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.)
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.