff and I watched hundreds of documentaries before we set out on the journey to make our own first film. And for our current writing project, we try to study as many screenplays as possible. When they’re written well, you can’t wait to get your hands on another one. It’s a total addiction. Honing in on certain styles, subject matter and writers we like, we’ve read screenplays like ‘Man on the Moon,’ ‘Hudsucker Proxy,’ ‘Adaptation,’ ‘Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,’ etc.

Recently, I’ve become fascinated with articles detailing how long it takes other writers to pump out their screenplays. I was giddy over the fact that some professional writers take years to complete their first draft. This means there truly is hope for us!

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Posted in Storytelling doc screenwriting

Jenny Abel graduated from Emerson College with a degree in video and television production. Moving to LA shortly thereafter, she coordinated overseas productions for Nu Image and Millennium Films and helped the company produce twenty-six pictures over the course of several years. Saying goodbye to the 'glamor' of Hollywood, Jenny soon shifted her focus toward the completion of her first independent feature documentary project, ABEL RAISES CAIN.

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