The Psychology Of Creativity For Screenwriters

  • October 17, 2022

Screenwriters, and all creatives for that matter, frequently grapple with the constant and tiring task of – creating. We have all suffered from writers’ block, a lack of inspiration and motivation, or a paucity of good ideas at some point in our careers. Self-flagellation and self-doubt don’t help. They cause stress and anxiety which stifle your creativity and only exacerbate the problem.

We’ve previously discussed ways to stimulate your creativity, but never how your mind actually processes it. How can screenwriters get their minds into a creative mindset to stimulate the flow of your storytelling juices?

Reward Yourself – Consciously, Subconsciously & Unconsciously

Human productivity improves with rewards – big or small. They can minor, seemingly unsubstantial rewards like adhering to your commitment to writing for thirty minutes a day, or larger, significant ones like getting your screenplay sold.

Celebrate every victory, even if it means attending a writing workshop or mixer. These are conscious rewards. You’ve made a conscious decision to further your screenwriting career.

Some rewards occur on a less conscious level which also enhances your creativity. In fact, some screenwriters wrongfully dismiss these as inconsequential, or even irrelevant. Consider your work environment. Do you have plants in your office? An uncluttered desk? Do you drink your coffee in the blue mug or a teacup?

Do you have gummy bears on your desk or chocolates you can dip into when you finish writing a page? These subconscious rewards not only provide a motive to write better, but they can be used interchangeably to produce the same beneficial effect. You’re not constantly thinking about them.

Unconscious rewards are the most fascinating because they provide an untapped avenue to enhance your creativity.

Your unconscious mind associates things with pleasurable or unpleasurable experiences – even unrelated ones. We’re talking about activating the reward centers in your brain. The main area is your cerebral cortex activated through a combined desire for a reward and associative learning to generate positive emotions such as satisfaction and joy. Screenwriters can harness this knowledge.

If you won a marathon wearing a particular t-shirt, wearing it during your writing burst can boost your creativity. That’s not to say you will always write that Oscar-winning screenplay if you wear that said t-shirt, but you will write your screenplay more easily.

The key factor here is that screenwriters form unconscious associations to performance-enhancing situations. Professional opinions differ on whether conscious, subconscious, or unconscious associations all have the same effect. Wearing your “lucky t-shirt” puts pressure on you, and might be regarded as detrimental. What if you wear it without thinking about it? This is where positive habits come into play through repetition.

It’s all part of Behavior Theory.

Your conscious mind is tethered to all sorts of external and internal constraints. Your unconscious mind solves problems your conscious mind can’t handle because it is larger and unfiltered. It creates distance between you and your screenplay. Defer to it as often as you can. Notice how often answers come to you when you’re doing an unrelated activity and shifting your focus elsewhere? That’s why screenwriters clean the house or go for a walk when they’re feeling blocked.

You’re often at your most creative after you wake up. It’s a time when you haven’t yet thought about your day. That’s when your unconscious speaks to you most clearly.

How Does Your Screenplay Make You Feel?

This is a highly-studied aspect of psychology. Human emotions. Every screenwriter should ask themselves not only why they are writing their screenplay, but also how it makes them feel? Are you writing an upbeat romcom to help you get over that painful breakup, or are you writing it because you fell in love and you’re still in the honeymoon phase? Writing from a place of anger and resentment can help you unload your story onto the page, but sustained negative emotions won’t help you write your best screenplay.

The next question is how do you want the reader, and ultimately the audience, to feel? Ideally, both answers should be the same. That is how screenwriters connect with their readers. That is how screenwriters successfully communicate their story intention to the reader, so they both visualize the same film.

Brands do this all the time with logos, slogans across various media. Are they slick and sophisticated? Formal and exclusive? Family-friendly and trustworthy? Happy? Sad? Serious? Intellectual?

Screenwriters evoke these responses on the page. You only have words to play around with. Sure, you have some leeway to innovatively format your screenplays (see Nightcrawler by Dan Gilroy or The Quiet Place by Bryan Woods & Scott Beck). Or you could even add some banter in the action (à la Shane Black) or snappy dialogue (hello, Royale with Cheese) to make your screenplay more entertaining.

Your unconscious mind doesn’t categorize story ideas as good or bad. It’s only job is to turn on the spigot, let them flow and ultimately make you feel satisfied. Once they reach the filter of your conscious mind, creative flow is reduced and your ideas back up or may stop altogether. That’s not to say there isn’t a role for your conscious mind in the creative process. Think of the difference of turning free form, loosely0 related story fragments into a well-structured screenplay.

Your conscious mind is your reasoning center. It sorts out which ideas belong in your screenplay and which don’t. What makes sense. It assembles them in a logical order. But it needs to be constantly fed from the well of your unconscious mind.

Mix Things Up

Do you think you could move that desk tray or your printer to the other side of your desk? Maybe change the color theme on your computer? These seemingly minor things disrupt your routine patterns. Your mind notices the changes and needs to readjust. It’s part of human evolution in processing unfamiliar situations as being helpful or harmful to our survival. Until your mind re-equilibrates, it is in the perfect state for your creative ideas to emerge.

Finally, never forget the power of a warm beverage. It will always bring you comfort, safety and reassurance – the perfect recipe to allow your creative mind to wander. After all, what do you do when you want to meet up with someone to discuss something that’s bugging you?

Soon enough you will notice a snowball effect as good story ideas give rise to great screenplays. The trickle becomes a river.

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