What Do You Do When You Don’t Feel Like Writing?


Do screenwriters feel like writing the next breakout movie hit all the time? Probably not. In my case, more I don’t feel like writing more often than not. But when I’m in a writing groove, there’s no stopping me.

As working screenwriting professionals (or aspirants) we need to establish good writing habits. Your tax accountant doesn’t wait for inspiration to strike before filing your tax forms, so why should you? Okay, the analogy may be a little harsh because your accountant doesn’t need to design a new tax form for each client. However I’ve met some very creative accountants who push allowed tax deductions to the limit, especially in the film industry.

I’m not a fan of writers’ block. I get writers’ fatigue, which means I need a mental break. I can’t say I’ve ever been short of ideas or don’t know what to write next. I get too tired. Screenwriting is a mental blood sport requiring fierce discipline and grit.

When Not Writing Becomes Writing

I always keep a notebook on hand, wherever I am, in case the muse strikes. I jot down anything that resembles a story idea, no matter how raw. It could be a concept, a sequence of events or a movie outline. This subliminal creative time also allows my subconscious to come up with alternative plot points or to solve story issues in existing screenplays.

I always refer to my notes often whether it be a line of dialogue I heard or a scene. This stokes my subliminal mind. If I have a deadline, I put a post-it on the wall with some keywords of a scene I need to develop e.g. John loses his dog who’s also his only friend. Each day I add a post-it note to progress the story.

I have also done this with flow charts and scratch pads. This ensures that my subliminal creative mind is working, but the thoughts don’t sink too far into my subconscious or unconscious mind where I can’t retrieve them.

Whatever. It all counts as writing time in the end. Good news when you can’t face your screenplay on a particular day.

Follow Your Writing Mood

Changing your mood can be difficult, so work with it. Many psychologists believe we are at our most creative, when we in a positive frame of mind, but at our most passionate, when we are angry and negative!

Sounds like a win-win situation because the latter fires our desire to tell a story, while the former allows us to execute it. When we are in a positive mindset, our mind is conducive to unstructured, loose activity. When we are in a negative state of mind, we work better with structured, linear and ordered tasks.

Feel The Love

Think about love and things you love; people, pets, objects. Some psychologists believe that love triggers the release of biochemicals in the bloodstream that enhance the creative process. We dream, consider endless possibilities and are generally uninhibited in such states.

Conversely, sex is associated with adrenaline release to fulfill an immediate reproductive need. Not much creativity there from your mind’s perspective. Sex tends to lead to more linear, analytical thinking which is less conducive to the creative process.

We tend to be at our most creative during periods of reduced consciousness. This can be very early in the morning just after we’ve woken up, when it is still dark, or very late at night, when the infomericals have stopped playing on tv. I have heard stories of writers coming off their 12 hour shifts and spending an hour writing before getting some rest. You can  too.

Being in an altered state of consciousness silences your inner critic and stimulates free form writing.

If you’re anything like me, you like to dither and procrastinate. Sitting in front of your computer for endless hours may not always be the most efficient use of your time. If it takes you a while to crank up your creative motor (like me) set a time limit for those distracting online tasks like emails, facebook, banking, ebay etc. Stick to it.

Changing your environment alters your creative process. Go to the library, Starbucks or a different room in the house.

Writing Work Flow

Set a time limit and structure for your work session. Say 30 mins for emails and personal tasks, 2 hours writing, 15 minute personal break then back to 1 hour writing. Write the plan down before you commence work and stick to it.

There is software online that can physically disable your internet connection for a period of time. Don’t forget to plan for leisure time. This is vital in keeping your creative subconscious bubbling while performing other activities.

Also, don’t forget to interact with other human beings. Observe them. Let their life experience insert itself into your writing.

Some experts suggest keeping regular writing times, such as between 5-7 am before the kids wake up, or Saturday afternoon between noon and 3pm. This time is highly personal and intensely private; much like praying. There are no distractions allowed. If you need to reschedule from a particular writing session,  plan an alternative time beforehand.

Set achievable outcomes. Some writers don’t like to be tied down to specific writing times, especially if they aren’t in the mood. They simply decide to write for a fixed period of time each time, say one hour. Others are more outcome based and decide to write a set number of pages each day, regardless of the time taken. I know of writers who have vowed to write something everyday, ignoring all time and page count parameters.

Write during your lunch/ coffee breaks. Jim Cameron, used to park his truck back in the day and write a few words at the truckstop. Now we know why his deliveries were always late. Go to sleep an hour later or wake up an hour earlier to write. Statistics show that there aren’t more hours in the day in 2010 than there were a hundred years ago.

Decide if you are writing a freeform session of structured one. One spurs the other. This is a wonderful tool for me. These are the essential blocks for building your screenplay. Within a few weeks you’ll have completed your film script. Even research is classed as writing time. Make sure you can account for each writing session.

Some people prefer to  set weekly goals; say write for ten hours each week. If you miss a day, you can make up for it on another one. Keep a writing diary, so you can monitor your achievements over the course of any given time frame.

Reward yourself regularly. Given that you in this for the long haul, give yourself a treat once a task is finished, no matter how small. Small victories matter. No need to wait until your screenplay is finished. You will experience ample rejection, so you need something to keep you motivated. Hold off buying that video game until you complete your film script. Conversely, punish yourself, if you do not achieve your goals, if you’re into that sort of thing. Force yourself to write for an extra 30 minutes if you miss a deadline.

Once you develop regular and consistent writing habits, there’s no stopping you. So hit those keyboards. The very act of writing stimulates the creative process. So start doodling and soon enough quality writing will emerge.

You may have more time available to write a feature film script, but in television writing, the production train waits for no-one, not even you. The cameras will roll regardless.

A typical Hollywood screenwriter has a lead-in period of about ten years (some as early as five, others as late as fifteen) before they break through. Stories of “overnight success” are invariably apocryphal.

Once produced, the lifespan of a typical Hollywood screenwriter is about five years before the next hot writer bursts onto the scene. Despite these sobering statistics, the rewards can be mammoth. There are many above average screenwriters who get a film produced every few years. Unless you’re Max Landis who seems to get his film produced as fast as he writes them.

Remember, taking a while to get you screenplay produced is not a failure. You are a screenwriter. As soon as you finish your first film script and promptly begin your second. Someone who writes one script over five years as a hobby is dabbling, but not you. You’re a professional. You keep writing like a professional screenwriter until you get paid for it.

Remember to stay humble, Treat each movie script as a virgin experience; a Pandora’s box filled with delightful surprises. Even when you become successful, stay humble. The Greek gods  frowned upon men who manifested hubris; an arrogant, unfounded pride. Don’t fuel their wrath. Obey your muse, but don’t let it get to your head.

In ancient Rome, art and sex were almost synonymous. They spoke of tortured, pained, troubled souls in both cases. In fact both were described in unpleasurable terms. Call it passion rather than pain.

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who came alive.” – Howard Thurman

If not me, who? If not now, when? – Hillel The Elder

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Great blog. And it’s true that I’m more creative when something ticks me off. I find a way to work it into a story, scene or dialogue.

    I read that Ray Bradbury used to make index cards whenever he had idea for a story. Usually it was a sentence or two. He said when he got writer’s block, he simply pulled out his little box of index cards and one of them usually ended up being a short story at the very least.

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