Weekend Writing Inspiration: Staying Motivated
October 5, 2018
I could really use your help staying motivated to finish my scripts. Even when I have the best of intentions, if I get hung up on a story problem and can’t find a creative solution, I end up getting down on myself and my writing abilities in general. Either that or I find myself getting bored, and realize that if I’m bored, no one else is going to want to read it, let alone make it or watch it. So I move on to another idea, but now I’m left with a trail of unfinished scripts behind me. Thanks in advance for your help!
This is an important question and one many screenwriters (and writers in general) struggle with. Stick-to-itiveness is one of the core self-mastery skills writers need to succeed. After all, if we don’t write — or finish — we won’t ever have the opportunity to put our work into the world. So staying motivated to write all the way through is a critical skill we have to master.
What being self-critical and getting bored really means
First, let’s talk about what getting down on yourself and getting bored with your work really means. There is a caveat, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Your inner critic is not the voice of truth
Let’s start with being hard on yourself.
Being self-critical usually manifests as negative self-talk. That’s the voice inside your head saying things like, “you’ll never make it,” or “you’re a terrible writer,” or “no one is ever going to want to read this.” That voice believes it is serving a useful purpose for you: It’s trying to protect you from shame, ridicule, embarrassment or humiliation that might result from taking creative risks, so it tries to stop you before you even start.
This is one form of creative resistance, and it is the voice of fear.
We create these voices inside our minds in response to the messages we heard as kids about what was okay to do, think or feel, and in response to our own self-corrections when things went wrong in our lives. So many artists have painful creative wounding in their pasts; it’s important to learn to navigate through those painful experiences when you write and create so they don’t slow you down (working with a coach or therapist can help in this area in particular).
The important thing to recognize is that the voice of fear is not the voice of truth, nor is it the voice you want leading you as you pursue your writing vision. Your inner critic’s voice will sound like truth; and it will be incredibly clever, stealthy and persuasive, but as you learn to recognize it and not fall for it, you can start to make new choices about what you want to do.
Boredom is not what it looks like
Boredom plays a similar dissuasive role when it comes to writing.
Very often boredom, or creative apathy, is another sign of fear. Working as a tag team with your inner critic’s loud, scary voice warning you away from writing, boredom diverts your attention from your script, making you feel “over it,” or “bored,” so you don’t take creative risks. The key thing to notice is timing; Usually boredom comes up when you’re on the verge of doing something that feels creatively dangerous, and it’s trying to stop you so you don’t get hurt.
I learned this lesson in a surprising way when I was close to completing a major rewrite of a beloved script. The way I remember it is that I was intending to finish the draft, get feedback on it, and then submit it to a contest. But when I was about 85% done with the draft, I suddenly lost interest in it. I distinctly recall telling my husband as we made breakfast one morning that I was “over it” and ready to move on to a new screenplay.
Thankfully, I didn’t fall for my own story and realized what was going on: I saw that because I was on the verge of putting my work out there for feedback — something I take seriously and can have a big impact on me — I was scared. And that fear was masquerading as boredom. I finished my rewrite and sent my script off as planned.
The caveat: Resistance vs. intuition
Having said all this, what is usually resistance (aka fear) can occasionally be intuition.
Sometimes our inner critic isn’t just being mean and protective, but has a useful critique to offer. Sometimes boredom isn’t just fear about taking the next big step with our work, but is a symptom of something being off in our storytelling.
The art of self-mastery in this area revolves around learning to discern the difference, navigate around and through resistance, or respond appropriately to intuition.
The way to tell the difference is to study the overall zeitgeist of your writing process; how it’s proceeding, where you are in the draft, and what’s specifically coming up.
What I notice is that constructive criticism and useful boredom are usually scene, plot or story-specific, not project-specific. In other words, they are rarely about abandoning a script, and more likely about making corrections within the script. A little self-reflection and self-honesty will usually help you find your way to telling which is which.
How to stay motivated
Now back to your larger question about how to stay motivated.
Much of writing is about self-motivating, at least until we’re working to external deadlines for producers (and even then too, so we aren’t cramming at the last minute). While you’re still relying entirely on yourself, look for ways to create as much internal motivation and external accountability as you can.
Whenever I lose my way with a screenplay, I remind myself why I’m writing it in the first place. Even if I haven’t written it down, I can trace back to the origin of the story idea and remind myself what I cared about so much; what inspired me to write it. This is your “big why.” Once you’ve reconnected with the “big why” behind your script, it’s easier to stay motivated with seeing it through. (Pro tip: Write down your “big why” somewhere you can easily find it).
Next, look at your writing career goals and your timeline for them. What are you hoping to accomplish this year, in the next five years, and over the lifetime of your career? How does this script factor into that plan? Do you see a natural timeline or urgency for getting it finished?
When you can see why it’s important to get your screenplay into the world — and when — it’s easier to get into action.
Once you know what you want to do, put in place as much external accountability as you need to help you get going and then sustain your momentum. For example, at Called to Write we specialize in helping writers making the work of writing actually happen through writing programs designed to create support and accountability for writers, who show up and do their own work. We use a combination of writing sprints, daily coaching, and writing intensives to help our writers write.
Other methods of creating external accountability include using contest deadlines; craft classes, social accountability (announcing publicly what you’re doing and by when), partnering with an accountability buddy where you trade work at regular intervals, working with a writing or story coach, or joining screenwriting critique groups to help you stay motivated.
Each writer has their own sweet spot for the level of writing accountability they need and want; too much can be overwhelming, too little and it’s too easy to let it slide. Experiment and fine tune until you have what you need. In my own writing life, I find that when I have at least three forms of accountability, I’m usually operating at a pretty consistent pace.
You might also find this article, “7 Tips for Staying Motivated by Self-Created Deadlines” helpful.
Before we part ways, let me say a quick word about what “finished” means.
In the screenwriting world, a screenplay isn’t “done” until it’s on the screen in front of audiences. This means that defining what finished means between now and then can be a bit of an elusive concept.
When you’re setting out to “finish” a script, get clear what that means to you in terms of your current end goal: Are you striving to get to first-draft done, ready-for-feedback done, ready-for-contests done, or ready-for-the-industry done? Each of those are milestone drafts that require a different level of completion, polish and effort. With each script, decide what level of done you want to hit before you move on to the next script, even if you’re taking a brief creative break so you can come back to the first with fresh eyes.
Your weekend writer’s assignment
Take a look at your current slate of screenplays and assess their level of completion. Remind yourself why you’re writing each one. Establish a priority order for their completion — which one makes the most sense to finish first? Which one are you most called to and motivated to work on right now? Then, set up a timeline for completing it and put as much accountability as you need in place to help you get going, like telling your best screenwriting pal you’ll be sending over a draft to read by a specific date. Happy weekend writing!
Got Questions You Want Answered?
After working with hundreds of writers over the last seven years, writing coach and Called to Write Founder Jenna Avery has answers for you about how to balance your life and your screenwriting, trust yourself more as writer, fulfill your call to write, and more. Submit your most pressing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or via Jenna’s online form at https://calledtowrite.com/final-draft and she may choose your question to answer anonymously in a future article.
Written by: Jenna AveryJenna Avery is a screenwriter, columnist, and blogger who redesigned her life and career to support her calling to write. She specializes in sci-fi action and space fantasy, and her most recent project is a post-apocalyptic coming-of-age story for a Canadian producer. Jenna is also a writing coach and the founder of Called to Write, where she has helped hundreds of writers overcome procrastination, perfectionism, and resistance so they can get their writing onto the page and into the world where it belongs. Jenna writes about writing, creativity, and calling at calledtowrite.com, for ScriptMag, for Final Draft, and teaches for Screenwriter’s University. Download Jenna’s free guidebooks for writers when you join her mailing list at https://www.calledtowrite.com/mailing-list