Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Courtney Meznarich

How to Avoid the Two Biggest Stumbling Blocks for Writers, Procrastination, and Self-Doubt

Warning: tough love ahead.

Procrastination gets the best of a lot of people, not just writers. But there’s this terrible, magical combination of things that really puts writers in a tough spot: procrastination plus insecurity. Writers have not one, but often two or more antagonists to battle on their hero’s journey. With these tips from veteran TV writer and producer Ross Brown, I hope you can beat those demons and get your happy ending.

Ross is the program director for the creative writing MFA program at Antioch University in Santa Barbara. He developed his writing discipline as a TV writer and producer for hugely popular 20th-century shows such as “Step by Step,” “The Facts of Life,” “The Cosby Show,” and more. Those shows mostly aired weekly, leaving no time for self-pity, self-loathing, or procrastination. That deadly combination is what Ross says prevents most writers from having a successful career.

Below, I’ve given you some tools to get around procrastination and self-doubt and avoid these potentially costly mistakes in your screenwriting career. And yes, I call these mistakes because they are avoidable.

Procrastination

“What are some of the biggest mistakes that writers make that prevent them from having a career? Well, procrastination is the first one,” Ross began.

Some of you expert excuse-makers will hate me for saying this, but “I don’t have time to write” has to be removed from your mindset. Yes, you do have time. I’ve met many writers who have seemingly insane schedules, and you know what? They still make time. These writers work full-time jobs (or more), have kids at home that they support on their own, or they’re caretakers for sick parents. They still have time because they make time.

“You’ve got to get on a regular schedule,” Ross said. “Maybe you’re a morning person, so get up an hour early and write for an hour before you start your day. Maybe you’re a late-night person, so do the reverse.”

Your early work is not going to be great. That’s just the way it is. You get a thousand bad pages out of your system before you can start writing good ones.
Ross Brown
Veteran TV Writer & Producer

You can also write on your lunch break, during your commute, while the kids are doing their homework, or write in the middle of the night like Disney writer Ricky Roxburgh. If you can’t sit down in front of your screenwriting software or app, do something related to your writing every day, like screenwriter and journalist Bryan Young does to stay disciplined.

In my time at SoCreate, I’ve already seen so many writers waste incredible opportunities because they didn’t make writing a priority, and that won’t work if you really want to do the dang thing. Twice now, I’ve had SoCreate contest semifinalists who had weeks to turn in application packets and were still late or writers who didn’t turn in anything at all. You made it this far. Don’t blow it!

“Make sure you get at least three or four writing sessions a week in,” Ross said. “That’s the most important thing.”

Here are some tools to employ when you feel procrastination setting in:

  • Organize your to-do list to know where to start and what writing tasks you can skip to if you start to get bored.

  • Make a timeline. For every writing day or task you complete, you’re one step closer to your goal (or one step farther away if you procrastinate).

  • Remove distractions as much as possible. This could include putting your phone in a drawer, turning off wi-fi, sticking the kids in front of the TV for an hour and shutting your door, or putting on noise-canceling headphones.

  • Reward yourself for completing the task. SoCreate’s “So, Write Your Bills Away” winner Zachary Rowell says he uses cookies to motivate himself to write.

  • Tell someone about your plans, and let them hold you accountable.

  • Leave off somewhere that excites you, so you’ll be eager to return to that part in your screenplay the next time you open up your laptop.

  • Just do it. If you come up with every excuse in the book, you’ll never get to where you want to go, and it’s a vicious cycle. Don’t want to be like every other person who let their dreams dry up? Then don’t act like every other person who did.

Be stronger than procrastination! I know you are.

Self-Doubt

“Other things that prevent people from succeeding as writers? Self-doubt. Being too critical of yourself,” Ross told me. “Your early work is not going to be great. That’s just the way it is,” he said. “You get a thousand bad pages out of your system before you can start writing good ones.”

So, how do you keep your head up during that learning curve?

Here are some tools to help you combat self-doubt and critique on your screenplay:

  • Don’t compare your work to others. Your hero’s superpower is the power to be totally unique. You were born with that individuality, so don’t waste it trying to conform to be like someone else.

  • Keep a journal. Make notes when you start to feel down about your creativity and your output. What are the triggers? Avoid those.

  • Put this note somewhere: “If any man would consider how little he dwells upon the condition of others, he would learn how little the attention of others is attracted by himself.” – Will Rogers. When self-doubt creeps in, and you’re scared of what other people might think, or you’re afraid that people might not like your work, remember that it doesn’t matter. You can’t please everyone, and at some point in your life, you’ll be surprised to realize that most people don’t concern themselves with what you’re doing at all. Some people will love your work. Some people will hate it. That’s just the way it is.

  • Watch, read, or listen to someone who inspires you. Spend just a few minutes to get a jolt of inspiration before, during, or after you begin writing.

  • Use setbacks as learning opportunities. We all fail. The people who win are the people who have mastered the art of learning from their mistakes. The people who succeed don’t let those failures stop them.

  • Celebrate small wins. You deserve it! If you’re making progress, no matter how small, you’re already doing better than most people who have let self-doubt and procrastination take over their creativity.   

“You’re going to have to stumble a bit at first, and then you can get better each time you write,” Ross concluded.

Go get your hero’s ending,

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