What happens when you procrastinate? You might feel tired, or lost. You might feel unsure about your writing choices. You might have doubts or fears of not being good enough. You might have a fear of being judged.
How do you deal with these fears?
During the first draft you can get away with a “good enough’ version. However, when you write your next few drafts, your script has to get better. The process gets harder the closer you get to your final draft.
You need to think long and hard about the changes you want to make. You really need to be confident about your choices. Lock them in. Sit with them. Be sure.
Then you have to have faith.
You launch into the next draft. You trust your own notes. Get through the next draft. Then, the next. Until you’re happy with the script.
What if you still get stuck? Doubts creep in. You get tired, lose focus. Ironically, often just writing about procrastination gets a writer writing, and, this is in itself a cure. You can just write stream of consciousness for a while. Or write a letter to yourself about the script.
You could discuss it with another writer. How do they get motivated? This is a universal problem. Every writer handles it their own way. Ask around.
Try using a “virtual deadline”
This is a trick I use. I block out four hours to write. I’ll give myself one hour to write. During that time, I’ll write as if there was a deadline. Sometimes I’ll check the clock. Other times I’ll set a timer. I’ll write for one hour straight.
Then, I’ll take a break. A twenty minute break. During that period, I’ll check texts, emails, play a video game, make calls or whatever. Then I’ll set another deadline. One hour to write, followed by a twenty minute break. And so on. After you finish three sets, you’ll have done four hours work.
When you write to a deadline, you bring your full attention to the task. You get things done quickly, then have time to breathe, as it were, and play during breaks, which keeps your mind sharp.
When you have a million things to do
We’re not just writers. We’re people, too. We have to pay the bills, run errands, get to our day jobs, and spend time with our families. We have a bunch of unfinished tasks rolling around in our heads when we sit down to write.
Organization helps. It’s about compartmentalizing. You get anxious when your brain has to keep track of everything at once. It’s hard to focus.
So I make a long to-do list on my phone. You can do it on your phone, in a journal, on your computer. What goes on the lists? Everything you will need to do in the foreseeable future.
Be specific. List manageable goals. Things you can do in one day. Then you prioritize. I list the most urgent tasks at the top of the list. Other tasks at the bottom. I might never get to them. But they’re on the list.
I look at the list once a day. I start at the top, where the tasks need to be done right away. I erase them when done. When the goals are overwhelming, I break them down.
You need to be accountable
When you work for a studio, your reputation is on the line. Money is riding on the finished script. It has to be great. It has to get done on time. When it’s all on the line, you get it done.
Most screenwriters are working on spec. So, there’s nobody setting deadlines. No monetary goal. Who’s going to hold you accountable? I suggest getting a writing buddy.
It could be another writer in your class, in your writer’s group, or someone you met networking. You help each other. Keep each other accountable. Set deadlines for each other.
When your buddy misses a deadline, talk him (or her) through it. Remind him why he moved to LA, turned down that lucrative job offer, and broke up with his girlfriend. All to write screenplays. So tell him to stop whining and get to work. He’ll do the same for you.
Some other tips
Remember how good it feels to finish a scene, or an act. Focus on getting it done. Reward yourself for finishing short-term goals. Have a beer. Go see a movie.
When you have many too things to do, try to get the most difficult task done first. The rest will feel easier. Let’s say you have to balance your checkbook. Get the chore out of the way early, while you have energy.
Sometimes you get to a point where you’re not sure what to do. You can’t decide. Don’t let this throw you off track. Think about the decision as a separate task. Give yourself a deadline. Make the decision. Keep to your deadlines.
You might find yourself thinking, “I’m just not that interested in writing today.” Schedule some time to write when you are at your best. If you’re a morning person, start early. If you’re a night person, write after midnight.
Don’t forget, every writer goes through it. They get distracted. Don’t beat yourself up when it happens to you. You’re in good company.
When you find yourself distracted, or feeling down, or losing confidence and thinking about giving up, try using some of these strategies. They’re meant to get you back on track. Good luck. Keep writing.
Image credit: Creative Commons I Can’t Think, 2009 by Alyssa L. Miller is licensed under CC By 2.0