While there are many hardships in the life of a screenwriter, the biggest obstacle that most beginning writers are faced with is procrastination.
You can find a million excuses to prevent yourself from writing. In the beginning, it might take a lot of time and effort just for you to write at least one word on a blank page. It is a constant struggle that writers are trying to solve within, and it does take some time for it to actualize in real life.
But we can assure you. All this hard work is going to pay off in the end.
Once you have a completed screenplay you are at greater odds to sell it. Writing and just talking about writing, is what separates you from so many other wanna-be writers. And at the end of the day, knowing that you have a completed script feels like a triumphant internal victory.
In this article, we are going to lay out 5 anti-procrastination techniques that will help you in becoming a better writer.
Why do I procrastinate?
“Procrastination is the fear of success,” famously proclaimed American motivational speaker Denis Waitley. While it might be the case with some people, in reality, there are a series of reasons why people end up procrastinating. The first important step in preventing your procrastination is understanding why you do it in the first place.
To get at the root of the problem it is important to be completely transparent with yourself and ask yourself the following questions:
- What is it that prevents you from writing? Are you afraid of failure or being misunderstood?
- What kind of story are you about to tell? Does it speak to you on the inside, or are you telling it for some other mercantile reason?
- Is telling this story really your priority? Or do you have some other important tasks that you would rather spend your time on?
Understanding the core of an issue will help you to get over it. Some of us procrastinate consciously, while others don’t even notice it. Having an honest internal dialogue and asking yourself why you procrastinate in the first place is the first step in an attempt to solve this problem.
Once you finally comprehend why you procrastinate and embrace it, you can finally tackle this issue with the help of our five following writing techniques.
4 Actions Against Procrastination
1. Set clear writing goals
Writing takes a lot of time, perseverance, and patience. It is not an easy endeavor. This is why planning is essential to the writing process.
Setting clear writing goals and milestones is vital for your success as a writer. If you don’t have a solidified goal in mind, there is no roadmap to understanding where you are heading with your story. Think of your script as a house that you decided to build for a client. To craft one, you need to know how many rooms it will have, what resources you need, and when is your deadline.
Each story has a particular set of building blogs, and it is largely up to you to implement them in the right places. Knowing your overall outline, resources, and the deadline is essential to your planning and goal-setting process.
In particular, knowing your deadline will help you to estimate how many pages you need to write per day, and it can function as a source of intrinsic motivation. In addition, it allows you to structure your work more productively.
Some writers argue that they can only create when they are in a state of inspiration. This might not always be the most efficient approach to writing, as inspiration is not there around the corner! A more effective way is to sit down to start writing, and then inspiration will come through.
Most creative people find it incredibly challenging to structure their work pragmatically; getting lost in a flood of ideas is also common. Setting clear writing goals, and adhering to them as much as possible helps to solve this issue to a large extent.
2. Stay away from distractions.
We can all agree that writing is a complicated mental process, which requires, on a basic level, a lot of psychological energy and attention. Therefore, any distractions can cause a significant deviation from your thought operation.
Before you start writing, get rid of all the distractions, complete all of your essential tasks, take a deep breath, and only then begin to write.
Understanding how each and every external circumstance affects your writing is a first step from preventing them from bothering you. Here is the list of potential distractions that could prevent you from learning:
Phones and Social Media
What can be a greater distractor in the 21st century than your cellphone and the endless social media apps that it has? Some people can spend hours mindlessly scrolling through their newsfeed (a.k.a. procrastinating)
A study published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication in 2015, showed that when people hear their phone ring but are unable to answer it, their blood pressure spikes, their pulse quickens, and their problem-solving skills weaken.
Friends & Family
Nothing can distract you as much as intervention from people that bring you joy. The presence of friends and family around you (both physically and in digital space) can make one feel like writing enables you to miss out on something incredibly important and fun. Limiting interactions with friends and family can provide you with more peace of mind as a writer.
Try to find solitude when you attempt to work on your screenplay. The fewer interactions you have, the more focused your mind is on your story and the world (unless you are working on a historical/biographical piece and you are interviewing some real-life characters). In most cases, the inspired mind is the one that likes solitude and concentration.
In the writing process, other people only bring distractions.
Your working environment is one of the most important factors for information retainment and attention span. The environment includes the space itself, noises that surround you, the way your physical wellbeing is affected by external circumstances, temperature, and a sense of comfort that you experience.
Scientists concluded that a quiet study space in nature results in a 50% better memorization performance. Therefore, trying to take control of your environment, brings us to the next important technique of baffling procrastination: creating optimal writing conditions.
3. Create optimal writing conditions
Creating optimal writing conditions is first and foremost related to staying away from distractions. But the following matter that you need to consider is how to make your environment the best to match your creative process?
Some writers adore writing in coffee shops. They say that this can increase your levels of attentiveness and motivation as you are surrounded by loads of other busy people that are there doing their work.
Screenwriters like to play a spying game on cafe-goers and note down thoughts and remarks of people sitting next to them. You can use overheard conversations as an inspiration for your dialogue and characterization.
Others can only write in loneliness. This type of writer can stay in front of their screen for a long time in complete solitude. Writing with no one around gives an opportunity to really focus on the world of your story and the characters you are creating.
Sometimes, writers might switch where they are writing (public or private space), due to the type of story that they are writing or their mood. There is no right or wrong way in creating perfect writing conditions. Understanding optimal writing conditions that suit you the most is a key to becoming an effective writer and reducing procrastination.
4. Make it a habit
Making your writing a habit is one of the most effective ways to make sure that you will get the writing done. Scientists say that it takes 30 consecutive days for one action to be repeated before it becomes a habit. After that time, the task becomes habitual and so it does not take much effort for one to start doing it.
Initially, making writing a habit starts with having a particular goal and expectations that you have for yourself. The habit helps you to achieve those goals and fulfill the expectations that you have set for yourself.
Think about writing as a certain kind of your daily ritual. Ritual as an activity has to follow a prescribed order. Following our technique on creating the optimal writing conditions can help you with understanding what sort of ritual works for you.
The truth is, that we all live incredibly busy lives. If you can take at least 10 minutes from your day to sit down and write something, it already makes a difference.
Here are some questions you should consider that will help you to make writing a habit and to avoid procrastination:
- Is writing something that you do at a particular time of the day? When, throughout the day, do you have the most time that you can spend alone with yourself and focus on your writing? Is it in the morning that you have the most peace of mind? Or is it the nighttime when you receive all your creative energy?
- Do you write with background music that acts as a source of inspiration? Or would you rather prefer the silence of your thoughts?
- Am I willing to commit to this particular screenplay for the next months to come? Is it realistic and achievable to complete this screenplay in a proposed time frame?
5. Reward yourself
Last, but not least. Always reward yourself.
Essentially we are animals, who have lived in harsh conditions in a threatening environment for millennials before the agricultural revolution. We have developed a reward system as a biological survival function. When a certain task is accomplished, the neurotransmitter dopamine is activated and makes a person feel good. This experience enables humans to do hard work, as it results in a satisfactory experience.
Nowadays, we live in a far more peaceful and less uncertain environment however hard work remains and so does the reward system. This also applies to writing.
When you stick to all the other anti-procrastination techniques that we have listed (for instance, set clear writing goals or make your writing a habit) and fulfill them, rewarding yourself afterward will enable you to reinforce similar behavior and produce analogous results in the future.
Here are some self-reward ways you can try once you achieve your writing goal:
- Have a delicious meal with your family or friends.
- Buy yourself something nice.
- Explore the outdoors; take a break from your computer and spend time in nature.
- Light candles and meditate.
- Workout, go for a run or do some yoga.
- Have a stay-at-home movie night.
All the above-listed anti-procrastination techniques are interrelated. All of them will help you to build an optimal writing environment that can aid your creative process and make your craft flow. If you want to learn more about screenwriting, we also recommend our article on screenplay structures.
As we have established earlier, there is no singular antidote to battle procrastination. At the end of the day, it is an internal struggle that is largely subjective based on an individual. However, if you use a combination of our techniques, you can get over it.
There is no time to procrastinate reading articles anymore! Go write your masterpiece of a screenplay!