Discipline: The Secret Weapon Too Many Filmmakers Aren't Utilizing
Motivation is good, but discipline is better.
I'm not one of those people who likes to work. That's my dad 100%...that man will close up shop on Friday night only to grind on projects at home on Saturday morning. It's exhausting even to watch and I tell him all the time, "Daddo, why don't you relax? Think about your blood pressure," to which he responds, "If I stop now I'll never start."
It's a lesson I didn't realize was a lesson until I watched this video from filmmaker Peter McKinnon, in which he talks about discipline, creativity, and how it's difficult to have one without the other.
Can I Be a Crybaby for a Second?
Let me make a quick correction to what I said earlier in this article: I do like to work, I just don't like to work without passion. I'm incredibly fortunate to have the job I do because I get to do and talk about what I'm passionate about every day.
But you know those people who say, "If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life?" Yeah, those people are liars. I love writing and I love film, but I've gone through seasons where this gig was absolutely WORK...and not the pretty kind, but the kind where you truly feel the weight of the sins of the fallen man, you know what I'm saying?
It wasn't until last year that that weight became too heavy to carry.
I don't know how many of you have been around for the last few years, but I actually used to be a hell of a lot more prolific. I was pumping out between 50 to 60 articles per month, some of which were pretty good, some of which were utter garbage, but still, I was working and grinding with the best of them.
And then a bunch of shit hit the fan in my personal life and, at the same time, I realized I was totally and hopelessly going through a major case of burnout, which is a whole other issue in and of itself, and maybe I'll talk about that in more detail down the road. So, what I started doing was dialing down my productivity...like...a lot. I started taking more days off and phoning it in so I could give myself the rest I felt like I needed.
The Solution to Burnout Isn't Being Unproductive
And what started out as "self-care" and rest turned into a big, hairy monster I like to call "V's Excuse for Being an Unproductive Slacker".
Now, I'm going to advocate for every exhausted person out there, including myself, by saying if you feel burned out, take some time to take care of yourself. Go on vacation, turn your computer off, pretend your work doesn't exist for a while and go out and be a human. If you don't...if the only real day you take off of work in several years is to get married...then you're going to work yourself into oblivion and burn the fuck out.
However, if you don't value discipline, that time off might turn into unproductivity due to procrastination and laziness. "I deserve some fuggin' time off," is what I always told myself. Damn, I hadn't taken a vacation in 6 years, every major holiday with my family was fragmented between articles, every picture my daughter drew of me included a laptop. That shit is depressing, but I took it too far. I gave up. And I lost my passion for writing.
You Don't Find Passion, You Make It
How many times have you said or heard someone say that they "lost their passion?"
It's one of those expressions that sounds right but isn't, because passion isn't lost...you don't misplace passion...you just stop making it.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, V. I don't want to hear your stupid platitudes about creativity and passion. You're clearly a moron who thinks herself a shaman because she used essential oils once."
First of all, I'm not a shaman. Second, I clearly am a moron, but not about this...I don't think. Third, I've used essential oils more than once. Here's the deal, I like to be in control of as much of my life as possible, and waiting for my creative passion to come back to me like a bad ex-girlfriend is a huge waste of my time.
I didn't "lose my passion for writing," I just stopped writing. The reasons why have nothing to do with it.
If I want passion, I can get it my fucking self through discipline.
The Secret Weapon: Discipline
Ask any experienced, successful filmmaker how long they wait for inspiration or passion to come to them and they'll tell you, "Uh...what do you mean wait ?" Those things come from grinding, being disciplined enough to work consistently and intentionally. Being productive and accomplished makes you feel good and feeling good has a way of opening the doors of possibility, whereas procrastination and depression do the opposite.
Passion and creativity are not muscles that can get fatigued, they are byproducts of disciplined application.
The trick is to keep grinding despite its latency and trusting that it will come eventually.
What's Your Action Plan?
So, what are you supposed to do if you find yourself in a similar place? Have you stopped writing on your screenplay every day? Have you shelved those movie ideas? Have you stopped grinding? Let's figure out what you need in order to make an actionable plan for these shitty times.
Be Self-Aware (and Kind to Yourself)
I think the first step is to acknowledge why you stopped in the first place and validate that reason. Are you exhausted? Are you depressed? Are you hopeless, feeling like this whole "filmmaking" thing is a waste of time because you haven't had a win in a long ass time? Yeah, that's hard, my friend. That's really hard, and trying to be creative while immersed in negativity is next to impossible.
Resolve to Value Discipline
Discipline has to be a part of your creative life, period. When you're feeling down, it might seem pointless to write a page or go out and try to capture a beautiful shot. "Fuck beauty, I'm depressed!" But hear me when I say that discipline and your commitment to it is your life raft in the turbulent ocean of the human experience.
Know Your Limits
Now, overachievers are going to do these first two steps and grind and grind until they burn out again. Why? Because they don't know how to put up healthy and reasonable boundaries with themselves. You have to know your limits. If life is good, maybe your limits can be stretched. Reaching optimum mental and physical health is a great time for growth. If life sucks, maybe lower your limits so as not to push yourself over the edge.
When I'm doing well, I can work and work and work myself to the bone and not give two shits. I love the challenge and I love feeling stretched. But when life throat chops me, all of that motivation and energy dissipates and I'm left trying to make it over the mountain on fumes. Impossible. So instead, I have to be reasonable about what I can and can't do creatively during those times, and that has helped me avoid burning out in the past.
In the End...
To put all of this simply:
Because I'm reasonable, I'm working at a pace I can manage, and because I'm disciplined, I'm still creating enough to sew the seeds of my passion, which I can later use as fuel to increase my productivity, my creativity, and my own personal happiness.
This may not be the answer for you personally, but hopefully sharing my own burnout experience will help some of you take it on and overcome it.
Have you experienced a major burnout? How has discipline changed the way you work and make films? Share your story down in the comments. Again, I'll be there with a beer and a kind word, fam!