3 Big Mistakes Writers Make & How to Stop Making Them

We writers are a neurotic bunch of misfits, aren’t we? It would almost be out of character to not be. Woody Allen. Charlie Kaufman. Ernest Hemingway. (Too far?) It’s actually quite easy to romanticize the headiness of it all. It’s sexy to be in therapy, to examine our demons, to spin the wheels of our mind, sitting in a coffee shop and brooding over the most crucial scene in our screenplay (and every scene is crucial!). We are thinkers, intellectuals, academics, and probably also slightly scarred from something in our life that gave us purpose and content. We’re beautifully flawed, wonderfully screwed up, and that gives us something to offer. Yay!

At the same time, we’re not solving world hunger or curing cancer. We’re just writing stories. We’re educating and enlightening an audience. We’re reminding people that they’re not alone in their experience. We’re entertaining! But still: stories. Do we really need to be giving ourselves wrinkled foreheads/migraines/ulcers/etc. over the absolute best way to tell them? Nope. This brings me to mistake numero uno: analysis.

 

1. Analysis

Okay, analysis. Let’s be clear on what this means. Story analysis: important! Self-analysis: notsomuch. All too often I hear from writers who are stuck in the loop of wondering if their material or idea is any good. More often than that, they’ve already convinced themselves that it isn’t OR that they’re not a good enough writer to serve the project. Sometimes that brooding just kinda turns inwards on itself.

So yeah, it would be pretty cool to actually sit and brood over a really important scene. That would be an analysis upgrade. Unfortunately, the brooding often turns over on the quality of the work and the value of the writer.

And you know what benefit you get from that kinda analysis? None.

You know what would be even cooler than brooding at all? Just writing.

So the million dollar questions is: how do we deal with analysis when it turns dark and goes to an evil place? Repeat these 5 words: all writing is good writing. And then write the damn thing.

Analysis: 0. Writing: 1.

Surprising? That writing might be the best answer to “writer’s block?” If you’re stuck riding the analysis crazy train, it just might be. It also might help if we just stopped waiting, which, you guessed it, is big mistake number two.

 

2. Waiting.

What is this waiting I’m talking about?

If I had a dollar for every time I heard a writer say: “I have this idea but I just need to wait until I’m inspired to write it,” well I would be a millionaire and a whole lot of writers still wouldn’t be writing. Inspiration doesn’t happen unless you create space for it, and you can only create space for it by doing the work. Don’t believe me? Okay, keep on waiting and let me know how that works out for you. I’ll have written 10 screenplays by then.

Here’s the problem with waiting: what it really indicates is an absolute lack of trust in your own talent and ability show up as a writer. You might say you’re waiting for “inspiration” but what you’re really waiting for is proof from some external source that you’re good enough. You are. Go forth and write, brilliant scribe!

Or maybe what’s really bugging you is not knowing how it’s going to come out. Will you write it the way you want? Or will it come out like a 2-year-old discovering ice cream for the first time? Is that lack of control over the creative process a problem? Welcome to big mistake number 3: avoiding chaos.

 

3. Avoiding Chaos.

I know, this kind of sounds like an idealistic term. Like only in a utopian world can one even dream of avoiding chaos. Life is chaotic and stressful and nuts and unexpected things happen and you make plans and they get blown to shit and on and on and on… tired yet?

Yes, you can’t really avoid chaos. But then again you can, the same way you can avoid intimacy and vulnerability and public places. What I mean isn’t successfully avoiding any chaotic circumstances (cause if you had that figured out, you’d own your own fucking island by now). What I’m talking about is a mindset of striving to avoid versus diving right the fuck in and yelling “that’s right Chaos, show me what you got!” It has to do with fear of the unknown, uncertainty and really just being in the midst of a big ole mess and not knowing where to go and what to do next. You know the feeling. It ain’t pretty.

That said, if you want to go to uncharted places and find your way through an original story, you’re going to have to blindly feel through dark and messy areas and make sense of it. Might as well approach it with open arms, am I right?

Here’s the other cute thing about chaos: it’s terrifying and confusing AND the birthplace of all learning. Pretty. Freaking. Sweet.

So here is how you stop avoiding chaos. First, embrace that pain-in-the-ass right off the bat. You’re going to be hanging out with each other a bit, you might as well be friends. And secondly, make an outline of some kind. You don’t go into a dark forest without a map – this isn’t Snow White. You’re not running from an evil queen or trying to prove you can write a novel or script without any “help.”

In short, know that you’re brilliant! Repeat after me: all writing is good writing. Stop waiting for inspiration, invite chaos to the party, write an outline and go write the damn thing, you genius!