How to survive the creative highs and lows…
May 8, 2012 § Leave a comment
It always happens toward the end of writing a new script. It’s a steamroller downhill toward the last scene and a powerful feeling of accomplishment rises up as it’s been my privilege to tell another story to the world. My characters guide me through, the ending comes and it’s over — FADE OUT — THE END. We must part ways until actors inhabit the characters and a director brings his or her vision. Well, first someone with money invests in the project, they hire the director… blah, blah, blah. You know the drill.
At least we hope and pray it gets to that level of being produced or even into development.
The creative high gets me through and it’s sad to bid farewell to these characters, the ones I’ve known so intimately for the past 100 pages. Once I finish a script, the very next day I print it out, go to a coffee shop with a pen and start the polish. I agonize over every word, punctuation, sentence, and line of dialogue… over again and again through the first pass. I look for typos and those pesky “widow words.”
My creative high is still keeping me going as I read my script and discover it’s usually pretty good. Many times, I’m shocked at how good for a first draft and then figure ways to make it better. Screenwriting is rewriting and don’t you forget it!
This of course is before the producers receive the draft and make their notes: “I had a few ideas on the plane back from Cannes. Could you make it funnier?” “Uh, you told me to write a drama.” “Okay, but somebody has to die in the story.” “Die?” “Yeah, these guys are really old and it feels like somebody should die.” “Well, it’s not that kind of movie. If somebody died it would change the entire dynamic of the relationships at the end.” “Okay, how about a serious illness?” “Does he recover?” “Yeah.” “I can do an illness.”
Did I just dream that? No, sadly enough this conversation actually happened with a producer.
Once I turn in the script, my creative high begins to crash and I notice myself coming down from the previous month of creative energy and focus to a scary silence. My noisy mind gets louder and I need to fill it with stories and writing. I need my next project or I need to go out for a run and do some road work. Something. Even writing a new blog article helps. I need my writing fix to keep my creative fires burning.
I really notice the void when I’m not writing. In some ways writing for me is like a drug. The creative highs are addictive and I love watching the story unfold in my mind as if it was already a movie. I need to tell these stories and the way to release them is through writing. If I don’t immediately jump onto a new project, I find myself needing to do something creative so I’ll draw or sketch. I’ll catch up on movies or TV shows that I’ve always wanted to see and study, I’ll listen to new music or go to an art exhibit to keep my creative mind fresh.
Writers need to recharge their batteries. Don’t have too much down time either. If you’re like me, I will quickly begin circling an idea as I need the creative juices to flow. It’s my life’s blood and I never feel as good as when I’m writing a new project. If you are watching a film, a play, or enjoying a painting, you are like an athlete who keeps up their training. You’ll be ready to jump back in the game with your skills at their highest levels.
Complete your script, take a few days off, and then get back to writing — something. Your journal, a blog post, a Tweet, something. Lather, rinse and repeat.
So, find a way to stay upbeat if you experience the creative highs and lows, and always get back to writing sooner than later. You’ll thank yourself—and you’ll be on your way to finishing your next magnum opus.
“I have learned, on my journeys, that if I let a day go by without writing, I grow uneasy. Two days and I am in tremor. Three and I suspect lunacy. Four and I might as well be a hog, suffering the flux in a wallow. An hour’s writing is tonic. I’m on my feet, running in circles, and yelling for a clean pair of spats.” ~ Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing.
“The professional prepares mentally to absorb blows and to deliver them. His aim is to take what the day gives him. He is prepared to be prudent and prepared to be reckless, to take a beating when he has to, and to go for the throat when he can. He understands the field alters every day. His goal is not victory (success will come by itself when it wants to) but to handle himself, his insides, as sturdily as he can.“—Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”
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