5 Ways For Screenwriters To Stay Motivated
Being a screenwriter comes with many hurdles – internal and external. Only those with persistence, passion, and grit will make it. We need to write whether we’re in the mood or not. If you only write when the muse strikes, you’re a hobby writer rather than a professional. Staying motivated to put your fingers to the keyboard is easier said than done. Motivation can be approached from a philosophical approach so screenwriters don’t waste a writing day. Here are some ways to keep you motivated even when you’re not feeling it.
Being a stoic means having an aerial, long-term, holistic view of your writing and the film and TV industry. Stoic writers remain cool, calm, and collected regardless of the level of writer’s block or other story challenges they may have. Being level-headed also means that now is the time to write. Even if you don’t feel you have anything to say. Once you start, the words will emerge.
Consider your goals. Screenplays won’t write themselves without you behind them. It’s fine to shift your writing time to another time of the day if you’re exhausted or… life gets in the way. But persistent procrastination is a problem. Keep your eyes on the prize.
Stoicism is associated with pain, discomfort, and endurance in service to a higher goal. Some writers call it delayed gratification, often illustrated with the adage “I hate writing, but I love having written.” Being a stoic writer isn’t only about embracing the pain. It’s about balancing and managing what you can reasonably achieve within your abilities and control.
- 'Be like the rock that the waves keep crashing over. It stands unmoved and the raging of the sea falls still around it' – Marcus Aurelius
Manage your thoughts, doubts, frustrations, and emotions. This is not the same as being indifferent or oblivious to them. Acknowledge their existence, but don’t allow them to affect you. You will write a lot of poor quality material. Even A-list writers write garbage. Rather than constantly questioning your ability as a screenwriter or your career, use what you have written as a foundation to constantly build on. How can you improve the next draft? How can you elevate your writing voice? Don’t get angry or despondent. These are distractions that threaten your inner peace and eat into your writing time. Your writing needs a reaction not an over-reaction from you. Play the long game with passion and purpose. Courage, equanimity, and temperance. Modulate your harmful thoughts and return to your keyboard. People will love your work, people will hate it, or feel indifferent. What matters is that you love your work.
2) Negative Voices
These are the doubters. Those inner voices that question your value and ability to succeed. Is this a pipe dream or a career you can build? They can be more insidious than negative thoughts because they take longer to harness and shut down. Listening to them won’t allow you to produce your best work. These questioning voices that undermine you are part of the “Monkey Mind.” They create chaos, confusion, and clutter. Not quality. They add unnecessary layers of complexity and uncertainty.
- 'It isn’t events themselves that disturb people, but only their judgements about them' – Epictetus
These voices aren’t critiques, but rather critics. They don’t offer solutions to a writing problem, but focus on the problem which may not even exist. This constant questions, robs screenwriters of their writing process and allowing them to grow and reach their long-term goals.
3) Design Your Writing Time
Plan your writing sessions so you have enough of a framework to work in each writing session and the flexibility to change course if your creative spark is ignited. Too many writers waste time by not having a structure in their days. It’s not enough to commit to writing for two hours on a particular day. You need to design each session with sufficient detail to make it productive. Will you write five pages, will you outline the third act, or will you do a character pass?
- 'First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do to become it' – Epictetus
Making decisions on the fly is a waste of your decision-making credits. If you commit to breaking the A story of a TV pilot or plotting a main character’s arc, your headspace should be restricted to these relevant tasks. Plan your schedule to avoid decision fatigue. Don’t spend the first hour of your writing time deciding what you should do. Deciding on five things you’re going to search on the internet before you start will yield better results than falling down the internet rabbit hole for hours without anything to show for it.
4) Get In The Habit
Habit is the sibling of Design. There is no point in planning a writing session if you don’t follow through with actual writing. Think of habits as putting your writing mind into autopilot. If you’ve set aside a few hours to write before noon, stick to it. Don’t torture your neurons and creativity by giving them the option of opting out – at least not without good reason.
Some entrepreneurs meticulously plan their days to the minute to enable their creativity to thrive. They wake up at the same time, wear the same wardrobe, and eat the same foods. These habitual activities eventually become a lifestyle. Not all habits are created equal. There are good habits and bad habits so be mindful which ones you feed. It is the repetition of deliberate, incremental, and consistent work that creates good habits and completed screenplays.
Habits can attenuate the volatility and disruptions in your writing day and allow you to focus on your best screenwriting. One way to establish healthy habits in this regard is to make the decision that no decision needs to made. Keep writing. You don’t need to stop and question every line of dialogue you’ve written. That’s what rewrites are for.
- 'We are what we repeatedly do… therefore excellence is not an act, but a habit' – Will Durant
Not all bad habits may be apparent to writers. Not finishing a screenplay or always going back and tinkering with what you’ve already written endless times, is the slow road to typing “The End.” Reinforce your good habits and expel the bad ones. Who knows, you may even influence other screenwriters?
Setting good habit establishes a foundation for your screenwriting career. Knowing how to best allocate your time will help you thrive and meet deadlines. Writers don’t necessarily need to make mammoth changes to their routines to establish good habits. It might only be a matter of waking up thirty minutes earlier, shutting down your internet, or refusing to take calls for an hour.
5) It’s A Process
Every award-winning screenwriter made a conscious decision that they were going to succeed in the business. The decision was in service to a big dream – winning an Oscar, becoming a showrunner for their TV series, or getting a movie produced. They set their sights high – really high. After all, this business is about dreaming. Deliberate dreaming. Then they put in the work. Years of it.
Dreams cannot manifest through hope. They need action. Develop a writing process. Your process will sharpen and evolve over time. In fact, it will probably change with each project. Some writers start with a premise, others with character, and others with a plot outline. Although each will converge, the beauty of screenwriting is that writers can enter a story at different entry points.
- 'Progress is not achieved by luck or accident, but by working on yourself daily' – Epictetus
We test our processes so each screenplay becomes easier to write as we build our portfolios. It’s true that we all start with a blank page for a new script, but the craft behind it improves with each screenplay. Eventually you’ll start seeing results.
Improving your process is incremental rather than a quantum leap. Even when you have an “aha” moment when you’ve cracked a vital plot point, it is more often achieved through small steps and missteps.
Writers should aim for one win per day. Be realistic, but don’t set the bar too low either. Turning on your computer isn’t a win. Small steps practiced daily over a lifetime leads to success.