There are countless advice articles for writers encouraging us to write everyday. Steven Pressfield, who I touted in my previous post, orders us to defy Resistance and write. The beautiful force of love and wisdom and profanity that is Cheryl Strayed tells us to “write like a motherfucker.” I believe them and agree with them because what they’re talking about is hard work, and I’ve grown suspicious of anything that purports to be easy.
But recently I favorited this tweet:
I favorited it almost without thinking, because it’s true for me. Often solutions to problems, ideas, or rewrites will come to me when I’m not doing anything related to writing. Driving is an especially productive time for me, which is somewhat unfortunate given that I haven’t mastered voice-recorded dictation. Last week I sent my script out to two friends for feedback. So it’s kind of a natural point to let it breathe. But in the meantime, another of my ideas began to coalesce in my brain. I sat down and wrote a beat sheet of sorts for a new script. But the whole time I kept writing and thinking the wrong character names because my head’s still in the other script.
So that’s what I’m thinking about this week. How to find the balance between writing like a motherfucker and giving it time to breathe.
I can’t believe I forgot to write a blog post last week, because I actually had something really cool to share. Last week I read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and I felt like I was reading a book about myself. If you know me and you’ve wondered over the years, “What is the deal with Alison? She’s seems smart enough. Why can’t she get her shit together?” (Believe me, I’ve been wondering that too.) This book has the answer. It’s Resistance. Resistance is the inner force that works against us whenever we try to do something positive or creative. I recognized it the moment Pressfield began to describe it. I’ve wrestled with Resistance for years. I feel it everyday. But now that someone has identified it for me, and clued me in to its devious manipulations, I feel more powerful to fight it.
There are so many takeaways from The War of Art, that I could never convey them all in a blog post. I highly recommend reading it yourself. Especially if you are someone who’s always had a desire or calling you’ve never fulfilled, or never tried to fulfill. You know who you are. And it doesn’t just apply to creatives. If you’ve ever dreamed of doing something that would be good for you and the world, but a little voice told you not to, because of fear, insecurity, or inertia—you should read this book.
Normally I don’t read a lot of “self help” books. I tend to get bored with them. But I will probably read this book again. That’s how great it is. I also read a follow up called Do the Work, which is shorter but takes the concept of Resistance and lays out more practical advice for actually doing the work required to accomplish what you’ve set out to do.
I’ll leave you with this quote from The War of Art.
Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.
– Steven Pressfield
I’m traveling today, so this update will be brief. Last week I told you I had moved on to a new script after hitting a wall with the first one. Well, after a weekend away from it and most of Monday spent running errands and listening to music, I got some new ideas. So I’m back in the old script!
I bet you’re not surprised. I think everyone has a related experience, when all you needed was a little break to refresh your mind. That’s not to say I have it all figured out, but at least I have a direction.
I can’t remember where I read it, but recently I saw a passage from Julia Cameron about filling your well. Creative work drains your “well” so you must take time to fill it with more images, and I think, sounds, smells, stories, tastes, and feelings.
As artists we must learn to be self-nourishing. We must become alert enough to consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them– to restock the trout pond, so to speak. I call this process filling the well.
– Julia Cameron
I think I will read some of her books.
New outline/timeline and 13 pages into version 3.
Figuring out what the hell I’m doing.
A beautiful photo to get you through these last teasing weeks before spring. (Photo via Unsplash.)
It’s been a weird week. I’m waiting for feedback on my second draft and I’ve been a tad under the weather. So productivity was down, but only slightly. I re-read my draft a couple of times and I’ve found myself growing quite fond of the characters. You’d think characters would be like children, you birth them and immediately love them. But these characters came to me only partially formed and I had to build them into something interesting.
But are they interesting? That’s the question that nags at me. I’ve succeeded in creating something that I like. But I’m not one of those artists who’s just in it to please themselves. Actually, other people not liking my work would not be the worst thing. Other people being bored by my work would be the worst thing.
This week I read and edited my draft, sought feedback, and re-wrote the short film script that will accompany this feature length script. The good news is that I’m actually ahead of schedule by about two weeks. Oh! And I thought of a title. (That’s big for me.)
Being patient and figuring out how to fill the gap between finishing the draft and getting feedback. I brainstormed a little for my next script but didn’t feel like I could devote enough head space to it yet.
There’s a feeling you get when you think something you’ve written is good. I like that feeling but I don’t trust it. This story came from my brain, of course it would strike a chord with me. But that doesn’t mean I don’t see flaws in my work. That’s what this week has been about: correcting flaws, filling in gaps, and trying to create a cohesive story.
A lot of what I’ve done this week has been what I’ve called “punching up.” Comedians are often hired to do this for comedy scripts. They add jokes and make existing gags funnier. My script is not a comedy, but I’ve been trying to apply that concept to each scene; up the conflict, enrich the characters, obscure the exposition. In a perfect world I imagine all those things would flow out of you and into the script, eliminating the need for drafts. Maybe that’s how the Charlie Kaufmans and the Paul Thomas Andersons do it.
The funny thing is, I’ve come to a point where the flaws are not jumping out at me. Last week and the week before, they were glaringly obvious. I don’t have illusions that my script is perfect. I suspect I’ve reached the limit of my knowledge, or awareness. For this reason, I reached out to a trusted friend to read the script and offer feedback. It helps to have fresh eyes read it and react to it. But I know from experience that not all feedback is helpful. I think a good rule of thumb is to reach out to someone with at least your level of expertise (or higher). I’m also considering reaching out to a professional screenwriting consultant for feedback. Given the cost of consultants, I’m not sure I want to put that much money into this particular script. It’s something I’ll have to mull over.
This week I finished the second draft, did two read-throughs, and a couple rounds of revisions based on my own notes.
Fighting fatigue and loss of momentum. Knowing when something is good enough.
Forget Charlie Kaufman. I give you Charlie Mauldin.
Since I put aside aspirations of producing my own film a few years ago, I’ve been torn between what I inelegantly deem the “real world” and the creative world. I have desperately searched for a job that would bridge the two, and have found none. (At least within my geographical bounds.) I avoid talking about it, because of feelings of embarrassment and self-consciousness. Failure is difficult to bear. Success is easier to share with others.
My desire to find a regular job and be a productive member of society has kept me from really focusing on the creative urges that put me in this predicament to begin with. If I could only get a full time job, if I could only earn more money, then I’d feel justified in spending more time writing. But as with most things in my life, I only make changes when my established plan of action has repeatedly failed to work.
I’ve decided to plant my flag on the creative side, at least for a while. I have fortunate circumstances that allow me to focus my efforts on the risky and speculative pursuit of screenwriting. I created a schedule that should, theoretically, allow me enough time to complete two full length screenplays, but with no time for dilly dallying. I have written five rules to help myself avoid the pitfalls of working from home. The research I’ve done about writing scripts on spec tells me that I will need at least three scripts when I begin shopping them around. I’m also looking into the possibility of hiring a reputable consultant to help me refine my work. (Hey, it’s cheaper than film school.) And I will blog about the process once a week.
What happens if what I write is never produced? What if it turns out I’m a really awful screenwriter? At least I’ll have done it. And maybe I’ll be able to move on.
You can read more of my story on Medium.
What do you think?