Monday, December 01, 2008

Professional Screenwriter, Step 6: Discipline

Whether you’re holding down a full-time job, pulling pints in the evening, or going to university, you need to allocate time to write. For a lot of new writers, this can be the hardest part of the process: trying to combine the ideas and inspiration that encourage us to write in the first place with the actual discipline of sitting down and getting a script done regardless of whether you feel up to it or not.

The most common advice is ‘write every day’. Ideas, notes, 5 pages, 10 pages, whatever you can manage. In the morning, during your lunch break, when the kids have been put to bed, or in the midnight hours with a glass of scotch. Still, no matter how accessible and practical you make ‘writing every day’ sound, it’s not always possible or beneficial to fit it into your schedule.

‘Write every day’ is the ideal but it’s not the only answer. The key is to allocate a certain routine so that you’re definitely still writing, and not just saying that you are. Two or three times per week should be possible, even with a heavy workload and other distractions in your life. More than this, you should WANT to write two or three times per week, rather than feel weary or unmotivated to do so. The difference between those who ‘write’ and those who say ‘they want to write’ is fairly obvious but it’s a common trap for most who dip their toes into the screenwriting pool to see how warm the water is.

You either write, or you don’t, that’s the bottom line. One or two scripts won’t see you through a career. You should be burning with ideas and itching with the desire to get more work done. If you’re still finding it difficult, then there are ways to help keep you motivated. Join a writers’ group. Get a friend to impose a deadline. Enter script competitions. Adapt a book or a story that’s out of copyright. Keep reading and watching TV/films. Stay inspired or enthused; keep your energy and ambition going.

I took the ‘all or nothing’ approach when I first started. That is, I gave up the day job and threw everything at becoming a screenwriter. But I had no discipline or routine. I would watch DVDs (videos, back then) and thumb PlayStation, and call it research. My girlfriend would come home from work to find me in my dressing gown. I would hurriedly plonk myself in front of the computer, thinking that I could convince her I was working all day but didn’t have time to dress properly. Shyeah.

After a while, the DVDs and PlayStation were ignored, and I plonked myself in front of the computer all day, surfing and emailing until I got bored, and there was no other option but to write something. Script reading was also helpful in terms of generating the right routine. Read a script, write a report. Repeat. That kind of mindset complimented the attitude required to write, and so, finally, I was churning out scripts on a regular basis.

Find the time. Develop a routine. Teach yourself the discipline. Stick to it.


Lucy V said...

I had a boyfriend who reckoned he was writing if he sat in front of his computer, smoked three million cigarettes and snorted the odd line of coke so it *felt* as if he was buzzing with ideas. I had him terminated, natch.

Laydeez often write to me and ask how it's possible I get any writing done with two kids 'cos "they can't." This is rubbish - they FEEL they can't. First step is getting over that notion of feeling overwhelmed by life; the second is making your hub or partner understand this is NECESSARY for you - you can't be with them and the kids 24/7, you need time off to go away and write. Unless you're married to an arse (in which case get rid of him), all will work out, but fellas do need telling - they're no mind readers and they certainly don't *do* hints (sorry Danny, but you know it's true!).

Secondly, accept you can't write every single day when you have family commitments, especially babies and toddlers in the house. HOWEVER that doesn't mean you can't *think about writing* and get plenty done. I rarely write my stuff down 'cos that's the way I roll, but other laydee friends have notebooks, tape recorders and whatnot to remind themselves. If you can't ACTUALLY write every day, make notes & plans every day for your writing - whether it's in your brain or some other way.

Belzecue said...

Lucy, it's just not Hollywood unless your 'writer' boyfriend was snorting coke off a dog.

Absolutely agree with your comment about writing in your head when you're not able to write with your hands. It can drive those around you bugfrak crazy when they realize you're not paying a speck of attention to what they're saying (hello, ex-wife!), but the Muse (hello, real wife!) will not be put on hold.

Lucy V said...

We didn't have a dog, but if we had, he'd have done a "Gary" I'm sure, lol.

And yes, sometimes you do say weird things when thinking about writing. Take yesterday as a case in point:

HUSBAND: What do you want for dinner?
ME: What's the best way to find an artery with a parang knife and how long would it take to die to bleed to death from a severed artery?
HUSBAND: Depends where it is. Dinner?
ME: How about your arm pit?
HUSBAND: For dinner?

Lucky for me, he thinks it's funny I'm always preoccupied with murder and mayhem...

Tom Murphy said...

Our MA course leader used to ban the word 'discipline' in relation to writing, thinking that it reinforced the association with forcing yourself to do something that you don't want to.

However, routine is your best friend. Perversely, I used to get more writing done when I had a full-time job than I do now I'm freelance and have the odd free day. I used to commute into London early, park myself in a cafe and do my 35-40 mins each morning. This meant that I was always moving forward with my work (in a procrastination-free environment), and I had the story constantly germinating in my subconscious.

Tom Murphy said...

Sorry if this is bad netiquette Danny, but if you're still around, Lucy, you might find the 'Cutting and Piercing' section of this site useful for your aorta-related conundrums

Lucy V said...

Omigod I love you, Tom. And don't worry about Sir Daniel, he's so laid back he's on the floor ; )

tanyaa said...

Focusing on narrative storytelling in an environment designed to simulate the world of the professional screenwriter, Screenwriting Fellows find their unique voices, while learning the essence of working as part of a creative team.

Anonymous said...

A bit each day soon mounts up. If you can average five pages a day, six days a week, you can have the first draft of a sixty-page TV episode done in a fortnight. Even if you can only manage half that, you'll still have it done in less than a month.

Of course there's rewriting, doing treatments and so on, but completing that first draft is a genuine milestone in a project, and it gives you a solid feeling of achievement.

A few pages a day doesn't sound like much, but when you multiply it up you see how much you can get done by steady working.

Anonymous said...

You've really outdone yourself with this series, Danny.

I can see a guru status coming your way.

Brilliant blogging.

toddsoffian said...

Given your mantra of "write every day" I thought you might find Cowrite: the community-sourced screenplay interesting.

10 script pages will be added every other week until the script is finished and ready to be sold, so aspiring writers will definitely need to carve out writing time every day.

Josh said...

For me I find that writing every day often doesn't happen, even if I'm being "a writer" during those time periods! To make the difference between "research" and play I actually take notes, and then try to work out what experiences will fill the hole I'm currently finding in my work. This might mean a fun game or series that is not really pushing what I have difficulty with is left for play time, while I find something that can produce more useful insights.

I also try to work out what thing is stumping me and flag it up, so I can try to hit it directly or even get a bit of advice. There have been a number of times where I have just stopped what I was doing and drawn a little map of the tangle I'm getting in the relationships and looked how to make it work.

This kind of discipline is so not about "x words by sunday", although I'm not sure how well my way is suited to writing to tight deadlines!

I'd definitely agree that critiquing someone else's work is a good way to get yourself in the mind-space for your own work, as that reflective perspective does wonders for creativity.

Scott said...

Danny just want to post a thanks for this article in particular. As a dad of two who has been occasionally writing and had one short commissioned I can really vouch for the advice you are giving. As a dad of young twins with a long houred day job writing often takes a back seat and frustration sets in. The greatest obstacle I have ever faced is my self discipline. At times months can tick by where it seems there is always something else to do and not enough time. When I do tie my ass to the chair after a few days I get momentum and it all starts to flow again. There really is no greater secret than what you write in this article. Get a good structure of discipline going and the rest will follow.