This week’s guest post is by Steve/Hix, screenplay and roleplaying game writing extraordinaire.
Steve’s voice is one of the voices in my head when I’m writing. He’s always asking me ‘where’s the conflict?’ and also ‘what’s the worst thing that could happen in this scene, what would really screw up your characters?’ It’s a good thing. Steve is great to talk to about writing because he has massive amounts of insight into his own behaviour and is very good at calling me on my bad habits too.
… the thing is, if there’s a problem in my life it’s up to me to fix it. And I’m talking about writing here: if I’m not happy with what I’m writing, or with the amount of writing I’m getting done, I’ll have to change my life in order to get happy.
I realised this somewhere around Day 2000 of writing The Limit. I was 5 and a 1/2 years into writing my script (it turns out that criticism of my previous film + perfectionism + no job = a pathological number of rewrites), when I had to acknowledge to myself that I was stuck, I was bored, and my brain wasn’t fresh.
That’s important: my brain wasn’t fresh. While my writing was varying in its usual way (*), my mind had been focused on writing the same intense dark thriller material for way too long.
(*) My writing schedule varies between procrastination, not flowing, insights, and enjoyment, and then back to procrastination again once I feel I’ve done enough to rest on my laurels, or that I’ve hit a benchmark where I can tell myself I’ll stop writing for a while so I can come back and look at the script with ‘fresh eyes’.
So, that was the problem: non-fresh brain. It was up to me to find a solution and fix it.
Thinking about it, I realised that all my writing was being done under pressure. Pressure I was putting on myself. I certainly wasn’t being playful. I wasn’t writing just for the sake of it. I wasn’t taking a look at any of the many, many ideas that were building up in my filing cabinet as I struggled to finish The Limit.
So, I created something I call “PLAY”.(*) I decided that every two months, after working on a single project, I would take two weeks off. During those two weeks, I could PLAY with any project I wanted. Anything that inspired me or that took my fancy. I’d pull out my folders of TV ideas, skills I wanted to learn, blog posts I wanted to write. … And then I’d just do it.
(*) Yes, for some reason the all-caps are important to me.
I’m in the middle of PLAY right now, and I’m working on “a game to change the world”, and a pitch for a TV show (that I’m also going to use to learn a layout programme with). I’ve also varied when I PLAY a little: it turns out that 2 months was just a little bit too long. I’m now on a six-weeks of focused writing followed by 2 weeks of PLAY, which seems to be a better ratio for me.
PLAY has changed my approach to writing. It’s a reward for hard, focused work. It’s an opportunity to get inspired about stuff I might do next. It takes the pressure off me to create ‘good’ stuff, and instead lets me explore.
So there you go. Identify a problem in your life. Try a solution. Don’t be afraid to make radical changes. This why I admire Matt trying out different schedules; and Jenni for taking Wednesdays off to write. It’s the sort of stuff we need to do; as writers, we need to create a life that works for us (and the people around us).