Slogging Through Second Acts

I realize I don't have the most objective opinion about this, but I think that the first act of the current script I'm writing is some of my finest writing to date. I also realize that this should obviously be the case because writing more should make me better at writing which should make each new thing I've written the best thing I've written. And that's how I felt about this current script. Then I landed smack dab in the middle of act two.

Since I assume each and every one of you has had a chance to see at least one movie in your life, I expect you to know that act two is when things start getting hard for the main character(s). In my experience, it's when things start getting just as hard for writers. Tone is harder to balance (how much comic relief is enough to break up the tension but not too much to deviate from the gravity of the moment?), character arcs are harder to navigate (this character has to change or learn to grow, but not too much all at once), and in general, it's when a writer has to torture someone he created.

Writing the second act is the time where I most consider going back to edit act one. It's where I find things to distract myself with, frustrations on which to focus. It's probably the part of a script where I make more calls to customer service representatives than any other because little annoyances suddenly become big problems. I could probably even find a correlation between second acts and number of M&Ms consumed, but I don't want to depress myself by looking through those figures.

It's with absolutely all of this in mind that I approached my script yesterday. I was even texting a friend and suggested that I didn't feel good about writing and might just edit instead. Then I remembered something I learned in my "first act" of writing.

The year was 2010 and I had just moved back from California. I had "wanted" to be a "writer" for a little over a year now and I maybe had 50 pages of scripts written total to prove just how necessary those quotes are. I wasn't doing much other than taking care of my mom who was still recovering from a knee replacement. Then I heard about an event called NaNoWriMo, which is short for National Novel Writer's Month. Given that my adventure to California ended with no success in the movie writing department (rightfully so, with the pathetic lack of work I put into it), I thought the only natural next step was to write a novel.

The goal of the program was 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November. I decided to participate about two months before it started. And so, that month, I cranked out 50,000 words of a zombie parody of Dead Poets Society called, yes, Undead Poets Society. Some of it was inspired. Most of it was, and still is, trash.

But NaNoWriMo had a slogan that I was reminded of yesterday. 50,000 words in a month means almost 2,000 words a day. And some people participate with full time jobs. There's no time to look back and go over what you've done. NaNoWriMo knows that sometimes the most important thing is to get out a terrible first draft. And so their slogan is "Editing is for December."

So yesterday, when I sat down to write, knowing full well that I struggle with second acts, knowing full well that there were still other customer service issues with which I could bother myself, I told myself no, editing is for some metaphorical December.

And so, sitting on my front porch, I wrote eight pages. And even though it happens so rarely when I'm writing second acts, I didn't hate them.

Maybe I am getting better.