Three Screenwriting Principles to Remember in 2020
Suffer Less, Write More.
It’s a new year and a new decade. At Meditative Writing©, we are starting the 20s with a healthier and more functional writing process. Below are three principles to remember throughout the year that will help you write more and suffer less during the inevitable pain of writing.
1) Nothing is permanent
Good or bad.
When you have a good writing day, do not assume that this is the new normal. When you have a bad writing day, do not assume that this is the new normal either.
Many writers overthink a bad writing day or week and repeat the false belief, “I have lost it. It is gone. I will never write well again.” This is your artistry playing peekaboo with you. It is not gone forever. It left temporarily. You just need to write through it.
Clinging to permanence when you have a good run can be just as painful. The quality of your projects will not climb up in a straight line. After you write a great screenplay, you usually write a terrible one. This is the nature of growth. It’s similar to martial arts. You become the best yellow belt, but when you move up to the orange belt, you get your ass beaten. This teaches you continued growth.
You will suffer greatly if you require everything you write to be good. That is impossible. Even Shakespeare penned some crappy plays. Beethoven composed many “meh” pieces. Your favorite screenwriter wrote many duds. You just haven’t read them. Or perhaps you have.
Your false belief in permanent states causes most of your suffering. That’s your ego. You write a great script. Perhaps it wins an award. Then you create a false belief that you are a good writer and that means everything you write is good. No. (good writers are capable of writing good work, but it’s never a guarantee.) The ego protects itself at all costs, keeping you from any situation that challenges the idea of you being a good writer. This prevents continued growth.
The quality of your pages and your confidence is cyclical. Everyone’s is. Even though you have been through the cycle dozens or even hundreds of times, you may still forget. Keep a journal to track this. You might discover your cycle is linked to time, or projects, or something else entirely.
Remind yourself often – this too, in time, shall pass. Whether it is good or bad. You will suffer less in the painful moments, and savor the positive moments with more gratitude.
If a fear is getting in your way, follow it. Don’t ignore the fear follow it into the future and see what will happen. If you write a terrible scene, then what? You will feel bad for a day. But you are fine. A day later you write another scene. If you get fired off a project, you will feel terrible. For a few weeks. Then you will keep writing. You will find another opportunity and you will be fine.
Even if we really push the reality – let’s say you write a book that gets panned so badly every publisher in the world agrees to never let you publish again. You will feel wrecked. Then you will either write under a pen name or move to the woods with your loved one, write for your own pleasure and pursue all the other activities that your writing career has kept you from. You will still have your process, your health, and your loved ones. You will be fine. It will hurt but you will adapt and move forward. No pain is permanent.
Dung turns into fertilizer more quickly than you think.
All seeds grow in darkness.
2) Bravery is necessary for writers
It is a muscle. It can be cultivated. It should be practiced.
Bravery is not fearlessness. There are things worth being scared of. If a wild bear wanders into your campsite, fear is an appropriate response. Bravery is taking action in the face of fear.
Bravery is not something you are born with. Bravery is cultivated and practiced. Bravery is a muscle.
Bravery will be useful at every stage of the writing process. Facing the blank page. Reading your own work. Rewriting. Letting other people read your work. Listening to what people have to say after reading your work. Actually hearing what people have to say about your work. Accepting the useful feedback. Going back in and rewriting again. Sending a finished script out into the world. Waiting to hear back. Getting a no. Especially getting a yes. Seeing your work published or produced. Getting reviewed. Starting the next project. Doing it all over again. Every single one of these steps evokes fear inmost writers. You will face fear every single step of the way. Bravery helps you get through it.
Fear gets bigger the more successful you get.
Most emerging screenwriters think, they just need to land their first paid gig (or publish their first novel, or get staffed on their first show) and then they will know they are good and will never doubt themselves or their future again. Then the fear will go away and it will be easy. This is untrue.
Most early career writers think they just need to get that second gig (or publish that second book) or option a feature before the show gets canceled. Then people won’t find out that they really have no idea what they are doing. They’ll feel financially stable and never have to go back to folding sweaters or pouring coffee or performing open-heart surgery again. This is untrue.
Most mid career writers think, they just need to show run so they have some control. They need their own screenplay to be produced, need to shift into directing, or need their book series to get turned into a TV show. Then they will know their family is stable and they’ll be free to write the stories they really want rather than what they’re hired to. They will be happy and won’t feel this existential angst that keeps gnawing at them, wondering if they have dedicated their entire life to something they’re not sure I really love. This is garbage.
There will always be another mountain to climb. Just because you have climbed many mountains doesn’t mean you’ve climbed this mountain. It doesn’t make the trek any less steep. You cannot change the mountain. You cannot eliminate fear. But you can become very brave.
You can cultivate and apply bravery in many ways. If every day you practice bravery at least once, even unrelated to writing, it will help. Make eye contact with a stranger. Ask someone out on a date. Ask for help. Write naked. Sing loud enough for your neighbors to hear. Watch a scary movie. Go into a store you feel is “not made for you”. Whatever. Whatever scares you but won’t traumatize you, do it. Then validate the crap out of yourself and feel that muscle growing.
Practice bravery regularly so the muscle doesn’t turn into fat.
Every time you write and get scared you have two choices: practice bravery or practice cowardice. You must choose. The one you choose the most often gets the strongest.
3) The definition of a writer is someone who writes
Nothing more, nothing less.
A writer is not someone who writes great stories every time they put pen to paper. That is not possible.
A writer is not someone for whom writing is always easy. That is someone who doesn’t identify as a writer.
A writer is not someone who always knows what to write. That person does not exist.
A writer is not a writer who is published. That is a published writer.
A writer is not someone who has been produced. That is a produced writer.
A writer is not someone who writes professionally. That is a professional writer.
A writer is not someone who writes for money. That is a creative whore.
A writer is someone who writes. If you write, you are a writer. If you don’t, you are not.
The way you define what it means to be a writer matters. This will chemically affect your brain.
You might need to reroute your brain 101 times for this definition to take effect in your brain. But it is worth it. It will take away much of the unnecessary suffering most writers put themselves through.
Make a sign that reads, “A writer is someone who writes – nothing more, nothing less.” Post it near your writing desk.
When you think about sitting down to write, remind yourself, “A writer is someone who writes – nothing more, nothing less.”
When you sit down to write, take a breath and whisper, “A writer is someone who writes – nothing more, nothing less.”
When you are a writer and a daymare of rejection, humiliation, and/or failure pops into your head, discard it like an unwanted postcard, take a deep breath and look at your sign that reads, “A writer is someone who writes – nothing more, nothing less.”
When you have finished your writing session, take a deep breath and remind yourself, “A writer is someone who writes – nothing more, nothing less. Today I wrote. Today I am a writer.”
When your writing gets published or produced, take a moment and remember, “A writer is someone who writes – nothing more, nothing less.”
When your writing gets praised, remind yourself, “A writer is someone who writes – nothing more, nothing less.”
When your writing gets criticized, remember, “A writer is someone who writes – nothing more, nothing less.”
When you get fired for the first time, remember, “A writer is someone who writes – nothing more, nothing less.”
When your voice changes because you have been through the roller coaster of life, remember, “A writer is someone who writes – nothing more, nothing less.”
When you write something that shakes you to the core and makes you question everything you have ever known, remember, “A writer is someone who writes – nothing more, nothing less.”
When you write something so beautiful you decide not to share it with anyone but keep it for yourself, you will know, “A writer is someone who writes – nothing more, nothing less.”
For more about Jess Hinds and her workshops, Meditative Writing, and Screenplay Alchemy, please visit MeditativeWriting.org.
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