October 9, 2013

6 Habits of Highly Successful (Screen)writers

Of all the parts of a movie, from cinematography, to editing, and everything in between, writing is perhaps the most (what with all the books, classes, weekend seminars), and least (at the end of the day it's just you and the page), understood. The art of crafting stories and creating indelible characters that will make an unforgettable film is a real gift, though it can and must be developed through careful, patient work. The Guardian has a great piece about a new book that explores creativity, and they've come up with six habits of highly successful writers. Check out the tips below as well as more advice from the masters.

Every artist struggles for inspiration, and on a film set, where time literally is money and the clock is ticking, the sheer weight of a ticking clock forces decisions and, often, inspired improvisations. But the writer, arguably one of the most important contributors to a film, does most of their work away from the set, in the different rhythms of a writing world. As all writers know, there is a place where they're in the zone, and the words flow freely and easily; the trick is getting to that state every time. Many writers, and especially screenwriters, have turned to seminars to help them out (like Robert McKee's, lampooned here in Adaptation, mildly NSFW for Brian Cox' profanity):

The Guardian studied the habits of famous writers as laid out in the new book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey, and came up with 6 rules for a highly creative mind:

  1. Be a morning person.
  2. Don't give up the day job.
  3. Take lots of walks.
  4. Stick to a schedule.
  5. Practice strategic substance abuse.
  6. Learn to work anywhere.

Currey finds that many highly creative types work best in the morning, like Hemingway, who wrote before dawn. Some have theorized that there is a neurological basis for this; the idea is that the brain is in a different state just after waking that lends itself to that sort of half-dreaminess in which much good writing is produced.

Some writers use their day job as an excuse, but many masters produced their work while holding down a 9 to 5, and the imposition of structure can be healthy for a writer because it makes writing an urgent activity. That was certainly the case for Franz Kafka, who wrote all of his classics like The Trial and The Castle while working in an insurance office in Prague:

"Time is short, my strength is limited, the office is a horror, the apartment is noisy," Franz Kafka complained to his fiancée, "and if a pleasant, straightforward life is not possible, then one must try to wriggle through by subtle manoeuvres."

Writing is a hard activity to make cinematically compelling, though the Coen Bros. pulled it off in Barton Fink, a Kafaka-esque movie that captures perfectly the experience of writer's block, as well as the peculiar life of a screenwriter, whose ambitions towards high art are frequently checked by the realities of the movie business:

One of the most constant elements for successful writers is the presence of a routine (you can find the daily habits of many famous writers here). By doing the same thing every day, father of psychiatry William James stated, we can "free our minds to advance to really interesting fields of action." The whole idea seems to be that if you can clear away the clutter of your life, you leave room for the muse to enter. The trick is to create that little window.

Something as simple as getting to an important task or a bit of writing before starting the rest of the day's routine can set the tenor for the day and lead to more productive hours. Or try writing in 90 minute spurts, then taking breaks, something especially helpful for writers who work from home, where the temptation to start surfing the web or fix that leaky faucet can be especially tempting. By separating the two, you make your writing time more effective.

Filmmaker Ingmar Bergman's daily routine when writing scripts on a remote island in Sweden included waking at 8, writing from 9 until noon, a light lunch (the same thing every day) then more work from 1pm to 3, then a nap and a walk. In the evening, he would see friends or watch a movie. And he never indulged in drugs or alcohol. "The most I drink," the famous director said, "is a glass of wine and that makes me incredibly happy." He kept to this routine for decades, and the world of film is all the richer for it.

You can read more about the rules here, as well as many more routines of famous scribes here.

What do you think? What are some of your favorite rituals? Do you have any superstitions about writing? Do you think following a routine is helpful for a writer? Do you have a routine or tip you'd like to share? Let us know in the comments!

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13 Comments

Today in Deadline, a few bits from Diablo Cody on writers in Hollywood - http://movies.yahoo.com/news/diablo-cody-reveals-people-failed-mention-b...

October 9, 2013 at 11:04AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

Anyone reads/writes plays here?

October 9, 2013 at 10:58PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

I just re-read Waiting For Godot and M. Butterfly. (V's guilty pleasure: Rent)

October 10, 2013 at 1:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

For some reason I find reading plays even more of a chore than reading screenplays. Haven't written one since secondary school, but have been reading some Chekhov in preparation for a Terrence Davies (Britain's greatest living filmmaker) production of The Cherry Orchard that is supposed to be happening at some point in the near future.

October 10, 2013 at 11:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Mak

All people are different so I cant agree with some of there "rules". I for one, am not a morning person and i'm the most creative late night. I also don't have a 9-5 job and when I did have one it only restricted me as I was constantly thinking of it and being miserable by not doing something I wanted to do. I quickly lost motivation and got caught up in just "getting by" instead of actually living. I also don't like routines as they become mundane but i do believe in having a schedule and being organized. But eating and doing the same thing every day becomes boring. Life should be fun, spontaneous and by trying new things, changing things you can become inspired and may have something to talk about or something that sparks your creativity. What works for some writers or artists may not work for everybody. Also about taking walks, i understand why and instead of taking a walk I work out a gym and lift weights, sometimes with music sometimes without. Mostly with music and in between sets I often think of ideas or i may hear a song that inspires me or I may see someone that intrigues me or talk to someone that could be an awesome character in a screenplay. Basically we just need to open our minds and mainly be in a good mood. Often times when i'm happy I find it much easier to write or think of great ideas. But then again sometimes being stressed out or going through a struggle can inspire me to write an idea down or wanna share my story on screen.

October 10, 2013 at 3:47AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Brad Watts

Be a morning person? Guess I'll never be successful. :(

October 10, 2013 at 1:35PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Jake

The same here man ! I am a night bird.

October 25, 2013 at 2:33PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Lazy Dog

we practically thrive on the same things. i walk though. :)

April 1, 2014 at 8:20AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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maan

there are a ton of famous nightwriters as well. Just saying ;)

July 5, 2015 at 9:43PM

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Johan Salberg
Actor, Writer, Director, Editor
120

Ugh, I hate mornings. I'm too tired to be creative. I also gave up my day job. 4 / 6 aint bad I guess...

July 5, 2015 at 10:09PM

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If anyone's read The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman, one of the key things he mentions is the myth of motivation, which tricks people into believing that in order to do something, they first have to get motivated. And the key to actually being prolific at anything is to realise that you can do something whether you feel motivated or not. People who only do things when they feel motivated tend not to get a lot done. He points out the example of an author (I forget who) who took this to extremes, so that if he happened to finish a book in his 3 hour writing slot, he would immediately start on the next one, rather than rewarding himself with the rest of the 3 hours off.

July 6, 2015 at 1:04AM

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Main problem of my writing that i confused of choosing subject . when tried to think of writing, always that kinds of idea comes in my mind what i learned from life,complex of human relationship .but on the other hand i never see that kinds of movie .I used to see entertaining movie .in that case i confused.Someone please give me advice.

July 6, 2015 at 10:29AM, Edited July 6, 10:29AM

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Reduanul Azim
Director
81

Tarantino writes trough the night so screw you guys ;)

October 2, 2015 at 1:10PM

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Johan Salberg
Actor, Writer, Director, Editor
120