The spec chain

I keep talking to/reading posts/tweets by writers who are unsure of which project to write next. It seems to be a regular dilemma for lots of writers: “I have x number of new projects to start, all of which I’m excited about – how do I decide which one to do first?”


To be honest, it’s a question which puzzles me slightly. I’m not sure I fully comprehend the situation – were you just working on one project? Or were you working on several and they’ve all finished at exactly the same time? Which would be weird because, presumably, they must have all started at different times. How did you arrive at a point where you’ve finished everything?

I just don’t work like that.


Maybe my industry experiences are completely different to everyone else’s? Maybe my working method is unique? I doubt it. Doesn’t feel unique or even vaguely special when I talk to other writers.

I tend to have two lists of work – paid and spec. The paid work takes precedence over the spec stuff. To be honest, most years I don’t get more than a few days at a time to think about writing anything just for me. I’m trying to adjust that balance, because I have stories I want to tell and they’re generally the most fun.*


The paid list isn’t really a list, it’s more of an interlocking chain, because each project consists of several different parts and each starts at a different time. So, currently, it looks like this:

  • Project 1 : waiting for producer’s notes on first draft
  • Project 2: readers reports have come back, discussing which ones are relevant with client.
  • Project 3: waiting for producer to actually phone when he says he’s going to so I can sign off on latest revision.
  • Project 4: waiting for vague acknowledgement the producer has received the treatment or at least isn’t dead.

Essentially, a lot of waiting. For reasons I can’t begin to explain, it takes people ten times longer to read a script than it does for me to write it. I’m guessing they’re just very busy, many irons in the fire sort of thing.


Which is fine. The lengthy pauses give me time to work on lots of different things. If everyone was prompt and punctual, I’d never get anything done.

The gap between submitting a treatment and getting the go ahead to proceed to script can be anything between a few days and (in one extreme case) four years. $

Any new projects (whether they start with a synopsis or someone else’s script) slot into the gaps.


Any gaps left over are filled with spec projects,  for which there’s another list:

  • Project one, TV pilot: reached the end of the first draft, need to go back through the whole thing and see if it’s any good.
  • Project two, feature film (or possibly two-part TV drama): reread the last draft (7? 8? Can’t remember), the one everyone thought was brilliant and see if it actually is any good.
  • Project three, TV series: rewrite synopsis/series proposal using super-useful feedback from TV script development bod.
  • Project four, feature film: index card the shit out of the plot, see if it makes as much sense as it does in my head. ^
  • Project five, feature film: take terrible first draft and make it far less terrible.

These five projects will probably take me several years to finish. If I ever actually get time to do any of them.

Admittedly, if I actually reached the end of the spec list, I might have to think about what to do next – but I don’t seriously expect to ever get there.


I can also see that project four on the spec list is essentially a new project (albeit one I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last year or so) so, potentially, that slot could be filled with a choice of projects … but …

… um …

Can anyone remember what the point of all this was?

I’ve just been (pleasantly)  interrupted by a phone call and can no longer remember why I started this. Even reading it back doesn’t really remind me.


Fuck, what a pointless waste of time.

Sorry about that. I probably shouldn’t even bother to post this. You definitely shouldn’t waste time reading it.

I suppose I should put that last sentence at the top.

Oh fuck it, I’m going for lunch. Next week’s blog might have a point. Try that one.



* But also the hardest to write – it’s far easier to write a script when you get client feedback at every stage. Far easier and far more frustrating and upsetting, which is an odd definition of ‘easier’.

$ Four years to read (and love) ten pages.

Four. Years.

Long enough for me to have completely forgotten who the producer was and what the hell he was talking about when he finally phoned up. Interesting conversation that one:

“The only thing I don’t really like is the ending. Can we have less blancmange?”

Yeah, sure. Why the hell not? Unless the blancmange is essential, in which case – no. I have no fucking idea, are you sure I wrote this?

^ No. No, it doesn’t. They never do.

Categories: Bored, Industry Musings, My Way | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “The spec chain

  1. I guess, Phill, that you may be at the fortunate part of your career where your writing pays the bills and therefore your amount of paid work outweighs your spec work. I’m lucky to be edging towards that phase and starting to mournfully look at my poor neglected specs while the paid work takes over. However, last year, the year before, specs were all I had while I was applying to get my “first chance”. And I guess, in that situation, picking which one to devote my time to might be a far bigger consideration.

    • Absolutely! That’s why it’s such a completely pointless post, wasting everyone’s time.

      Although, I think chaining specs still works. Synopsis for one, treatrnent for second, first draft for third and so on. Switching between them gives you time to think about it and come back with new ideas.

      Mind you, you still need to decide which one to add to the end of the chain, so … like I say, pointless post!


      Your Story Forge one is much better.

  2. Pingback: 2014 | The Jobbing Scriptwriter

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