Procrastination. One of the biggest mistakes any screenwriter can make to avoid doing the really hard work. The fact is that screenwriting is hard to do well. As you craft your spec screenplay without a deadline, you may encounter the pitfalls of procrastination, because there is always something else to do than write, right? Wrong. No one wants to hear your excuses. The dog did not eat your screenplay. The house doesn’t need to be cleaned. The garden doesn’t need watering. Sure, these all may be on your “to do” list, but not today.
Today, you are acting like a professional as you’ve carved out a set amount of time to write. You must always protect your precious screenwriting time, as it’s one of your most valuable assets in your screenwriting arsenal. Pages don’t appear by themselves. Good and even great pages only come from hours of focus and discipline without distractions or interruptions. What do writers do? They write. Hell, Tolstoy had thirteen kids and he still managed to write War and Peace.
You’ll find if you sit in front of your computer long enough at the same time every day, you’ll get something accomplished. I didn’t say it would be the work of genius or God’s gift to cinema, but it definitely will be something on the blank page. And one page after another eventually adds up to 100 – 110 pages and FADE OUT. THE END. Possibly your first screenplay or like me—my 35th. That one goes into production in March of this year.
Procrastination is insidious and takes no prisoners. If you allow it to roll over you, it will destroy your precious writing time before you know it. I believe it emanates from your fear of the work, and the deeper your fear, the larger the procrastination boulders that will land in your way. When they crash down in your pathway, resist and push them back up the mountain, slide around them, under them, over them, but find a way to complete your mission and get the work done. It may feel easier not to face the blank page, but do not give in. You stop writing today and it feeds upon itself and suddenly you’ve gone a week without pages.
Now, if you’re lucky enough to be hired by a producer to write a screenplay, there can be no procrastination or excuses. Zero. You’ve signed a contract, you’ve been paid to go to work, and you damn well had deliver the script on time. This is your primary goal. I was thinking back to a script assignment of mine from several years ago. I can laugh about it now, but then it was a true test of producing pages under a seemingly impossible deadline. Again, I did not reply with excuses when asked to perform a task — I had to get the job done.
I was working at a pretty good pace and was on schedule. I had reached page 75 of this magnificent assignment. I joke, but the first draft was honestly turning out pretty well. I recall it was a Thursday morning… I remember waving and dancing on a table… Lindbergh had just landed in Paris, but I digress. Wait—that’s dialogue from another movie. The producer called and gave me it to me straight with no chaser: “the German investors are coming into town and I need something to show them.” I then asked when he expects them to arrive and he quickly replies, “tomorrow.” I tried not to laugh, as he wants to show them a completed screenplay and I’m only on page 75. Seriously? Did they just call him while they were flying over the Atlantic? I had planned to wrap the script up at around page 95 or so and at my earlier pace, that would take me another four days of writing. But the producer tells me, “just finish it somehow so I can give the script to them tomorrow!” How would you like to stare down the barrel of that request? Yeah, me too.
Okay. Now, you can either panic and give excuses as to why you can’t get the job done or get to the task of writing! Producers do not like to hear excuses from writers. Do you think the investors will know how I busted my hump to get the script done in a ridiculous amount of time?Never. It’s not about getting credit for that hard work. That is what’s expected of you when you are paid to write a movie. My job is not to ask questions, it’s to get the job done. When the Captain says “take that hill!” — I take that fu*king hill. That’s why I was hired in the first place — because I can deliver and have done in the past.
But suddenly, I found myself stuck on the wheel of fear and running in circles and getting no work done. Why was I procrastinating and taking every opportunity to do something other than finishing the script? Fear. It was my fear of not being able to march forward and finish the script under this ridiculous deadline. It was also fear that my work was going to be shit and they would finally discover that I was a fraud—they hired wrong guy for the job. Luckily, I recognized these negative thoughts of procrastination and as they pushed me away from my work, I pushed back and even harder. I pushed so hard I found myself in front of my computer getting the job done.
I don’t blame the investors for wanting to read what they’re potentially sinking their hard-earned Euros into. My concern was the hell that was now my life, as it’s my problem to get it done by sometime Friday. What’s a writer to do? Be fearless and write the fuc*ing thing, that’s what you do. I spent the rest of Thursday and pulled the old college “all nighter” and went on into mid-day Friday, but I finally typed “FADE OUT” and “THE END” and had my 101 pages. Time to send in the draft and collapse!
I wrote nearly thirty percent of the entire script in one 24 hour period. That’s 26 pages in a day and my personal record for screenwriting page count for a single day. I never want to be part of that cockeyed caravan again, but it’s nice to know I can rise to a seemingly impossible writing task and still deliver the goods. Producers love it when you can deliver the goods. They may not say thank you, but your thanks comes when the investors sink their money into your project, you get paid and the movie is produced. Unfortunately, this script is in the deep freeze of “development” but it does make for a good story.
Please. Even if the dog ate your script, you have it on your computer. Procrastination comes from your fear. I completely understand the thinking: If you don’t write it, then you’ll never be judged or criticized. You’ll never have to face the hard fact that it’s bad. Doing nothing is the safer bet. Wrong. Just get the work done. No one wants to hear the sordid details.
No procrastination. No excuses. Get the job done and fill your blank pages.
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“It was a pleasant cafe, warm and clean and friendly, and I hung up my old water-proof on the coat rack to dry and put my worn and weathered felt hat on the rack above the bench and ordered a cafe au lait. The waiter brought it and I took out a notebook from the pocket of the coat and a pencil and started to write.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
“I’m keenly aware of the Principle of Priority, which states (a) You must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) You must do what’s important first. What’s important is the work.”—Steven Pressfield,”The War of Art”
“The professional respects Resistance. He knows if he caves today, no matter how plausible the pretext, he’ll be twice likely to cave in tomorrow. The professional knows Resistance is like a telemarketer; if you so much as say hello, you’re finished. The pro doesn’t even pick up the phone. He stays at work.”—Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”
2 thoughts on “The art and craft of procrastination…”
You…are…a…writing…GOD. She bows in respect. By the way, I’m going to put a sign on the wall above my desk. It’s going to say: 26 pages/24 hours. I bet that’ll make you smile!
HA! You are very kind. I would not recommend it, but it’s nice for a screenwriter to know his/her abilities to get the job done in the real world.