Tips on Impregnating Your Brain with Ideas from 'Nacho Libre' Screenwriter Mike White

What does screenwriting look like? Waking up at 6am, pouring a cup of coffee -- black, sitting down at a desk with last night's Chinese take out strewn about, turning on your computer, going over notes, and finally, typing away for hours and hours until you remember that humans need food and sleep to survive. Now, raise your hand if that's what screenwriting looks like in your own life. If you didn't raise yours, you wouldn't be the only one. In fact, screenwriter Mike White (Nacho LibreSchool of Rock, Orange County) details what the whole process entails for him, which actually includes a whole lot of not writing a screenplay.

Mike White's approach to screenwriting is one that may look a lot like relaxing, watching TV, and procrastinating, and in a way, it kind of is -- but this is good. "Whoa! Whoa! Whoa, V! Are you telling me that procrastination is good? That sounds counterproductive!" Well, I am, and it's not -- if done intentionally. You see, what you might consider "procrastination" is actually just a beautiful part of the process of birthing a screenplay.

White talks about different stages you go through when crafting your script, which he compares to the different stages of childbirth. First there's the "impregnation" stage, where you're filling your brain (ovum) with lots of information (sperm cells). This could mean watching a lot of TV and movies, reading books, taking a walk, whatever. If one of those cells wiggles its way through your "that's such a dumb idea" filter (germinal epithelium), then the "gestational" stage begins, and those ideas begin to grow inside your head (womb). You start staring off into space, pondering these ideas (some even report having a "glow" about them) until you go full-bore and start laboring through the writing process until you've birthed a beautiful baby screenplay (which still requires a lot of care and correction until it becomes a final draft).

For a long time I felt as though I wasn't working if I wasn't actually adding words to my script. When I'd watch a movie or TV show for fun, I felt as though I wasn't working. Every time I'd hang out with friends, talk to a stranger outside of a club, or traipse around on the interwebs, same thing. However, I was, as White would say, "impregnating my brain" with ideas.

Everybody goes about writing a story differently. Some intentionally seek out ideas, researching them it at length until they dive head first into writing. Others, like White, take a more joyfully lackadaisical approach (this image of a determined spear fisherman drawing back to nab the fish he's had his eye on all morning, and a toe fishing Huckleberry Finn, reclining against a shady tree with his straw hat pulled over his eyes came to mind). Whichever approach you take, it's definitely beneficial to understand that your everyday life, with all of the people you see, places you go, and trivial experiences you -- experience (however mundane you may think they are), can provide you with the inspiration you're looking for as long as you're keeping your eyes open.

[via Academy Originals & Filmmaker IQ]

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This is how I write. I give birth. The hard part was sharing my child with others and receiving their thoughts on how my child looked. I still have a hard time but know it has to be done. I also know that some people will not get it. Everything I have written has been for me to perform. I can see myself performing the material and others my have a hard time visualizing the performance. They look at me with - WHAT THE HECK. Then I do it on stage and people say, "How did you think of that". I recently wrote a scene play and I am getting the "What the heck" look again. I did not write a book to be read at night in bed. I wrote a movie. The script works when I have the actors do a reading. We have had a couple of readings and each time we tighten the script up. I think what stops some people moving forward with there writing is that fear of sharing there script. There child. You need outside input because all of us are human and we make mistakes. I know this because sometimes the "What the heck" people are right.

July 14, 2014 at 8:49AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


I agree. I've often wondered if I was wasting time by not sitting down and "force" writing when I knew there was a project on the table but my creative process nurtures it's ideas over time and they get better. You can nudge creativity but you can't force it IMO and I've had the coolest ideas domino in from the most unrelated outside influences while doing totally unrelated things. This process has followed me through music production, freelance graphic design and into writing.

July 14, 2014 at 11:09AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


It's interesting that Mike White should talk so much about the analogy of childbirth as screenwriting. There's an oft-used phrase about "killing your babies" when it comes to chopping out sections of your work that just aren't...working.

Interesting article. I've admired White's work for a while now, especially his role in Enlightened, a show he also penned.



July 14, 2014 at 11:10AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


That phrase is "kill your darlings", and it comes from William Faulkner. Killing your "babies" is not a good idea, even in the figurative sense ....

July 14, 2014 at 11:29AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Unless it's Rosemary's baby.

July 14, 2014 at 11:37AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Reminds of the scene from Jerry Seinfeld's film 'Comedian' where he's sitting at his desk goofing around with a bunch of toys and he gets a phone call and says, "I can't talk right now, I'm working."

July 14, 2014 at 12:36PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


I am not totally agree with his way of aproching the screenwriting. Yes you shouldn't spend all the day of your life writing but living in introspection isn't very good too. For me inspiration come from doing things, going outside, experience new stuff, getting outside of my comfort zone, I take as much time as I need but when I start writing, I don't stop before the end.

July 15, 2014 at 4:39AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Huh, Mike White writes movies for Jack Black. Black and White. Neat.

July 16, 2014 at 6:54AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


My art professor said that boredom is prerequisite to creativity and I agree. Doing mundane tasks like washing dishes by hand or vacuuming is a great way to develop ideas.

July 22, 2014 at 9:52PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

You voted '+1'.