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By Jamie Jensen · July 1, 2014
This ever happened to you?
You’re knee deep in Act III and you can’t stand it anymore. You kinda want to throw in the towel or throw your computer against a wall. Everything you try isn’t working. Your lead character’s problems are pissing you off. You’re not sure you even like this dude anymore. Why is he so whiney?
And now, to make matters even worse, you’re fresh out of ideas on how to fix that Act Break.
What. The. Fack.
So you want to do what any normal, self-respecting person would want to do: you want to quit.
Divorce your screenplay.
And you start asking yourself questions like:
• Is this the right screenplay for me to be writing right now?
• Is this script really going to help my career?
• Is this even worth writing if I can’t do it that well?
I’ve been there. And we all need a little cheat sheet for those frustrating moments. That’s why I wrote this article. To help you when the going gets tough. Because we don’t have couples therapy for writers and screenplays (yet).
Step One: don’t make any rash decisions.
You won’t be happy if you wake up in the morning with a smashed Mac book and still no screenplay. Point made.
Step Two: take yourself through this checklist of questions.
– What did I love about this script when I started?
Ask yourself what got you fired up about writing this script in the first place. Make a list. Then, make a list of the things in your life you really value. I know this sounds crazy. But if your reason for writing this project was, for example, that you think it’s going to sell and make lots of money, but you’re not someone who is even motivated by money: that’s a big, fat problem.
Yes, making lots of money may seem like a good idea. But if that’s not what lights your creative fire than I hate to say it but: it ain’t worth your time.
Tap into why the project was important to you in the first place. If it aligns with your values, give yourself one point. If it doesn’t align with your values, you get nothing!
– What hopes do I have for this project?
What do you really want to see happen with this project? Do you want to get it to Meryl Streep and see her win (another!) Oscar for it? Do you want to sell it to a company that specializes in horror films to make a lot of profit on the backend and kick off your genre writing career? What’s your dream for it?
Picture all of the best ways this screenplay could live a life once you’ve finished it. Imagine the type of movie it will be, who will star in it, what kind of audience will pay to watch it. Do those thoughts excite you? Or do nothing for you? If they excite you, give yourself a point!
– How long will it take me to finish if I’m in the zone?
Here’s the thing about trying to write when you’re not in the zone: it’s a waste of time and energy. I don’t believe in “waiting for inspiration” to write because going pro means showing up and doing the work no matter what. BUT there is a time when you’re just burnt and it’s not happening, and you have to let it go.
When you try to work despite burn-out, you get frustrated and end up hating yourself for not getting the work done, and it turns into a vicious cycle of wanting to write but not actually being productive.
So stop trying to write when you’ve snapped out of the zone. All that bullshit you keep telling yourself about “its taking forever to write this” – is just bullshit. It’s only taking forever because you’re trying to make it happen when you’re not even into it. That’s like trying to run a marathon when you’re exhausted and have the flu: illogical.
Ask yourself how long it will realistically take you to finish if you’re rocking and rolling in the zone. If it’s two weeks or less, give yourself a point.
– What do my peers/manager/writer’s group think?
Who has seen this project? If your answer is no one, stop reading this article, send your pages or ideas to some trusted people and get some feedback STAT. Why? Because feedback is the lifeblood of screenwriting. Yes, it’s that important and dramatic: lifeblood. Without it, your project is dead in the water. If no one else gets what you’re doing, there is literally no point in doing it.
I’m a “fuck what people think” kind of person. But movies are meant to connect and entertain – so while some people might not get it, your intended audience absolutely, 100% must. That is what makes it viable.
PLUS, writing in a vacuum forever without any collaboration or contact with the outside world is about as healthy as eating a deep fried Big Mac. So just go do it. If you get solid feedback that isn’t “what the fuck is this?!” give yourself one point.
– Is there someone else? (A.K.A. Another script you’re itching to start)?
Point blank: is there another project that’s exciting you to the point that you cannot even concentrate on this one. Be honest. If not, give yourself one point. If yes… keep reading.
Now tell me: are you just a junkie for starting new projects? New ideas will always be shiny and exciting compared to the ones you’ve been living with for a while.
So is this new idea enticing because it’s new? Or because it: aligns with your values, has possibilities that excite you, keeps you inspired, and is popular with your rep or peers?
If you take yourself through all of these questions again for this new project, does it earn more points than the old one did? If so, subtract 1 point.
Step Three: Quit or power through.
After you add up all of your points, here is the official quit or keep at it gauge:
If you earned four or more points: keep at it! You’re just going through a rough patch, so take the space you need away from this project and come back when you’re refueled. When you come back to it, review your responses from above to get yourself fired up again.
If you earned less than four points: it’s time to either gather feedback if you haven’t or write that other project instead.
If you have an idea that is more right for you, right now – I recommend going with it.
Why? Because you can always come back in the future to your old ideas, and writing is better than not writing. So write what’s interesting and inspiring to you.
Any other questions?
I can answer them in the comments below.