October 25, 2014

Screenwriters: How do You Avoid Distractions?

I'm writing this from the PGA's Produced By conference — much more from here soon — and a particular quote from producer and screenwriter James Schamus (The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) resonated with me. While I think all writers can identify with his quote, "I'm one of those people who hates the experience of writing... but it's good for me," it was his take on returning to screenwriting in a digital age, after having written in a decidedly more analog era, that jumped out at me. In response to cell phones and the always-on internet connection:

Because your screen is also your interface to the rest of the world, writing is increasingly difficult.

Schamus said he had talked to a lot of other writers about his , and that it was a common issue for many of them.

As someone who runs a website that's open for business 24/7, I struggle with this constantly myself:

The obvious response is, "turn off your Wi-Fi," or, as the image up top suggests, "write by hand." But at some point your script is going to need to become digital — unless, like Woody Allen, you have an assistant use the computer. And then when you're on a computer, with the Wi-Fi off, pretty soon you're going to need to research something, so you turn it back on, and then suddenly you're working on something else, and then your concentration is broken and you've lost your place. The main tool I use to get offline and stay offline, which I've written about in the past, and which recently released a new (non-beta, 1.0) version, is Freedom:

Freedom shuts off your Wi-Fi in a way that's particularly successful, for two reasons: one, you can't turn your internet back on unless you restart your computer, which is just enough of a deterrent to be effective, and two, it sets a finite amount of time so you can tell yourself, "surely I can work for three hours without needing to check-in with the outside world." Also check out Freedom's cousin Anti-Social if you want to keep certain website connections live (allowing Wikipedia for research, but disallowing Facebook, for example).

Even with apps like these, however, staying focused on the page — even if it is a piece of paper — is increasingly difficult with a cell phone nearby (though there's a cell phone version too!). So I thought I would open a thread and ask other screenwriters: what approaches do you take to carve out the block of hours that you need to fully inhabit the world of your characters?     

Your Comment

15 Comments

I don't believe that distractions are the biggest issue. Motivation and self-pressure are key. You'll need to be eager enough to write. I found out for myself that I need to interest myself into the story world. I write the best narratives when I am nosey about my own creation, and when there is a deadline!

When I am stuck, I just try to find a friend to talk to, about the characters. Pretend like they're real and find out what might have moved them to perform a certain action.

October 25, 2014 at 2:20PM

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Kasper Mols
Writer/Director
241

I live near a college campus (OSU). They have several enormous libraries that are available to the public. The only thing is, you need a student ID to use the internet. Being surrounded by working minds (people studying) is really awesome. Also, the place is big so usually every 15-20 minutes I walk around the library. I was diagnosed with A.D.H.D as a kid so being able to move around a large space is great for me. There's also a nice section in the library filled with film analysis/criticism, which is great for inspiration. :D

I also used Stayfocusd for google chrome to stay on task.

October 25, 2014 at 2:27PM

7
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Coffee.

But seriously, this Freedom sounds great.

October 25, 2014 at 2:27PM, Edited October 25, 2:27PM

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Kelsang
81

Yeah, and coffee. Coffee helps.

October 25, 2014 at 2:31PM

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Kasper Mols
Writer/Director
241

Ryan, couldn't agree more. Anti-Social is especially helpful.

Also in case anyone hasn't read, 'The War of Art', by Steven Pressfield grab yourself a copy today.

October 25, 2014 at 2:46PM

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Dave Bullis
Writer/Director/Producer
154

I second the comment on "The War of Art". Great book for writers and an easy read.

Also, another great app for disabling distracting websites (if you're a Mac user) is SelfControl. It's free: http://selfcontrolapp.com

October 25, 2014 at 6:05PM

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Dale Raphael Goldberg
Director/Editor
209

My laptop's wifi stopped working after 5 years and a few OS upgrades -it now just says "no hardware installed." This is actually great motivation for writing as I have to use Ethernet to have internet :)

October 25, 2014 at 6:36PM, Edited October 25, 6:36PM

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Stephen Herron
Writer/Director
1502

What helps me most:

1. Knowing that there isn't anything else today I could do. For example, I haven't planned a meeting or some other stuff for this day. Even if its going to be after few hours or so, its still going to bubble in my mind.

2. There must be something in the story that needs to be answered. Like a mystery. A conflict. I've found that when there's a mystery in the story I'm very eager to explore it deeper and aren't that interested in engaging in other stuff.

3. Meditation. Sounds like new-age bullshit, but it actually helps. Having a moment with nothing else but your breath in your mind before starting to write actually dissolves unnecessary thoughts from your mind.

4. Having a direction. You have to know, at least on some level, where the story is going. If it feels aimless or difficult, its much harder to concentrate. Also, knowing stuff about the content of the story by heart helps a lot, so you don't have to do that much research. So write about stuff you already know about.

October 26, 2014 at 11:56AM

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Sami Aleksi Hakkarainen
Director & Screenwriter
81

It might be different for different writers, but I find having a deadline to be extremely effective. I even joined a writers' circle in London a few years ago in order to have a weekly deadline. Felt like a good idea to begin with but then I realised showing people unfinished work wasn't the best thing to do!

October 26, 2014 at 2:33PM

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W Ali
Director/writer
761

For me, it has a lot to do with where I have left off the previous time. I make it a point to not stop writing at a point where I know it will be hard to start again from. I usually stop writing at a spot where I am really excited to continue from when I am back. This cannot work all the time though. There are times when distractions surround you from all possible sides in any case. This usually happens to me when I am stuck. Usually not the other way round (Stuck because of the distractions, but distracted because I am stuck)
The best way, for me, is either putting my cell phone off or just keeping it away. Far away. Personally, the cell phone, i feel is a greater distraction.
Anti Social sounds really good to me!

October 27, 2014 at 3:56AM

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Ronak Kamat
Writer, Filmmaker, Photographer, Film reviewer
74

Interesting program... :D

October 27, 2014 at 8:13AM

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Ragüel Cremades
Film producer and director
7599

Another great tool is Self Control. This app allows you to blacklist certain websites (such as facebook) for a certain number of hours, or whitelist sites if you're using only specific ones. And you can't turn it off, even if you restart your computer!

Writing on multiple forms is handy as well. I do write better on a computer, but often I will hash out a scene on paper first, then flesh it out on the computer later.

Here's a link for the app: http://selfcontrolapp.com/

October 27, 2014 at 2:21PM

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Cameron DuPratte
Writer, Director, Crew
74

I'm a 20 year old and I find the easiest way for me to write is by hand. Just shut down my phone, put on some music, and lose myself.

October 28, 2014 at 6:05AM, Edited October 28, 6:05AM

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Isaac Horvat
Director/Cameraman/Independent Film Maker/Film Buff
86

I belive in writing intense for a short period of time. Collect all your small ideas characters and so on. And then you wait until you just cant wait scratching that itch. Write until you are tired of it, and as soon as you shift focus, go do something else. (facebook, go for a walk, watch youtube.) Let the itch grow again. Then repeat.

Sorry for bad english. (Norway)

October 29, 2014 at 1:03PM

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Arvid André Knutsen
DP, Director, Writer, VFX Artist
75

Take a bit from John Milius -- Zen Anarchism.

Meditation and Rye Whiskey.

November 3, 2014 at 5:05PM

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Joseph Classen
Filmmaker
81