How to train for the screenwriter’s marathon…
February 6, 2012 § Leave a comment
I’ve come to believe a screenwriter is a lot like a professional athlete. We both have a certain amount of talent and ability and we only reach our full potential by training, discipline, focus, willpower and setting goals. Both the screenwriter and the athlete need to have endurance and razor-sharp focus on their journey. Over time, the process will become effortless as your mind exerts its influence in a positive way over your actions.
I took up running about four years ago. I remember when I could barely run two miles without stopping and it was only though weekly training and discipline that I could run longer distances. I now can run between six and eight miles on any given day. I plan my runs as part of my weekly schedule and do my best to keep with up with my commitment to myself. As a runner needs to workout their muscles, the screenwriter needs to workout their writing muscles. This includes focus, concentration and discipline. The runner trains to run faster and farther while exerting less energy and becoming more efficient. The screenwriter needs to have these skills, and when you’re writing at the top of your ability, you’ll concentrate longer and be more productive with less effort. You’ll be able to tap into your creativity faster and easier and writing will not feel like work. Once you become a professional screenwriter, did you put in the necessary time with your training? Are you able to finish a project on schedule and still make it your best work? Do you have the discipline and drive to power through even when procrastination begins to distract you? Are you able to write for six to eight hours a day and deliver your best work every time out?
They say runners are overly concerned with time. How fast was my overall time for the run? How many minutes per mile? During my first year of running, I focused on my time and felt the self-imposed pressure to beat the clock on every run and finish even faster on the next time out. It helped to set a goal, but it started to become all about beating my earlier time and not about the journey of the run itself. I eventually was able to do a five-mile run with eight and a half-minute miles… until I became injured. This was a message from the universe—it was telling me something loud and clear—luckily I listened.
After six weeks of rest, I started back into my running regimen, taking it slow at first and being humbled by the experience. I decided to leave my watch at home and now I was present in the run and not concerned with the clock. My goal was never training for a marathon anyway and running became something very personal for me. It’s my training for life and teaches me discipline, willpower, focus, dedication and commitment. It’s symbolic of my journey—just put one foot in front of the other, keep your focus on the task at hand and you will complete your goal. I started to realize the only competition was with myself and I learned an important lesson—discipline, willpower and commitment are a few of the things I do have control over.
I look at screenwriting through the same filter as running. In the past, I’ve allowed myself to focus on the page count every day and work with that anxiety, instead of focusing on the writing itself and staying in the moment of the creation process. As I did with my running, when I let go of my focus on the clock, I shifted my focus with my writing to the scene in front of me—not my daily page count. This allowed me to relax and enjoy the process of writing more than ever before. I also became more productive during my writing time and eventually became a more efficient writer. As your writing discipline grows, this is when you’ll learn the invaluable lessons about your strengths and weaknesses as a screenwriter.
Eventually you’ll gain the necessary self-confidence to meet any writing challenge, but always remain humble about the craft of screenwriting. Creativity doesn’t always flow as expected—especially when you’re under a deadline. You’ll need the skills to relax and trust your ability under pressure. Your creativity will return if you follow your writing regimen and keep to strict disciplines. The first time you’re up against the wall on a project and act overly self-confident is when you’ll be humbled by complexities of the craft of screenwriting. The craft will always be bigger than any screenwriter.
The odds of success are not great so you’ll need to constantly be creating a solid body of work. You should always have a few good pitches ready, a treatment, at least four solid screenplays and be working on your next project. This way you’ll never base all of your success on just one project and hope it’s the ticket to your success. In my nearly fifteen years of professional work, I’ve had to fight and train just as hard for each time up to the place and I never take any of it for granted. I’ve been blessed to be paid for nearly a dozen screenwriting assignments, I’ve had one spec sale, and six produced films with five “in development.”
Do not blame others or Hollywood for your lack of success. If you want to make it happen—you will. Sure, some days will be tougher than others and sometimes you don’t create as many good pages, but that’s the journey of life, isn’t it? You try to fill your blank pages to the best of your ability, if you fail, you get back up and keep moving forward—just like the runner. Great writing is always difficult at best, but like the professional athlete, if you’re at the top of your game it will come to you easier than ever before. This will be the result of building a strong foundation with the necessary qualities of endurance, focus, efficiency, willpower and commitment. These will serve you well on your journey over the long haul to reach any level of success as a working screenwriter.
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“Fame and money are gifts given to us only after we have gifted the world with our best, our lonely, our individual truths.”—Ray Bradbury
“I write only when inspiration strikes me. Fortunately it strikes me every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”
— Somerset Maugham
“You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.”—Jack London
“Tomorrow morning the critic will be gone, but the writer will still be there facing the blank page. Nothing matters but that he keep working.” —Steven Pressfield
“Work every day. No matter what has happened the day or night before, get up and bite on the nail.” – Hemingway
“Do not talk about giftedness, inborn talents! One can assume great men of all kinds who were very little gifted. They acquired greatness, became “geniuses” (as we put it), through qualities the lack of which no one who knew what they were would boast of: they all possessed that seriousness of the efficient workman which first learns to construct the parts properly before it ventures to fashion a great whole; they allowed themselves time for it, because they took more pleasure in making the little, secondary things well than in the effect of a dazzling whole.” —Friedrich Nietzsche