Join Date: Sep 2005
Writing: you can't hurry love...
When I was first starting my process as a writer, I experienced a lot of guilt. The same set of thoughts would go throught my mind over and over again: "I'm not working hard enough"..."I should have written more pages today"..."my ideas suck, this script sucks"...
The loop of thoughts made me even more determined to defeat my "Foe": Procrastination. I thought procrastination was bad for me. I even had examples of people very close to me for whom procrastination had literally destroyed their lives. I was not going to be one of those people. And so I needed willpower to overcome my procrastination.
I put notes up on my corkboard. "Write now!"..."5 pages a day!"...Armed with these exhortations, I would schedule writing time like a doctor's appointment. "1-4pm: writing time". I would presume before that time had begun that I would in fact write pages during those hours. The dreaded hour would arrive and I would dawdle. If I didn't buckle and completely flake, I would sit listlessly in my chair gazing at my blank computer screen. If I wrote a scene, I tried to fill it with a lot of drama or a lot of comedy so that my time would feel "well spent" - ie: I had pages to prove my commitment. I didn't enjoy writing. I suffered through it. Other people suffered through it too. Those early scripts were rigid, formulaic, impersonal. They weren't coming from me. They were little fragments of whimsy that managed to escape a Federal Penitentiary, the inmates of which were: Doubt that I Had any Talent, Impatience that insisted I must sell immediately, Guilt that I hadn't written more in that time period, Shame that I wanted so badly to get validation from others...it was a hell of a load for a little old screenplay to carry. That poor screenplay was lugging around a lot of responsibility, the kind of responsibility that could take the fun out of anything. It clearly took the fun out of reading my screenplays for people. They were polite but reserved. Something was missing.
It took me years to realize what was missing.
For the purposes of discussion, let's divide our writer's minds into two components:
Ego: the aspect of ourselves that thinks about validation, results, money, success, quantifiable progress (Ego is big on physical pages), quantifiable proof of one's own talent (Ego lives or dies on the opinions of others), the aspect that enjoys grandiose fantasy and wallows in certainty of failure. What Ego wants most of all is CERTAINTY and what Ego resists most of all is FLUX. The Ego would rather know now, for sure, that I am an absolute failure at writing then have to spend extended periods in the realm of Flux - where there are no answers to these questions.
Shadow: the aspect of ourselves that doesn't give a fvck what anyone thinks, especially development executives, the part of ourselves that is mischievous and casual about writing, the part that goes off on tangents, that loses track of time, that cares only about the story, the process, the way a child cares about whether his Lego Tower will stay up. Shadow does not ask: Am I Talented? Have I Been Productive Today? Will I Make Money? because Shadow doesn't care about the answers to any of those questions. Shadow doesn't care about leaving a legacy. It doesn't care if the family will starve. It doesn't care what a prodco is looking for and frankly barely cares if anyone ever reads what it's writing. Sometimes it would PREFER that no one read it so it can be really blasphemous, obscene and ridiculous. It doesn't care about deadlines. All it cares about is playing. And if writing doesn't strike its fancy, then it will promptly switch to songwriting, poetry, reading, walking, painting...or any other myriad forms of expression.
Think of it as a parent/child relationship. All Ego is qualified to do is to make the playdate - what actually happens in the playdate; what games the child plays, WHETHER the child plays, if the child is grumpy or happy - that is all out of Ego's control, or at least should be. Shadow is the child. And that child gets extremely pissed off if it has Ego up its ass all the time.
It's a very delicate paradox. Our Egos need to create the external possibility for us to write; but only Shadow can provide the juice, the spark, the individual expression.
I could not produce the quantity or quality that I wanted until I formally renounced Ego and embraced Shadow as the ruler of the kingdom.
Writer's Block is really just an extended paralysis of the Shadow energies because of a brutal, overbearing, ruthless Ego that keeps up a constant stream of criticism and taunting. We all know (and have been) people who take on Writer's Block as a comfortable, permanent identity, talking about it as often as possible. The identity of themselves as blocked, or paralyzed, is bizarrely, more comfortable to them than enduring the mystery of the process itself. Saying "it's okay if I don't write today - in fact, I have value if I never write for the rest of my life" is an enormous first step in the coup d'etat where Shadow seizes the reins.
Shadow tends to emerge when the Ego is feeling utterly defeated. If you have had a loss, a deflation, a terrible professional or personal disappointment; be alert - this is golden time to write. Because your Ego is not on High Alert. The attitude is "Fvck it, I'm a failure anyway, so I might as well write the way I want to instead of the way I've been told to..." The greatest works of art have been created under these conditions.
My process today works much differently than it did when I started. The changes were gradual, over time. Here's what my process looks like now.
I am fortunate to be able to write full-time - but the principles would apply even if I had only six hours a week (and if you can't carve out twenty hours a week of potential writing time, it may not be an activity your soul is truly yearning for).
I exercise. I get into the office around noon. I read the newspaper and have lunch. I have no idea whether or not I will write pages - usually I am sure I won't and I revel in the pleasure of being in my office playing hooky.
I nap. My nap wipes out worries, thoughts of deadlines, mind chatter. I wake up unsure what time it is, disoriented, usually out of a dream. It's about 4:30. I go to the computer and check email and post on Done Deal and surf the net and make calls and try to waste more time. Eighty percent of my five-seven months working on one screenplay is spent thinking, reading, researching, sketching, outlining, taking notes, keeping track of dreams, making free associations between my life and the story...but sometimes I'm actually writing a draft. Writing pages. If that is the case, then around 4:30 -
Something flickers in me: should I open the file? Do I want to? If the answer is no, then I accept that and screw around some more until it's time to go home.
Some days the answer is "yes, we could open the file for a moment." Not to write. "No, not to write, maybe just to look at it."
I will correct minor things, little pieces of dialogue. Then I will consult my notes (that my Parent, Ego has kindly left nicely typed on my desk). What's the next thing to be written? If Shadow doesn't know what's next in the story, then Shadow will not write pages. If Shadow, through the credibility of lots of previous days of small details being added to the stew, DOES know what happens next...
...then I write anywhere from 3-18 pages in the next hour and a half and I go home.
I have completely surrendered to Shadow. I have surrendered to Shadow's timetable for writing, the time Shadow needs to unwind, the fact that Shadow needs to nap, the fact that Shadow want lots and lots of raw material (books, research, lunches with friends, travel, looking at photographs) before it will jump to pages. Shadow rules the day.
My Ego is baffled much of the time. It has been relegated to the sidelines, permanently. But it has important things to do. Like getting my body to within twenty feet of a computer for at least six hours a day. And arranging for me to exercise, which elevates my mood. And buying novels (or going to the library) so that my office feels abundant and luxurious, a place of pleasure, not of work. My Ego spends time re-arranging my office furniture, buying office supplies, paying my bills, keeping track of my phone calls.
The distribution of labor must be as follows: Ego creates the external conditions that make it possible to write. That means not making appointments during process time (I hate calling it "writing time"), not being stuck to the phone, not having access to cable TV or something else that could passively kill large chunks of time...I allow myself the internet but others might want to pull the plug. It's the isolation of oneself with oneself that is important. That could mean a walk, reading a novel, watching a juicy horror film by yourself - whatever puts you into a dreamy, contemplative, playful state of mind. Sometimes you'll write, sometimes you won't, but with this set up, hopefully you can start to leave the Guilt and Shame and Doubt at the door and begin enjoying things a bit more.