Avoid Writing Procrastination and be Wise to these 9 Writer Traps
There are so many elements that can detract you from writing, but nothing as powerful as yourself. Meaning, engagement in writing procrastination behaviors. Just as there is a WRITER inside you, there is also an ANTI-WRITER. Just as you want to cultivate the writer inside you, you want to smoke out the anti-writer from his foxhole and eliminate him before the anti-writer destroys years of your life. I have seen this happen firsthand, for my screenwriting friends as well as my college friends who procrastinate writing academic papers and essays. And yes, the anti-writer inside me has claimed many of my years.
In my time working in the film industry, I have met Nine Types of Anti-Writers.
Find the anti-writer inside you and destroy it like a pedestrian in “Grand Theft Auto.” You will be rewarded with daylight to the promised land of writing.
Writing Procrastination #1: THE TALKER
“The talker” is extremely common in Hollywood. This person spends so much energy “talking” about his screenplay, he is too exhausted to write. What you frequently hear from this type is how “amazing” his screenplay is and who would star in it, etc. But you never actually see a screenplay. You also rarely get a good sense of the story “the talker” speaks of, since he is too busy talking about how great his idea is.
SOLUTION: With the advent of smart phones, you can record your “talking” and perhaps hire someone to type your words. This may cost money, but nothing is more costly than spending years with no results. Talkers of the world, technology is on your side, use it. Either that or shut up and write. Or just become a “Producer.”
Writing Procrastination #2: THE RESEARCHER
Writing involves research. There is always a facet of your story that involves this action — whether you’re writing about firemen, World War II or a sci-fi movie.
With the advent of the web, “The Researcher” is literally in heaven. The problem is, “The Researcher” adores the process of researching so much, that he can never get his screenplay complete. Whenever you ask this person how their screenplay is coming along, they usually reply, “I’m still doing research?” This person prefers to read blogs and books and anything but their own screenplay. They wind up accumulating far more information than they need. I have known researchers who have spent years not completing their screenplay, essay, whatever.
SOLUTION: Stop researching. You’re not a scientist. You’re a storyteller. Or are you a scientist? The “research” is supposed to serve your story, not the other way around. Stop being afraid of your imagination and do some screenwriting… if that’s what you really want to be.
Writing Procrastination #3: THE PERFECTIONIST
“The Perfectionist” wants to get everything right. The spelling. The grammar. The sluglines. They want everything in the right place, sometimes while they are writing (even if they have Final Draft). Working on a screenplay is such agony that I can’t even imagine being shackled with this condition. This type may even complete a screenplay but refuses to show it to people, in case they missed something. Their fear of failure is so high, they’ve already succeeded… at failing.
SOLUTION: A career in screenwriting requires making a fool of yourself. Hollywood films typically show rough cuts to audiences who tear their production apart. Thick skin is a necessity in Hollywood, because it costs so much money to get a movie made. The dream of your perfect screenplay is just an illusion. If you can’t get over that, you may not want to be a screenwriter. Learn to love pain and rejection. Take a look at professional scripts on the web right now. They’re frequently misspelled. In spite of that, they are pros. Remember that a career in Hollywood requires intuition and guts, not overthinking. I’ve met many successful people in the industry, none of them “overthinkers.” The word “perfection” is never even used.
Writing Procrastination #4: THE APPROVAL SEEKER
“The Approval Seeker” may have a finished a screenplay, but now the problem begins. He takes everyone’s notes literally. Accepting all comments, from all his friends and family, not matter who they are. His script may have a begun as a comedy, but may now be a thriller, or a historical drama. Like a pinball, this person cannot say “no” to anyone’s notes. And thus, his screenplay may never be complete.
SOLUTION: If you’re fortunate enough to know people to read your screenplay and give you honest notes, you are in a great position. It is of immense value. But everyone’s notes are opinions. Based on their taste, religion, philosophy. You really must understand the story you want to tell. Its like asking someone their opinion about the color of your sports car and they tell you, “you know, that would be a great family car.” You must know its a sports car and their opinion is merely a grain of salt. Perhaps what they’re trying to say is, “you drive too fast.” Be aware of and stay aware of the story you want to tell. Once you sell your script, Hollywood will rewrite the hell out of it… let them handle that “Approval Seeking” part. That’s not your job as a screenwriter.
Writing Procrastination #5: THE ONE DRAFT WONDER
Once the first draft is complete, “The One Draft Wonder” considers his work complete. It’s now good enough to get some attention in Hollywood. Anything is possible in Hollywood, of course, but this immense stroke of luck would require the right connections, relatives, industry function, bolt of lightning and so on… but writing, as the old saying goes, is re-writing. This is even more true for screenwriting than books. The “One Draft Wonder” is too enamored with his own genius (perhaps he watched “Amadeus” once too many) to trouble himself to rewrite a single sentence. While he may get some attention, he will always be shy of glory.
SOLUTION: Take it from a recovering “One Draft Wonder,” your screenplay is NOT READY. Learn how to rewrite. Many times I have heard people tell me, “if you only did this” or “if you only did that your screenplay would be so good.” I would smile and nod, and move on to my next screenplay. I may have written 50 screenplays before I started rewriting. Sometimes people would tell me I had a such a great story and I was halfway there. I didn’t listen. Many, many years of my life were eaten from doing “only first drafts” before I understood how much more potent and engaging I could make my screenplays by rewriting them.
Writing Procrastination #6: THE CONSTANT RE-WRITER
Just as it’s dangerous to not go beyond ONE DRAFT, its just as dangerous to re-write too much. There is a saying in the editing room: “good… better… best… worse.” “The Constant Re-writer” is a runaway version of “The Perfectionist,” but the tragedy of this type is that she may have a great screenplay somewhere in the landfill of her numerous drafts. But which one?
SOLUTION: Overthinking is one of the great enemies of the film industry. I’m convinced that some great screenwriters will never succeed, simply because they thought too much. You want to set up your script skillfully, but in the end your imagination and voice is what will get noticed. If you have those two functions, you should rely on them more, because that is what executives seek.
Writing Procrastination #7: THE IDEA WHORE
Some people have such powerful imaginations that their minds are relentlessly firing up new ideas. And they’re all great movies or TV shows. “The Idea Whore” cannot say “no” to her own imagination, even if she’s in the middle of working on one these wonderful screenplays. She leapfrogs from idea to idea to idea to idea… and rarely finishes any of them.
SOLUTION: Maybe you have a million great ideas, but there is one issue. You won’t live to be a million years old. Choose wisely. Keep your claws in the present screenplay. Or watch years dissipate through your hands like beach sand. Or become a producer and try to have all million of your ideas made by slave driving other writers. Hollywood has many variations of this. But if you choose to be a screenwriter, there is a Chinese saying, “he who chases two horses, catches neither.”
Writing Procrastination #8: THE INSPIRATION SEEKER
Every kind of writing has this type looming in the background. A would-be writer who seeks inspiration to begin. Maybe they wrote one screenplay and people told them how good “some of it” was. Maybe they were very promising film school students, but once they stepped into the real world, when faculties stopped patting them on the back, this person found his motivation lacking. Still, he waits, day and night, for the muse to visit him as he paces and wonders how he will convert his beautiful ideas into a screenplay.
SOLUTION: The Muse does not work like that. Yes, there is a muse, but no professional I’ve ever met depends on her. My Muse never comes on the days I don’t feel like writing. She usually appears when I’m doing most of the work and says, “well, it could be a little better, go take your bathroom break and let me have a crack at it.” And she makes it a little better, by adding a metaphor or adjective or some other spice. But I never count on her or wait for her. Otherwise I would never write. If you are waiting for your muse to write a screenplay, I’m here tell you, she may meet you halfway… at best.
Writing Procrastination #9 THE HOW-TO JUNKIE
The “How-To Junkie” has done it all. Read everything by Robert McKee, Syd Field, Blake Snyder, Viki King, etc. Done all the writer’s boot camps, IFP seminars, UCLA Extension classes and whatever else is available out there. This type has spent thousands of dollars mainlining instructions on How To Write and How to Sell a screenplay. But they have not done the most important thing… write a screenplay. This type may also be obsessed over screenwriting apps and other gadgets. Their minds runs on the most dangerous theme in Hollywood: “if only I went to that seminar, I would know how to write screenplays.” The “if only” quagmire is a heart breaking scenario in Hollywood. Never think that if you want to succeed. It takes many steps. There is never ONE THING that will take you to the promise land.
SOLUTION: Some of my closest friends have suffered the condition of “How-To Junkie”. And I wonder if they actually want to write a screenplay. They know so much. They simply can’t translate the contents of their noodle into their fingertips. Only because I’ve rarely seen anyone recover from this, do I ask you, “The How-To Junkie,” is screenwriting really what you want to do? Since you do, and spend so much money, to avoid it. Part of the reason why I started writing to begin with was because it didn’t cost much. Look in the mirror. How much more do you want to spend? How many more years do you want to waste reading screenwriting books? How many more seminars do you want to sit through before you are ready? Is this what you set out to do? No. Get rid of all of those books today and start writing. You know enough. Learn to trust yourself.
Now then… if you’re ready to WRITE and not delve in writer procrastination anymore, what can you do?
Check out our EPIC post on screenwriting tips – seriously, there are so many writing habits and tips it’s big enough to be a book.
Written by: Norith Soth