Your questions answered by a  Hollywood professional

A bit of Hollywood humor 

Updated April 26, 2004

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This week's question: 

I feel so stuck right now.  Here I am with a screenwriting job that’s going to make me some excellent money and suddenly I don’t want to write a word.  I really need some help with this, DcH, if you can spare the time.  How do I get going here?  It’s not writer’s block; I just don’t want to write.

Tricia T.  from California

This week's Answer: 

Motivation Agitation

Don’t worry, Tricia.  I have plenty of time to spare, but since I, too, don’t feel like writing this week ............................................................................................... .................................................... Wait, I forgot:  you’re depending on a reply.  And I’ve committed myself to writing this e-column every week.  And the funniest thing about that is I discovered that every time I sit down to honor that commitment (like now) I don’t always hear John Philip Souza playing within or feel every fiber of my being aching to find its meaning of existence by typing some words on a keyboard.  Darn it.  But there it is.  Being a writer can certainly appear to be a glamorous and exciting life.  Uh-huh.  Pardon me while I try to keep my eyes open for the next forty minutes and not yearn to go outside and take a walk in the sun (when I’ll find myself thinking, instead of how pretty the flowers look or how nice the breeze feels on my face, it’ll be, “What do I need for my third act confrontation?”  We’re doomed, I tell you, Tricia.  Doomed to create and create again.  Get out of the business now before you find yourself like me:  waking up to – not my dreams -- but sitcom ideas!  Save yourself before it’s too late!)

What I’ve found out is that, no matter how idealistic my initial urge was to write a particular story, I can’t count on that urge to carry me through.  I can recall that urge; call it up as a refueling procedure, but what happens when I don’t even feel like putting any gas in the tank?  What if I could care less about my high and mighty aspirations and have forgotten when I was only recently on Mount Story and the God of Great Ideas visited me by showing me the Burning Script?  Or the Ten Plot Points?  What then?  What “then” is that you must find a motivation.  If you don’t, then you can consider yourself a NMNW, which I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy (well, maybe the guy who suddenly stopped in front of me the other day – as though he had a right to just because he happened to have a yellow busload of children).  Oh.  You probably don’t know what a NMNW is.  It’s probably for the best.  But, just for educational purposes, I’ll tell you (and hope to the God of Great Ideas and his entire pantheon of Development Execs in the Sky that you never become this):  A Non-Motivated Non-Writer.  There, I said it.  It’s a disease.  An epidemic, if truth be told.  And it’s catching.  You can get it just by spending three minutes with somebody who calls himself a writer (although he “hasn’t actually written anything but has a lot of great ideas”).  But don’t you give it no never mind:  there’s sure as shootin’ a cure.  But only one.  It’s called “writin’.”  Even (and this could be the most important thing I’ve mentioned – Lordy knows that everything before it isn’t) when you don’t want to.  Tricia, you’ve got to find your “have to”  (which -- and this isn’t to complicate matters -- is really your rediscovered “want to.”  Now go rest, young neophyte, before you carry water and sweep out the temple.)

You mentioned that you’ve been contracted to write a screenplay.  You probably have some kind of deadline (Why did they pick that word for that concept?  “Dead.” So... are we “dead” if we don’t do it?  Maybe we need to choose a new word.  Words have a lot of power.  I know:  how about “I’m Going To Completely Fail And Have To Move In With My Parents Or Mother-In-Law Or Live In My Car”-line?  That’s much better.  At least we wouldn’t be dead.  Or would we?)  Seriously, what if we did think of that moment when something is due as a more positive concept?  I think the problem starts back at school when we, as carefree and immaculate children, are suddenly thrust into that oppressive world of homework and assignments that, if we don’t do, will cause us to have to run into the dreaded boogey man, Bad Grades, or the life force-sucking monster, Detention (sounds like a Japanese creature feature.  “Ahhhhh!  Run away now!  Hurry!  It’s Detention.  He will stop at nothing to drain you of all your power!)  And, of course, as we progressed in the “educational” system, we were faced with the disasters of Not Getting On The Honor Roll and Not Getting Into A Good College, followed by the SAT’s (Sweaty Anxious Terror).  Lovely.  “Time is up; pencils down.  Our job now is to discover how far you have failed.  Have a nice summer.”)  So, why not call a deadline something else such as... a lifeline?  Too corny.  But this is significant.  Words shape our thoughts.  We need a new word.  As many motivational speakers say these days, “How do we reframe this?”  Well, let’s look at the idea a little more closely and see if we can discover a new spirit in it, one that has been possibly overlooked.  Returning to our education model, what if we were told in school that we were given due dates so we could have the satisfaction of accomplishing something within a specific timeframe?  What if we were told that this timeframe is beneficial to us?  That, by having a specific day to have a certain project finished, we are actually giving ourselves the gift of ending.  In essence, we’re saying we’re giving ourselves permission to end one thing in order to next begin something else.  (I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that we didn’t have to learn the same multiplication tables all year long.  9 times 9 is 81.  Sorry.) 

Bringing this concept back to your situation, Tricia, aren’t you glad that you don’t have to write this same screenplay that you’re resisting now forever?  That the producer or agent or whoever isn’t telling you, “Oh, just write whatever you want and, when you feel really good about what you’ve written, just get it to me whenever and we’ll get that movie made sometime between now and... when I die.”  (Ahhhhh.  Maybe that’s why it’s called “deadline.”  It’s a short version of “I need this accomplished before you and I die.”  I may be onto something here.)  I still say we need another word.  We could call it “renewal date.”  I like that.  It’s the time when you’ve finished the project or some aspect of it and you move into a new beginning.  “New beginning.”  That’s another good one.  (Can’t you just picture a chaotic 40’s newspaper office, where the cigar-smoking chief editor is laying down the law to his reporters:  “Okay, you no-account, lazy heads, get this and get it straight.  Anyone who misses his new beginning – Sorry.  Let me say it tougher than that-- Anyone who misses his renewal date... you’re fired!”  Okay, so it doesn’t work in your dialogue.  But it might work in your inner dialogue.  They call it “self-talk.”  I always thought self-talk was what those crazies do when they walk by you, talking to themselves.  Oh, no.  That’s people on cell phones.   I get that mixed up sometimes.)

So now we have some new words (feel free to make up your own) for the time when something is due, but that still won’t be enough.  You still need a motivation.  Tricia, are you listening?  You apparently already do have a palpable (Good word.  Script consultants use it a lot to appear intelligent.) motivation.  Yours reminds me of that joke about when an egotistical actor whined to the director about not having a motivation to execute a certain stage direction.  “What’s my motivation?” complained the actor.  The director answered in one word:  “Paycheck.”  Just like yours, Tricia.  Someone has actually “shown you the money.”  There’s your primary motivation.  Maybe it’s the money that has set off some subconscious resistance to fame and fortune (or just getting that new car you want), and you can journal and do therapy about it till the cows come home (and that may be a while if you live in the city) – I applaud anyone who studies their inner workings – but, Tricia, to get that money, you’ll need to be certain to focus much now on your outer workings, the outer work being you writing a script.  You’re being paid to do the best to create a screenplay.  If you don’t want that money for writing the script, I say “don’t write the script.”  (Who needs a new car, anyway?)  But... if you want the money for writing the script, no matter how you may feel from one point in time to the next point in time (and that’s a lot of points to get through so you might as well get used to it.  I hope you get my point... that applies to any time.) then you must write the script.  Period.  It’s just a fact.

And for all you writers who don’t have the good fortune of having a patron of your art at this time, you, too, must devise your own motivation, whether it be money, artistic satisfaction, or just being able to say to yourself with exalted pride, “I did it.  And I don’t have to live with my mother-in-law, after all.”


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