April 17, 2016

8 Somewhat Unusual Excuses I Give for Not Working on My Screenplay

For every word I've ever written on a screenplay, there was an equal number of excuses in my head not to write them.

Screenwriters, you know. You might be using one right now to not work on your screenplay. So, maybe it would be helpful to hear a few of the excuses that I use to avoid actually putting my head down and getting words on the page — 8 somewhat unusual ones to be exact.

My taste is maturing faster than my skills

I've realized that, as a screenwriter, I'm running a race and the script I want to write, which used to only be a couple of strides ahead of me, is now lapping me and laughing at me while it does it. The script I want to write requires skills that I haven't acquired yet. And you know what, I don't want to waste a good idea for a story on the skill set I have now. It wouldn't do it justice.

This is the cycle I currently find myself in: I'm not writing scripts because I'm not good enough yet, but I'm not good enough yet because I'm not writing scripts. The solution: write terrible scripts. You'll hate them. You'll be embarrassed of them. But guess what, you'll get better. You might get good. You might even get good enough to write something you don't completely hate.

I don't know how to make coffee

First of all, don't judge me for not knowing how to make coffee. Second, I don't think I could possibly start working without the necessary provisions. I need my warm beverage, I need snacks, and I need a toy to play with while I'm working. (I have a little toy dinosaur wearing sneakers on my desk for this.) Call me high-maintenance, but not having all three of these things on my desk when I'm ready to work means I'm not ready to work.

What is your coffee/snacks/toys? What items help you feel prepared enough to work? A clean workspace? A notebook for taking notes? Whatever they are, make sure you have them on hand. [Update: I have since learned how to make coffee. It took 5 minutes.]

I like my script, but I don't like like it

You know that feeling you get when you're excited about working on your screenplay, and you think about it constantly, and everything reminds you of it, and you can't wait to get home so you can put your hands all over it. Yeah, you're dating your script and you two are in your honeymoon phase. There's nothing inherently wrong with this — I'm kind of a cynical person, so admitting I'm infatuated with something makes it immediately unattractive to me — but sometimes that infatuation and excitement doesn't carry you through even the first draft, let alone the second, third, and so on.

In the wise words of Beyoncé, if you like your script put a ring on it. No, it's not perfect, but none are. And maybe you think you can do better, but a script is only as good as its writer. It's time to grow up and choose which one will get all of your time and attention. (And remember, never go to bed angry.)

I'm doomed because I'm not a savant

Write what you know, huh? Well, what if I don't know shit!? Unless I want to write about a person who sits at home in her pajamas all day working, occasionally taking breaks to eat Teddy Grahams, then I'm going to have to do some homework.

Make a list of all of the things you need to research for your screenplay. For instance, my screenplay required me to study real cases of cannibalism, hospital protocols for handling and disposing of tissue and body parts removed during surgery, as well as how children can be affected after witnessing a death. I'm not a anthropologist, sterile processing technician, or a child psychologist, but I don't have to be — and neither do you. You just have to be thorough in your research.

My office isn't the creative cocoon I need it to be

I. Am. A. Serious. Artist. I need my workspace to be a safe, hospitable womb in which my ideas may become fertilized, gestate, and ultimately be birthed into a world that has no idea what's about to hit it!

I'm being sarcastic. I'm not that pretentious. But it's true, I want my workspace to be a creative place where I can do creative stuff, and sometimes the only creative thing in it is the huge pile of candy wrappers on my desk that is starting to look kind of like a sculpture. So, instead of complaining about it and avoiding my office altogether, I spent an afternoon putting cool stuff on my desk and throwing some art on the wall. Problem solved. (Or at least, I can't use "my office sucks" as an excuse anymore.)

This is E.B. White's workspace. Your argument is invalid.

Purity Ring is ruining my motivation

Maybe you do it, maybe you don't, but I listen to music while I work. This is horrible. I might get inspired to write by listening to a song, but being the musicophile that I am, I begin to obsess about said song and before I know it I'm listening to the whole album or rewinding that one crescendo that made all of the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

To solve this issue, I just make a playlist for my writing time. I include five or six songs that either get my creative juices flowing or bring me into the world of my story, I listen to it, and then I turn it off. I want music to be inspiring, not distracting.

Olivia Benson and I need to solve one more case

Okay, the blame doesn't fall completely on her. The Belchers, Peppa Pig, and María la del Barrio (I have my significant other to thank for that one) have me trapped in a never-ending cycle of mindless TV consumption. And mama doesn't just watch, she binges. Watching TV has become my go-to activity when I want to put off working on my screenplay — probably because it's so easy to waste an entire day gorging on an entire season. (And I don't even have to be moderately invested in the story to do it!)

Unfortunately, the only solution to this is to just turn your damn TV/computer/phone off. And if you can't, at the very least watch shows or movies that will inspire you to work. For me, I watch Godard films — not only are they the types of films I'd like to make, but I always get this weird feeling that he's somehow chiding me from a dimension within my TV for not working.

I'm too emotionally stable now to be a brooding writer

Back in college, I was overzealous, overwhelmed, and under-socialized, and I wore my cynicism like a pair of too-long skinny jeans (awkwardly, but well), because life, more or less, kind of sucked. It was perfect — for writing. Now that I'm a super responsible adult with a great family that thinks I'm cool for some reason, life is peachy — which is perfect — for life, not writing.

Being trapped in a hole of self-pity and angst can quicken you to sit down and write, because the act of writing is actually cathartic. It seems to have an emotional reward that I haven't sought to find since I became an emotionally stable person, but that's no excuse. In fact, being on the other side of an obstacle only means that you've experienced the redemption part of your own Hero's Journey, so you actually have first-hand knowledge of what it'll take for your characters to get there.


If you're a screenwriter, some of these excuses might hit home for you. Remember, screenwriting isn't only the art of bring stories to life for the screen, it's really the art of sitting down, silencing the doubt, and being disciplined enough to work.       

Your Comment

9 Comments

Thanks.
It was good.

April 17, 2016 at 4:40AM

0
Reply
avatar
Sameir Ali
Director of Photography
793

Wow. Spot on. Thanks for this!

April 17, 2016 at 6:52PM, Edited April 17, 6:52PM

0
Reply
avatar
Colin Chick
Amateur noob
67

That was kinda funny and yet so true! I recently stopped writing because I was staring at my cat eating. Yep, that's right...

April 18, 2016 at 4:08AM

0
Reply

I know the feeling. My place is not really creativity- friendly, so I have the same drama. I go writing to the forest and stuff...

April 18, 2016 at 4:15AM, Edited April 18, 4:15AM

1
Reply

Don't forget... you SUDDENLY need to clean the entire house and run all of the errands you have been putting off. That's what usually happens to me. ;)

April 18, 2016 at 11:29AM

1
Reply
avatar
Bryan Tosh
Director of Photography
464

Not to be downer. But if there is so much difficulty motivating yourself to write, writing may not be for you.

Lots of people like the idea of being a writer. Not many people actually do it rain, hail or shine.

April 18, 2016 at 4:37PM, Edited April 18, 4:38PM

8
Reply
LJ
610

#9: If there's so much difficulty motivating myself to write, maybe writing's not for me

Doing your taxes. Cleaning your house. Waking up early. There are countless things that are hard to find motivation to do. Writing may be one of them for you. But the difference between doing taxes/cleaning/waking up early and writing is the agent that is causing your motivation to dissipate. For the first group, it may be laziness. For writing, it's more often than not self-doubt.
You doubt your abilities. You doubt your knowledge. You even doubt whether or not writing is even "for you." But let me assure you — if you love it, if you're passionate about it, if you want to do it, you can do it. You can do it. You can do it!
All of the excuses you use to avoid writing may actually just be roadblocks you put in your way to avoid failure, but don't be afraid of failure. Failure is good. Failure is one of the greatest teachers you'll ever have.
And lastly, writing is "for" everyone. It's definitely hard to be disciplined enough to sit down and work, but, again, you can do it!

April 23, 2016 at 4:41PM

0
Reply
avatar
V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

Thank you
Thank you
Thank you
Thank you

April 19, 2016 at 7:33AM

2
Reply
avatar
LJ Rice
Filmmaker
1

I use my phone to jot down notes as I go about my day and when I sit down to write, it is to fill in the details on those notes. I can't just sit down and write, but doing other things, especially mundane tasks, causes my brain to output creativity. It's a lot easier to sit for an hour or two and work out the details on notes I have saved for myself.

April 29, 2016 at 12:38AM

0
Reply
Ryan Gudmunson
Recreational Filmmaker
334