Let’s start today!
The title of this post, along with the line above are the opening lyrics for the Gorilla Biscuits song Start Today, off the album of the same name. So can you guess what the theme of today’s article will be about? Can ya? You think you can?
I’m having a tough time with procrastination, getting started when I sit down to work. The last couple of writing days, by the time I’ve sat down, I just haven’t had any juice left to give. I’ve been putzing on the computer, surfing the web, listening to music, watching videos and/or napping instead of cracking open at doc and typing away. Remember that first rough rough draft I was going to write in four weeks? I’m already behind schedule and starting to kick myself. Worse, every time I have set aside a chunk of time for writing, I can get motivated to start… why? Am I scared of not succeeding? Is holding onto the fantasy of writing more fulfilling that the actual writing itself? There have been mitigating circumstances but are they excuses legit or simply whining?
Here are a few tips and tricks to tackle the behemoth of PROCRASTINATION:
1) Get some rest. Writing – or any other creative endeavor – is more difficult when you don’t have enough gas in the tank. After a late night or work or drinking, waking fresh and revived is a tall order. Likewise, it makes sense that focusing on your writing work will be more difficult when you are dragging ass. So keep an eye on your social life and sleep habits. If you are writing every day and on an odd occasion you’re tired, let that be cool. It’s okay to be tired; it’s natural. If every day, you’re ‘too tired’ to write, it’s time to re-evaluate when you are setting aside your writing time. Some people are night owls, others morning doves. For as touchy-feely as it sounds, listen to your body and try within a time frame that instinctually works for you.
2) When to write? The above mentioned is something to keep in mind, but additionally, sometimes the time we’ve set aside for writing happens in a moment where something else needs our attention first. Sometimes on a writing day, I’ll get bad news before I head out. Once I sit down to write, I’m distracted or bummed out. That makes writing very difficult – not impossible – but difficult. Sometimes other things need our attention during the time in which we want to be writing. Maybe it’s our emotions or a family member. Maybe a new movie is coming out you’re dying to see. Not everything distracting is negative. If something is seriously taking up your grey matter, it might be wise to deal with it first. Other times, maybe doing an exercise and getting something out creatively is just what the doctor ordered. Again, not to be touchy-feely, but only you will know what is legit and what is bullshit.
3) Be kind to yourself. Self-deprication about not writing enough (or fast enough, or soon enough, or well enough– you get the gist) never helps anyone write. Never has. Never will. Period. In fact, this time harsh judgment actually lays & strengthens the synaptic neural networks to associate writing with unpleasantness and pain which makes writing continually harder. Keep an eye on how harsh you are on yourself. Try to be a bit kinder at times and give yourself some space when necessary.
4) Tough Love. And on the other hand, sometimes a little Tough Love is exactly what is called for. We try to fool ourselves, we play the martyr, we try to pull the wool over our own eyes and justify it. In those case, yeah, we have to push ourselves to write something. Period. A simple brainstorming list, a change of medium (from laptop to paper, from journal to notecards), an exercise from a favorite book, a blog post, a long letter to a friend… anything to get us expressing outwardly… typing, writing, creating.
How do you know when it’s Tough Love time? Well, if every single day, you are not writing and it’s excuse after excuse, there’s a larger procrastination pattern at work. Unfortunately, the only way out of it will be to crack the whip and write. The important thing is to relieve the pressure of ‘Writing‘ by doing smaller little actions that get you doing something. Take the foot off the gas to get that perfect scene written, that Academy Award show stopper you’re dying to be known for, and instead, take a baby step or two. Go back over your outline materials. Brainstorm on a scene not down yet. Brainstorm soundtrack songs or titles for your movie. Again, anything to get the creative juices starting to percolate.
5) Simple Tasks. In my imagination, everything that comes out of the brain and onto the page is going to be perfect as it is. One long continuous Jack Keroauc scroll, the perfect never-ending stream of consciousness draft. It doesn’t work that way, and holding onto the fantasy that it does for you (or me) is self destructive.
I’m on a kick right now, Two Hours or Ten Pages. Sit down and work, open a doc and get started with the goal of writing for two hours or ten pages whatever comes first. If you bang out ten pages in ten minutes, guess what? You’re done for the day. If you’ve got steam and momentum, by all means, keep going. Or simply sit back and enjoy the accomplishment that you achieved what you set out to do for the day. Go for a walk. Go see a movie.
If the ten pages are great, fantastic. If they are shit, no worries. You achieved what you set out to do for the day. Check it off the list. Acknowledge the accomplishment and allow those positive neural pathways to get reinforced. If two hours crawls by and you only have three pages, again, no worries. Acknowledge the work that was down and allow yourself to be finished for the day.
Some people like to write one scene a day. If a screenplay is 40 major scenes/sequences, that gives you a draft in a little over a month. Sometimes, I like to redo the work I’ve already done via another medium. I’ll breakdown pages I’ve written into notecards, so I can play around with the on the Big Board. Or if I have a bunch of notecards, I’ll pull one that sounds exciting and write a scene out of sequence. (Another reason writing each scene as its own file has been my modus operandi recently.)
My last tips trick for this post is pulling a favorite screenwriting book and read a random chapter. I might bust through a couple of exercises in the book and make a new discovery or two. I continually read screenwriting books (even though I already have a couple of favorites) because I usually pick up something new and unique from each one. Even the ‘same ol’ thing’ and can be fresh in a different vernacular. But if you need a book with a lot of useful exercises in it, I recommend Pilar Alessandra’s The Coffee Break Screenwriter: Writing Your Screenplay Ten Minutes at a Time.
Well, the procrastination for the day is done. Check. Time to write a couple scenes.