It’s no secret that when it comes to sitting down to actually doing the writing, we writers excel at procrastination. If, anywhere within a five mile radius of the computer, we happen to notice an unsharpened pencil, a window, a refrigerator, a phone, unopened mail, a magazine, something needing dusting, the TV remote, a ladybug making its way up the wall, a freckle, a birthmark, a pimple, a scab, or even a stray thought—that’s more than enough reason to stop writing (assuming we’ve even started yet) and focus on that distracting alternative, at least until it suddenly occurs to us why we happen to have been sitting in front of that blank computer screen for the past forty-five minutes.
Sometimes, we take advantage of even longer periods of procrastination—and for each of these, in order to deal with the guilt, we have invented a specific rationalization. It’s not “meeting a friend for lunch”—it’s “Networking. It’s not “vacationing in Hawaii”—it’s “Gathering Important Life Experience.” It’s not “having sex all afternoon with your lover”—it’s “Getting In Touch With Your Emotions and Learning about the Opposite Sex.” It’s not “going to see a movie”—it’s “Research. Hey, Come On, If I’m Going To Be Writing Them, I Have To Know What’s Out There.” My mother used to tell me, “You have an answer for everything, a solution for nothing,” and I’m starting to appreciate her wisdom.
Lately, however, I’ve become aware of yet another form of procrastination to which we writers fall victim. Okay, to which I fall victim; I won’t drag the rest of you down with me, because if you identify with me, you’re doing a good enough job dragging yourself down. For this form of procrastination is perhaps the most disturbing and insidious of them all. It speaks to the very heart of who we are, what we do, what we want. And I’m really not sure I’ll ever be able to overcome it. Ladies and gentlemen, fellow writers, I hope you appreciate the amount of courage it’s taking me to come clean about this, but here goes: I have become addicted to the trappings of being a writer.
Yes, sadly, it’s true—I am passionately interested in and devoted to every possible aspect of being a writer, with just one exception—doing the actual writing. Ironic, isn’t it? Or better yet, crazy, irrational, tragic. How dare I presume to even call myself a writer? Would someone who watched the Food Channel all day refer to himself as a chef? Would someone who collected band-aids call himself a doctor? Would a woman who read all day long about famous architects call herself an architect? And yet, is what I am doing so very different from these professional wanna-bees? And I call myself a writer. Hah! I disgust myself.
Think I’m exaggerating? Check out all the writing-related activities with which I fill my time—time that could be spent actually writing:
Books I must have a hundred books on writing. 500 Ways to Beat the Hollywood Script Reader, Getting Your Script Through the Hollywood Maze, Screenwriting On The Internet, How to Enter Screenplay Contests and Win, Power Shmoozing, The Script is Finished—Now What Do I Do?, The Craft of the Screenwriter—Is there useful information in these books? Yes. Have I read even half of them? No. Would I be approximately 115 years old by the time I finish reading them all? Absolutely. Of course, by then, there’d be new ones to read.
CONFERENCES AND SEMINARS The Screenwriting Expo, Independent Feature Project, Learning Annex, Maui Writers Conference, Words Into Pictures, Southern California Writers Conference, Sherwood Oaks Experimental College. I’ve been to them all, keep attending them, and apparently just can’t get enough in-person information about “The Hero’s Journey,” “Story Brainstorming,” “How to Write a Blockbuster,” “Building Strong Characters,” “Seducing the Studio Reader,” and “Creating Narrative Tension.” The best thing about these conferences and seminars: while you’re there, you have a legitimate excuse not to be writing!
SCREENWRITING SOFTWARE I was so jazzed to purchase my current screenwriting software, which came with so many bells and whistles I honestly wondered how Shakespeare was able to create without owning it. Its Name Bank helps me generate character names. It has real-time pagination, spell-check and auto-correction; auto-back-up to protect my work; Voice Readback, online collaboration with a partner, and a rave from Francis Ford Coppola on the back. Heck, the box even proclaims, “Write polished professional scripts within minutes of opening the box!” Well, I’ve had the box opened for years, not minutes, and apparently, as it turns out, in addition to the software’s impressive features, you also need an idea, talent, and discipline. But do they tell you that on the box? Noooooo!
WRITERS GUILD OF AMERICA I’m a member, so I can attend the Film Society screenings, where I’m free to shmooze (see Power Shmoozing, in Books section, above) with other writers who aren’t working. I have access to the Script Registration Department, where I’m free to register scripts I haven’t written. I can visit their library, where I can read scripts other writers have written, or read about other writers in screenwriting magazines. I can join writer-related committees. I can offer my services as a mentor to another aspiring writer. I can become involved in WGA politics. I can attend readings of works by fellow members, tributes to fellow members, and a variety of “An Evening With…” fellow members, during which, though I’m not actually writing, I’m gaining insight by finding out how someone else writes.
Writing Paraphernalia My mousepad has the design of an old-fashioned typewriter. I have a baseball cap that says “Writer” on the rim. One of my t-shirts proudly proclaims the fact that I survived one of the Writers Guild strikes. My set of refrigerator word magnets allows me to form sentences while waiting for my pasta to boil. I’ve lost count of how many free pens I’ve accumulated from companies promoting writing software, books and script consultant services. I’ve decorated the back of my door with photos of movies I wish I’d written. I have a CD of Steve Martin reading one of his short story collections. Any half-decent detective might deduce that the owner of all this stuff is a writer. That same detective would have a far more difficult task acquiring evidence of actual writing on the premises.
Okay, you get the idea. It’s procrastination, pure and simple. And granted, my procrastination is completely writer-related; it’s not like I’m spending all day at the racetrack—though mightn’t that give me the Life Experience to write something wonderful about a racetrack? Still, it’s clear that I’ve been doing a lot of things that fall into the category of Not Writing. I’m circling the writing area. I’m in the writing air space. I’m holding for writing landing clearance. But I’m not writing. And I’m telling you this so that the next time you see me reading a book on writing, attending a writers conference, power shmoozing with someone at a Film Society screening, or about to pick up a complimentary writer book mark—you stop me, snatch the book mark out of my hand, shake me if you have to, look me straight in the eyes, and remind me that I should be at home, writing. I have been warned.