Monday, September 07, 2009

How I make myself work

I had a good writing day today already and it's only noon. I've had some trouble with this script but I've made some vast improvements over the past few weeks and I think on a solid rewrite this will turn out to be a good script. Once again, I am attempting to defy expectations. I'm writing a female lead period piece that kicks ass.

Maybe I'd have better luck if I actually wrote something people expected to be good, instead of trying to surprise them with the goodness.

Anyhow, I thought I'd post today on something I know I'm good at: motivation. To be honest I think the best person for this is Michael Sullivan from Red Right Hand, because I've never met anybody who cranks out pages faster than he does, but that's probably why he's born for TV writing.

But I do pretty well on getting motivated. At the moment I only have one script actually worth showing, but it certainly isn't my first. For a girl with a day job, I get a lot of work done, and when I'm on vacation I get a ton of work done.

I really want to go to the beach. I feel weird that I live so close and almost never go, especially when I get all this time off. Right now the water is warmer than usual so I'm determined to go play in the ocean. I also like to take a magazine and read in front of the waves. Sometimes I watch the people and get story ideas or snippets of good dialogue.

But I can't go to the beach until I finish the first draft.

Nobody would know but me, of course, so the only person holding me to this promise is me, but I don't want to feel like I cheated when I go. I want to feel rewarded, like I earned it. I'm not taking a break until I finish.

On top of that, I have little rewards on occasion. This morning when I started writing I had 49 pages finished. I decided that if I get to page 60 by Wednesday I can go see 9. If I finish page 65 by Wednesday, I can go see 9 AND stop by Cold Stone on the way home.

Keep going
It's easy to stop sometimes when you get to the end of a scene and complete a full thought, so sometimes I will stop intending to pick it up later, but often when I do that I'll never feel like going back until the next day. On days I get more done I still stop at those moments, but then I take a deep breath, get something to drink or eat, then dive back in.

Get the project out
It's like when I played the flute back in the day. I was really into music for a while and I probably could have gone further with it, but I chose to write instead. It's a choice I'm happy with. But for a while there, I thought maybe I was the next Ian Anderson. My problem was I didn't like practicing.

It's not practicing per se that's the problem, it's getting the flute out of its case. You're sitting there reading or watching TV or staring into space or what have you, and it's just laying there in the floor, mocking you with its proximity. All you have to do is open the case, get out the pieces and put them together. It takes less than a minute, yet most of the time when I refused to practice, it was getting it out of the case that stopped me.

So when I go to write, I have to get past that stage. I have to get past the urge to just chill and watch TV some more or read or stare into space or check some more websites. I have to turn off all distractions and put on the right music and stare at that page until I figure out what comes next.

Writers block is a lie
Usually if I don't know what comes next, I go to the index cards and check my notes. If I'm ever completely uninspired, I make a note of what goes there, highlight it in yellow, and skip to the next scene. And if I'm still stumped, I write whatever crap I can come up with until I ease into something that's less crappy. You can always fix it on the rewrite, but you can't fix anything that doesn't exist.

And that is how I'll have the first draft of this screenplay written by the end of next week.


  1. You are so motivating. I will try your tactics for a long as there's not an SVU marathon, I should be okay...

  2. Good post. Do you always write in chronological order?

    I ask because I don't, mostly, and it has helped me with the growth of my characters. The con, of course, being a lot of rewriting of earlier scenes, lol.

  3. Oh yeah I always write chronologically. I simply can't function any other way. But I do skip scenes and use place holders when I get stumped.

  4. I rode motorcycles with Ian Anderson and the JT crew long long ago. Met them quite by accident riding motorcycles on day... They had no idea I was and still am their #1 fan.

    And to complete that thought... How come there's rarely any Jethro Tull music in movies?

    Methinks we have to do something about that.

    For some reason, I can't write at home unless all the dishes are clean and put away... The stove clean.

    I guess that's why I go to a coffee shop.


  5. One thing that I've convinced myself of is that even if I don't get my pages for the day, I've still done my work if I just stared at a blank screen for four hours. Some days the words won't come, for whatever reason, but at least I sat there and thought about the story and let stuff percolate.

    I come from a prose fiction background, and sometimes you hit an off day where every word is like pulling teeth.

    You do that for a few years and you build up an endurance and the brain-meats get rewired. What starts off as a nice little trick becomes habit.

    Replacing all the blood in your brain with caffeine helps, as well.


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