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The First Consequence of Screenwriting: Sloth

By Randal Stevens · April 28, 2010

Centuries ago, some guy who lived alone in the desert made up the Seven Deadly Sins to justify his importance to the Church. Just now, I made up the Seven Deadly Consequences to justify my importance to this blog. The Seven Deadly Consequences are just like the Sins, but are not actions; they are reactions. Specifically, the Consequences are reactions that occur when you should be writing, but you’re not. They won’t have any effect on your immortal soul, but they come with equivalent amounts of crushing guilt! This first entry is focusing on the Consequence of sloth.

I decided to begin this series with sloth because, if you know anything about sloth, you’ll recognize it as the consequence that often occurs first when you’re not writing and can be the hardest to shake. Sloth is primarily defined as apathy, characterized by physical and emotional inactivity and anyone who has gone for long periods of time without writing knows exactly how that feels, especially if you’re like me and you do the vast majority of your writing in your free time.

I know we can all relate to this scenario: you’ve had a long day at work in which your early arrival and late departure were bookended by you making up for the mistakes of incompetent co-workers, salvaging the mess caused by a meddling boss and dealing with clients with the mental capacity of lobotomy patients and all you want to do is get home, kick up your heels and not mentally exert yourself any further. But you’re also halfway through what you feel is a kick ass screenplay in which your robot super spy from the future saves the world from Armageddon triggered by the love-child he fostered with a dinosaur – after a wicked twist come the end of Act II, of course. You know it’s imperative that you keep writing, but you’re in such a foul mood that you conclude there’s no way you can get anything accomplished. So, you pick up a KFC Double Down or two, catch up on your DVR-ed episodes of “The Real Housewives of Baltimore” and wash it down with Zardoz, which arrived from Netflix before heading to bed. No big deal. We all do it.

But then the next day, when work isn’t as bad, you get home and see that Bravo is airing a marathon of “America’s Next Top Hat” and you think, “it was such a relief not having to worry about writing last night, I think I’ll push it off again tonight.” You get so used to the rest and relaxation that you take off from writing again and again and again. Next thing you know, you haven’t written for a month and you can’t remember the pivotal scene you were planning to lead up to that killer twist at the end of Act II and because you’ve no longer got momentum on your side, you figure, “fuck it.”

This is the consequence of sloth and it’s a two-folded danger. Like all the Seven Deadly Consequences, it can be addicting, but what makes it one of the most dangerous is that it also disguises itself as a reward. For instance, let’s say you did come home from that awful day and forced yourself to sit down for three hours and banged out 20 pages of script. Feels good, doesn’t it? So you reward your hard work by giving yourself a day off. Just be sure to taper that reward so that you don’t end up rewarding yourself for one day of hard work with one month of not working.

How to Avoid the Consequence of Sloth

Get yourself an accountability partner. Find someone who will encourage you to keep going when you’re in a groove and to pick it back up when you’re in funk. This person shouldn’t be just any tramp off the street, but someone who knows your work, has a personal connection with you and wants to see you succeed. Have this person set you a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly goal of what they’d like to see you accomplish and make sure they constantly check in with you. Back in college, if we didn’t write, we’d fail our class, so for me, the fear of punishment has always been a powerful motivator. I used to have an accountability partner that would make me pay for a night of drinking if I didn’t complete 12 pages every two weeks and with the amount this guy could drink, I DEFINITELY didn’t want to be on the losing end of that equation. Choose your partner wisely though, because if he or she is as slothful in holding you accountable as you are with writing, then you won’t get anything done.

I would also recommend that this partner doesn’t reward you if you do complete your tasks. That may seem harsh, but your reward is your word count. At the end of the day, if you’ve been writing, your reward is that you’ve created something truly unique that no one else on this planet has done. I’d say that’s reward enough.