New Year’s Resolutions For Writers That Actually Work

New Year’s Resolutions For Writers That Actually Work

It’s New Year’s Day. That means, if you are like most people (and certainly if you’re like most writers), you probably just set a New Year’s Resolution for your writing. 

The truth is, you probably set a New Year’s Resolution last year for your writing. 

And you probably set a New Year’s Resolution the year before for your writing. 

In fact, you’ve probably set a ton of New Year’s Resolutions for your writing. 

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Which raises the question: Why don’t New Year’s Resolutions work for writers? 

If all the New Year’s Resolutions you’d set in the past were actually working, you wouldn’t need to set a new one every year. But the truth is, most people don’t keep their New Year’s Resolutions. 

And I’m not just talking about artists. If you’re a writer struggling to keep your New Year’s Resolution, you’re in great company. 

Everyone who’s trying to lose weight, go to the gym, eat a healthier diet, spend more time with their family, finally quit that job, finally do the things that matter to them– we all struggle to keep our New Year’s Resolutions. 

What makes keeping New Year’s Resolutions for your writing so difficult? 

To understand how to set New Year’s Resolutions you’re going to keep for your writing, we have to understand why New Year’s Resolutions generally don’t work in the first place. 

To do that, we have to explode some of the general misconceptions of what it takes to build a life and a career as a screenwriter. 

Blocked writers come to me all the time, and always say the same thing:

Jake, I need discipline! Help me get some discipline. How do I find some discipline? I just struggle with discipline.”

And I always respond, “You are an artist. Of course, you struggle with discipline!

Everybody struggles with discipline. But artists by nature are rebels. 

And what happens if you discipline a rebel? The rebel is going to rebel. 

When you’re setting a New Year’s Resolution as a writer, you’re not just setting a New Year’s Resolution for the “adult” part of you. 

The conscious, “adult,” part of your brain is what I call the “editing brain.” 

It’s the super-smart adult part of you that knows, “I’ve got to set these very clear goals and then I’ve got to show up that these specific times. And if I just do this again and again, I’m going to get to where I want to go.” 

You’re not just setting New Year’s Resolutions for that part of yourself. 

You’re also setting New Year’s Resolutions for the child part of yourself, the subconscious mind, the actual writer inside you. 

That childlike “writing brain” is not a polished adult with an agenda. 

That part of you is a brilliant, intuitive artist, who in many ways is still a child. Who thinks like a child. And it’s your inner artist’s ability to speak like a child, to think like a child, to write like a child, to imagine like a child, to play like a child, that actually makes it a great writer! 

That creative, childlike part, most likely, is a rebel. And if you punish a rebel, if you discipline a rebel, if you’re tough with a rebel, the rebel rebels. 

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If we want to be successful with our New Year’s Resolutions as writers, then we have to change our whole relationship with our conscious and our subconscious minds.

In other words, if, instead of just beating ourselves up for not writing, we actually want to set New Year’s Resolutions that set us up to successfully write, we must find a balance between our writing brain and our editing brain, the part of us that has an agenda, and the part of us that just wants to play.

We have to somehow get these two parts into alignment. 

 

I like to think about writing as a dance between the conscious and the subconscious minds. 

If you’ve ever danced with a lousy dance partner, you know, there are two kinds:

The first is the lousy dance partner who is throwing you around the dance floor, who’s pushing so hard that you’re kind of like a rag doll bouncing around. 

That’s no fun at all.

When somebody is putting too much pressure on you on the dance floor, it doesn’t feel like a dance. It feels like someone is overpowering you. It feels like you have no control. It’s not particularly fun. It’s not a dialogue. It’s not communication. 

This is the relationship that a lot of writers have between the two parts of their minds.

Because of our institutional education system, and so many of our value systems are built on the concepts of “Henry Ford” assembly line model of life, we are taught to be very rational, and very practical, even though all the evidence suggests that that’s not actually how anybody makes decisions. 

We’re taught that we are supposed to think in these very practical, very pragmatic ways. 

What often happens, as a result, is that our conscious mind ends up like an abusive parent or a bad dance partner, throwing that poor, subconscious mind around the dance floor, and just totally overpowering it. 

One of the reasons it’s easy for your conscious “editing brain” to overpower your subconscious “writing brain” is because, for most of us, that subconscious part is underdeveloped. 

It’s underdeveloped because our educational system doesn’t value it. 

It’s underdeveloped because having a voice and being unusual, and saying things in your own way are scary in our society.

And it’s underdeveloped because we’ve been told our whole lives to “grow up, grow up, grow up.”

But we need that subconscious writer to not grow up. We need that subconscious writer to be a child with us on the page. 

So it’s safe to assume that most writers have an underdeveloped subconscious “writing brain.” And if you’ve taken screenwriting classes with or read books by people who have only taught your conscious mind, they’ve probably made that problem even worse. 

You’ve read some gigantic book about screenwriting or you’ve been trained by a Ph.D. graduate who maybe never wrote a script, but has all these really brilliant conscious mind ideas about screenwriting, and what happens is essentially the equivalent of what would happen if you went to the gym, only worked your biceps, and never worked your triceps.

Eventually, you’re going to be shocked to realize you can’t move your arm. 

Or to go back to our original metaphor, you’ve put so much effort into developing the conscious “editing brain” part of yourself as a writer, that now it’s pushing that poor, subconscious mind around the dance floor. 

It’s barely in dialogue with the subconscious at all. Your conscious mind is dancing with itself. It is barely aware that it has a partner.

 

For some writers, this throwing around on the dance floor happens the other way around, with the subconscious “writing brain” throwing the conscious “editing brain” around in a similar way.

Most writers with this problem identify as artists. Their inner monologue sounds a little bit like this: “I am an artist. No one’s going to tell me what to do.”

And that sounds like a really strong way of going through the world– but the truth is that many of these writers are also driven by terrible fears about their writing, and find themselves battling with equally debilitating problems.

They’re also out of balance– but in their case, it’s the subconscious, childlike “writing brain” throwing the adult editing brain around the dance floor, like an out-of-control teenager.

Writers like these can generate brilliant material anytime they write, but they can’t take a note, they can’t figure out how to put it together, they can’t write when they’re not feeling inspired, and they can’t quite find their structure, for their writing or for their lives. 

Often, the reason they struggle in this way is that they’re afraid that once their conscious, editing brain gets in there, it’s going to act like a tyrant, it’s going to throw their creative inner child around on the dance floor just like every other adult in their lives has done– and they don’t want that!

So instead, they’re going to drive the conscious mind into submission, and throw it around on the dance floor before it can do the same to them. 

They’re going to make a similar mistake to that of the adult, “editing brain” writers, by putting all of their energy into educating the subconscious mind, into being an artist, into developing their voice. 

That’s a wonderful way to be. It’s a wonderful way to grow. And it makes the writing very compelling. But it makes it very hard for writers like these to actually succeed in their careers.

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Because the truth is to succeed in the screenwriting industry and to set goals that we can actually keep, we need both sides of the mind.

We have these two different kinds of artists, both trying as hard as they can, and completely baffled about why they keep falling short.

What’s really happening is, they’re both getting thrown around the dance floor and having no fun.

We have the artist who is totally conscious brain oriented, letting that conscious brain throw their creative child around the dance floor. 

And then we have the writer who is totally subconscious brain oriented, who is letting their subconscious mind totally overpower all the rational and practical sides of the writing process. 

That’s the first kind of bad dance partner. 

And if you think about yourself, you will probably recognize that, at times, at least, all of us are bad dance partners, for some part of our writing brain. 

 

There’s another form of that bad dance partner too. This is the floppy arm dance partner. And if you want to set New Year’s Resolutions that actually work, you have to understand the part of you that is that kind of dance partner as well.

Sometimes you’re dancing with a partner who’s giving you just the right amount of pressure, but you’re just kind of given the floppy arms in response.

If you’ve ever danced with somebody like this, you realize that’s no fun either. Because with a floppy-armed dancer, it doesn’t really matter how much pressure you give them, it doesn’t matter how much you bring to the table, you can’t get them to react. 

Many writers have this floppy-armed dance problem, where they’re afraid to engage with some part of their brain.

This is the opposite problem of the overly strong-armed dance partner, saying  “I’m not going to listen to you, conscious mind. I’m not going to listen to you, rewrite notes. I’m not going to listen to you, producer.” That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re also not talking about the editing brain version of the overly strong-armed dance partner dominating the subconscious writing brain, “I’m going to do it right. I’m going to do it right! Why didn’t you? What’s wrong with you? You’re so weird, you suck.”

What we’re talking about, when we talk about floppy arms, is a writer who’s actually afraid to engage. We’re talking about a writer who is afraid to push at all, even against totally reasonable or helpful pressure. 

 

Usually, the reason that a “floppy-armed” writer is afraid to push is because they’re looking for validation from somewhere outside of themselves, which is the next reason so many New Year’s Writing Resolutions don’t work. 

Rather than asking themselves, “What do I want this movie to be?” They are asking, “What’s it supposed to be?” 

Instead of asking, “How does this character sound to me?” They’re asking, “How do you write good dialogue?”

Instead of asking, “I love this scene. How do I translate it so somebody else can get it?” They’re asking, “Do people like it? Is it good?

“I will let it be anything as long as somebody says it’s good.”

“I will do anything anyone tells me to do. As long as I think I can sell it.” 

“I will write anything whether I have any attachment to it or not.”

“I will take any note, whether it makes any sense or not.” 

“I will listen to 15 different coverage readers with 15 completely contradictory opinions, and I’ll try to integrate all of their notes.” 

Usually, the floppy-armed writer so desperately desires to make it “good” by somebody else’s standard, that it’s impossible to find any of them in their writing.

The floppy-armed dancer is unconsciously running from their own dreams and intuitions, on both the conscious and subconscious levels:

Instead of trusting their internal voice about project, This is what I see, hear, and feel. This is what I want it to be. This is what I want to say. This is the question I want to ask. This is what I connect to. This is the journey that I want to go on. This is what matters to me. Or this is the truth of this character. This is who this character is… 

They tend to be obsessed with the exterior voices… She said I should do this. And then they said I should do that. Then this guy said I should do this. And then this other guy said I should do that. Then this person had this criticism. And then this other person says it’s supposed to be like this. And then my mom didn’t like it. Then I saw a movie like this. And maybe it should be like that movie…

We can probably agree, we don’t want to throw some part of our conscious or subconscious minds around the dance floor. And we don’t want to be a floppy armed dancers.

So what are we really trying to do when we write? 

We’re trying to build a perfect dance, we’re trying to get just the right pressure from the writing brain and the editing brain.

We want just the right amount of pressure. The conscious mind moves and the subconscious responds, then the subconscious moves, and the conscious responds. 

They are in a beautiful dance with each other, that’s effortless, where they’re barely thinking because they’re actually communicating with each other all the time. 

 

When the conscious and subconscious minds are out of alignment, writing sucks, and New Year’s Resolutions for your writing become impossible to keep.

If you are dancing with the overly strong-armed partner, dancing sucks. If you are dancing with a floppy-armed partner, dancing sucks. 

In the same way, writing becomes no fun. It becomes high pressure. 

If we’re the floppy-armed writer letting something exterior tell us what our script is supposed to be, no matter what we end up writing, we are going to feel kind of lost.

No matter where we are pushed, we just kind of absorb it. There’s no drive, there’s no tension. There is only give. 

And of course, pretty soon we’re surprised to realize we don’t want to write, no matter what New Year’s Resolutions we’ve set. 

And if one part of our mind is the strong-armed partner, we’re pushing so hard, it’s so intense that it’s no fun at all. The other part of our mind is having no fun either, because it’s trying to give just the right amount of pressure, and it’s just getting totally overwhelmed.

 

When we set our New Year’s Resolutions, we often try to fix this subconscious problem with a very conscious mind approach. 

What you really have are two parts of your mind fighting in your head. 

But instead of saying, “Hey, kids, let’s get along and let’s learn how to communicate with each other…” we tend to say something like this when we set our New Year’s Resolutions.

Well, you suck, and you’re not writing. And therefore you’re going to commit to doing this very uncomfortable, very unpleasant, horrible, poorly coordinated dance on these particular days at these particular times, and this particular way.” 

We double down on this crappy dance that we’re doing, even though we haven’t built any infrastructure to make it enjoyable. 

And, of course, we end up not sustaining our New Year’s Resolutions, because what we’re really trying to do is nearly impossible: to push us to do ourselves to do something that is unpleasant on an internal level, because our two parts are not in connection with themselves, they’re not in communion, they’re not in conversation. They are in a state of conflict that makes the writing process impossible. 

You can think about this with your other New Year’s Resolutions, and probably find that they have a lot in common with your Writing Resolutions. 

If you haven’t gone to the gym for a year, and you’re suddenly deciding, I’m going to go to the gym. Well, sure, that’s great… but you’re probably not. 

Most people want to be healthy. Most people want to feel good. And if you’re a person who wants to go to the gym and have to set a New Year’s Resolution for it, probably somewhere in you is a part that doesn’t want to go to the gym, otherwise you would already be doing it. 

We’ve got to get those parts into alignment for these New Year’s Resolutions to actually be successful. Otherwise, we’re just doubling down on the problem. 

And then, of course, we are likely set this New Year’s Resolution in a way that sets us up even further for failure. 

We take to do something that we can’t yet consistently do at a minimal level, and we set a New Year’s Resolution to do it at a maximal level.

We usually come at our childlike, subconscious mind with a very “adult” very “parental” conscious mind approach. And we don’t come in like the nice parent, “talk to me… hey, what are your ideas,”  we come in like the domineering, abusive parent, “you are going to do this, at this time in this way, and you don’t have a choice.” 

We come with an aggressive attitude towards ourselves and a tremendous amount of pressure, maybe some anger and resentment, or, depending on what kind of person you are, maybe some kind of pie in the sky hopes. “I’m going to take one weekend and I’m going to write my whole script (even though I haven’t written anything in years or ever really studied with anyone good or really have any experience of this). And then my career’s just going to happen! 

We either set a pie-in-the-sky dream-like goal that has nothing to do with reality. Or we set a hard-ass goal that has nothing to do with reality. 

And then what happens is, the rebel part of us rebels, and the conscious part of us, the adult gets angry at the child.  

What we just did was basically complicate the complicated dance. We just made the dance even more unpleasant, because now we have even more pressure coming from one side. And either more pressure or more floppiness, coming from the other side. And we’ve just made a situation that was already hard for us even harder. 

 

Now, there are another million reasons why New Year’s Resolutions fail. 

I do one of these podcasts every year. Go back through the library, and listen to all the different reasons. But this is the reason we’re talking about this year.

If we want to get our New Year’s Resolutions to work, we’ve got to get our conscious mind and our subconscious mind in balance with each other. We’ve got to improve the dance. 

And here’s what’s really important: You don’t improve the dance by improving the better dance partner. You improve the dance by improving the less-developed dance partner. 

If your conscious mind is used to ruling in the roost, if you have a very conscious-mind approach to screenwriting, to art, to life, to plans– if you’re very adult in your thinking, and can’t figure out why you can’t get this damn screenwriter kid to play with you, the answer is not to double down on the adult “editing brain.” 

The answer is to ask yourself, “what kind of exercise does the subconscious part of my mind need to build that strength, so it can stop being spaghetti arms or it can stop getting pushed around by other people or this other part of yourself.”

That’s eventually going to mean a change in both the way the conscious mind dancer works as well: eventually, it’s going to have to give less pressure or the dance is not going to work. 

But also we need to build up the force of the subconscious part so that you can match that pressure, and give some pressure in return.

If that’s what you need, remember that it’s just like going to a gym. 

(I’m not on a pedestal here, I keep bringing up going to the gym because that’s where I’m failing. That’s the part of me where I’ve got to get these two parts into alignment). 

Here’s an example of normal Jake going to the gym:

Jake decides, “Oh, it’s New Year’s, I’m going to go to the gym!” And then ignores all of his own advice and goes to the gym for three hours, works out like crazy, and feels great. “I did it!”

Until the next day…

Because the next day, this weird realization occurs…, I can’t straighten my arms. I can’t walk. I’m so exhausted

I just pushed myself so hard, without any infrastructure around me, that now I never want to work out again.

I would have been much better off going to the gym for 10 minutes, doing an exercise, leaving feeling great and feeling a little sore the next day, and wanting to go back… for another 10 minutes until I built out enough infrastructure where the big 3 hours workout wasn’t such a big deal. 

Remember, when setting your New Year’s Resolutions, you’re dealing with an unexercised part of yourself, or you wouldn’t be having this problem. 

If your unexercised part is the subconscious mind (like it is for most people), you want to create small, safe places for the subconscious mind to play. 

Small safe places might mean I’m going to write for 7 minutes, 3 times a week… literally whatever comes out. 

And I’m going to actually allow myself to write freely and badly and without judgment for those 7 minutes… because my subconscious mind, it’s like a little baby child! It’s still kind of drooling on itself. It doesn’t know how to walk yet. It’s still kind of finding itself. And it’s probably used to having a parent kind of leaning over it, micromanaging all the time: “No, no, no!  What about this? Did you think about that? Well, what about this other thing? Well, that’s not going to work out. Don’t do that.. Well, you can’t do it that way…”

That’s the relationship that most of our little subconscious children have with the “editing brain” adult in us. 

So we have to intervene. We got to say, “Okay, conscious-mind adult, your only job is to bring the kid to the room. Literally, your only job right now is to set a specific time and make sure that kid shows up at that time. That’s it.”

Remember, this “writing brain” kid in us is used to this experience sucking

It’s used to this experience feeling like getting beat up by the conscious mind. Micromanaged by the adult in the room. Judged, criticized, picked on, pushed, disciplined.

It’s used to this not being great. 

Imagine you’re bringing a kid to the dentist. Sure, it’s going to feel so much better afterwards. But right now, until you get used to it being a pleasurable experience where these two parts of your mind are actually dancing in alignment, writing still might feel like you’re going to the dentist’s office. 

Set a short enough amount time to write that even if it feels like getting drilled in the dentist’s chair, the kid can handle it. Bring the kid there with love. 

 

To help your New Year’s Resolutions for your writing be successful, I highly recommend finding a sacred place for that subconscious “writing brain” kid to play. 

A sacred place doesn’t have to cost you any money. You don’t have to rent an office. 

A sacred place can be a seat at your couch where you don’t normally sit, a seat at your kitchen table where you don’t normally eat. Don’t make it your desk where you do work, though. Make it a place where you only do writing (or whatever your art is). 

Don’t check your email there. Don’t check your text messages there. Don’t work there. Don’t pay your bills there. This is a sacred place. 

Practice gently bringing your creative child to that sacred place at that specific time. That’s your job, pick them up, and drop them off daycare. 

Once they’re there and ready to play, if they need some direction, maybe give them one thing to look at as they play. One thing to focus on. One area to explore. 

But watch your tone. Don’t get tough with them, “you better do this.” No matter how much your conscious mind may think they need discipline and tough love… that’s not going to work.

Try something more like, “Hey, it might be fun to play with these two characters today if you want…”Hey, let’s write about what that person’s bedroom looks like…” “It might be fun just to write a scene where the character wants something desperately…”

If they need it, give them one simple direction. And if that’s too much, give them this direction, which always works:

“Write a really bad scene. Whatever it is, just let it come out bad. And if it starts to get good, make it worse.” 

Give them that direction. Because any child can do that.

And then take your worried conscious mind out of the room. And let your subconscious mind just show up and write for that 7 minutes. 

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The only thing your subconscious mind can’t get out of, if you want your New Year’s Resolutions to work for your writing, is writing nonstop for 7 minutes, no matter what comes out. 

And I really suggest making it nonstop. Don’t allow that subconscious mind to think about what to write, because your subconscious mind isn’t strong enough, yet, to think in it’s own way, without the conscious mind popping back in and hijacking the show. 

You want to write nonstop, because you want to get past the conscious mind.

Throw the conscious mind out, do the bad version of whatever you’re doing. Make it for such a short amount of time that you can’t fail. 

Set a little timer. When the timer goes off, even if you’re mid-sentence, unless you desperately want to keep writing, stop. 

You want to teach that little subconscious mind kid that it’s allowed to just play for as long as it’s fun. It’s allowed to just have fun without it leading to any expectations. You want to demonstrate, again and again, that the maximum amount of direction it is going to get from your conscious mind right now is just one thing that might be fun to focus on. “Hey, this might be fun if you choose to do it…” Just a point in a potential direction. Not overwhelming guidance from an overzealous dance partner. Just “Hey, you might want to look over there.” 

Give it that one thing to focus on. And let it go play. Let it go play repeatedly. 

 

When it comes to keeping your New Year’s Resolutions, short bursts with more frequency are way better than long bursts with no frequency. 

We need frequency because we want the kid to get used to coming to that sacred place, sitting down, doing its thing, having a great time, and realizing, “I don’t get judged. I get rewarded.” Realizing, “Hey, I’m starting to get good at this. This is actually fun. This doesn’t feel like what it used to feel like. Nobody is bossing me around anymore. That conscious mind “editing brain” is just sitting outside. I get to go play for 7 minutes. If I want to, I can play for 10 minutes, 20 minutes, an hour, even longer. If not, I can leave.”

It’s starting to realize it has some choice. It’s starting to realize that it can have a lot of fun by playing inside the parameters, but that it can also choose to play outside the parameters. 

You’re just building the strength and confidence of this vital part of your mind.

When the writing is done, bring your conscious mind back in. But don’t bring the conscious mind back in to tell the subconscious mind what it could have done better, what it did wrong, what’s not great about it, why it sucks. 

Remember, we’ve got to build up this part!

We need to help it find enough confidence, to have strong enough arms, to actually do a a balanced dance with the overdeveloped part that is so much more “adult” and so much more imposing. 

We’ve got to get it built up

Compliment it, like you would a child. But don’t talk down to it in the way you compliment it… “ooooh, what a good job you did little subconscious mind…”  That tone that so many people use with children is actually a condescending voice. That is the voice of the conscious mind implying “I am the adult, and you’re the child. I decide what’s good. I know this stuff, and you don’t.” That’s not the voice you want, because that doesn’t build up the child’s confidence. That makes the child think that the conscious mind knows everything. 

Instead, remind yourself, this is the work of a child, and a child that’s been underdeveloped because it’s been underused and undereducated. That’s not your fault. All the education you’ve ever received in my life most likely has been backwards when it comes to building up this part of you. Maybe not backwards if you want to be an accountant, but certainly backwards if you want to be a screenwriter, and certainly backwards if you want to really enjoy your life and really be in harmony with yourself. 

 

We all have an underdeveloped part. And that means that some of the writing that is underdeveloped part does is going to be genuinely beautiful. But other writing is going to be a step towards beautiful. 

Some of that writing is going to need more development, more strengthening, more confidence, more precision, and more practice. 

It’s about coming back and reminding yourself that your conscious mind, by the way, it’s been mistrained– not out of bad intentions, out of good intentions– thinks it’s supposed to be the authoritarian parent. But it’s not. It’s supposed to be in a dance with an equal

Bring it back from its propensity for judgement. “Okay, conscious mind, I know you’re going to have 1000 things that you want to change, that you don’t think are good enough, that aren’t going to work. You’re going to be asking yourself, does this even matter? Can I even use this? Is this even going to lead to where I want to go?” 

It’s going to have all those questions, whether they are warranted or not.

So when those questions start, look your conscious mind, however, you envision it, in the eye and gently remind it, “Okay, you don’t get to do that right now. All you’re going to do right now is look for beauty.”

Make a list. Start with the things that are genuinely beautiful. 

If you have trouble finding anything beautiful in your writing right now, that’s okay. That’s not your fault. That’s poor teachers in your past that made you feel bad about yourself or didn’t train you to see the beauty in yourself. That’s okay. 

If you can’t find something beautiful, find something true. “This feels true, this looks true, this is how it felt, this is how it sounded, this is captured the way I saw it in my mind’s eye.”

If you can’t find something true, find something specific. 

If you can find something specific, find something that could become specific, or find something that at least you recorded accurately the way you saw it or heard it in your head, even it’s not that exciting yet.

Look for something that can be built on. And not just one thing. 

If you’ve only written for 7 minutes, it’s going to be short. Nevertheless, if you get really good at looking for beauty, you are going to be shocked at how much good you will find in even your worst writing.

Look for as many things as you can find that can be built on, and make a long list of those things. 

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Eventually, when your conscious mind and your subconscious mind are in a symbiotic dance with each other, you’ll be able to make an equal list of the things that are beautiful and can be built on and the things that are problematic. 

But if you try to do that, right now, if you’ve got the underdeveloped subconscious mind and the overdeveloped conscious mind, if you’re used to being thrown around the dance floor, your conscious mind, even if it has the same number of things on the list of things that work and things that don’t, is going to be so much more forceful about the thing’s that don’t work. That is going to overwhelm that subconscious mind, and you’re going to continue to have that resistance to writing. 

As you find the beauty, the truth, the specificity, the things that can be built on in your writing, remember, you can’t bullshit yourself. 

You can’t lie. “Oh, what a good little circle you drew…” when you’re looking at a weird squiggly line. No, we’re not going to be like that, we’re not going to be condescending. We’re going to be rigorous in our search for beauty.

You have to actually push your conscious mind to do this. And, luckily, your conscious mind is good at being pushed. 

Make it really work hard to find the beauty that can be built on. Make it really work hard to notice what is already potentially beautiful, potentially true, potentially specific, potentially thematic, potentially an indicator towards something that could be written in the future, potentially a gift that could lead to an idea, potentially a moment that (if you’ve taken my classes) could be mirrored or foiled.

You want to find those moments. And if you struggle to find those moments, it means you need some good mentorship. 

If you’re not able to actually identify the things that are working if you’re not able to start there without tearing yourself apart, it means you need some good mentorship, you need someone who can actually train you to learn how to notice that beauty.

Remember, it’s an overdeveloped part of your conscious mind that is tearing you down, or it wouldn’t be throwing your poor subconscious around the dance floor. If you’re struggling to do this, it means your conscious mind hasn’t been trained or maybe you lack the knowledge of craft to even know to tell the difference between what’s working and what’s not working. Sometimes, it’s actually too hard to know! You might need some better training to learn how to do that. 

One of the ways you know if you’re getting good mentorship is this:

Is the person telling you exactly what’s wrong and exactly how to fix it?

If they are, guess what, they’re not very good at their jobs. 

Because even if they’re 100% right, they’re going to be engaging your conscious mind. And they’re going to be ignoring the subconscious work that would allow you to come up with these answers yourself, and not turn into a floppy-armed dancer dependent on them for everything. 

Good mentorship is much more likely to say, “Hey, look closer at that. This feels true. I know this doesn’t look beautiful yet, but it’s going to be. And here are some tools you can use to make it beautiful.”

When you teach it the right way, over time, your subconscious mind gets more and more confident. And the more confident it gets, the more it wants to write. 

Kids love to play. Adults struggle to play. 

The only reason the kid in you doesn’t want to write is because you are abusing them. 

Most likely, you’ve been abusing them since they were tiny since you were tiny. Not your fault, not out of negative desire, but out of positive desire to help. 

If you really want to help, you’ve got to speak a different language. 

And you’ve got to make sure your conscious mind knows what its job is. And what its job is not.

Your conscious mind needs to help your subconscious writing brain show up and have a good experience in short bursts with as much frequency as possible. 

You want your conscious mind to set specific times and help the kid show up, whether it wants to or not. 

If the kid needs help, you want your conscious mind to point toward something that might be fun to play with. 

That might be “Hey, we had all these ideas, all these things that could become more beautiful. Maybe we can start with a rewrite.” Or “This moment gave me an idea for another scene, maybe we can write that scene.”

Your conscious brain’s job is just to point in a potential direction. If the kid does something else, that’s fine, we just want them to learn to play in the playground. 

For right now, just help them show up, and show them what’s beautiful. 

And then one day, you’ll notice they are strong enough that when you give them a gentle point in a direction, you can actually feel that perfect amount of gentle pressure back from them. And you’ll realize that dance has now been built.

 

If, on the other hand, your subconscious mind is really the one who is throwing the other run around the dance floor, it’s the conscious mind you need to focus on building up.

This is a more unusual manifestation in our society. But it does happen for many artists.

If you’re having trouble rewriting, if you’re having trouble thinking, if you’re having trouble structuring, if you’re afraid of “breaking it,” if you’re afraid of losing inspiration, if you’re having trouble showing up when the muse isn’t there, or on a bad writing day, then it means we need to strengthen the conscious part of the mind. 

We might start with the same approach. But instead of playing, we might spend 7 minutes planning

And you’re going to feel a resistance in you, “I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it.”

But you only have to push through that resistance for 7 minutes.

And once we’ve spent our 7 minutes planning, we can then spend as long as we want playing.

Similarly, we might spend 7 minutes rewriting… so that we can spend as long as we want playing.

We might spend 7 minutes writing the scene that we need structurally in a way that’s pragmatic and practical, even though it doesn’t feel inspired…  so that then we can spend as long as we want playing. We can reward ourselves with the play. 

Use the play as a reward for doing a short amount of work, and you’ll find that work that was so uncomfortable for you in the past becomes so much easier.

But right before you start rewarding yourself with play, allow your subconscious mind to look over what the conscious mind has done, and help the conscious mind see where it was actually connected. 

“Hey, I know you’re just kind of painting-by-numbers here, but this is actually kind of cool.”

“Hey, I know you were trying to figure out a rewrite here to lay in this bit of exposition, but this actually moved me.”

“Hey, I know you were trying to find the commercial hook here. I may not even like that hook. And that’s fine. But this little element here, this element, I can actually do something with.”

Again, we’re not using fake praise. We’re using real praise. 

You want to make sure that you’re allowing the part that’s uncomfortable to do its thing for a short period of time without a lot of guidance, with just a point in a potential direction. And then you’re making sure the first experience they have when you bring the other part of your mind back in is positive. 

Once you’ve done that, you can stop or you can reward yourself with play. 

 

If you want to achieve your New Year’s Resolutions for your writing, you always want to acknowledge in some kind of physical way that you actually achieved what you set out to do. 

There’s all kinds of neuroscience behind this.

Here’s the oversimplified version:

Every time you achieve a goal, your brain releases a chemical called dopamine, which makes you feel great. It makes you want to do it again. 

Every time you fall short of a goal, your brain releases another chemical called cortisol, which makes you fat and depressed. 

But beyond that, cortisol is the reason you are resistant to your own New Year’s Resolutions. That feeling of constant failure, that feeling of being thrown around the dance floor, releases cortisol and makes it harder to show up next time.

 

So to succeed in our New Year’s Resolutions, we have to get into the dopamine business. And that means we have to actually codify our success. 

Doing that is very simple.

First, you’re going to build up the part of your mind that you’re least comfortable with, for a short period of time, with the most frequency you can get. 

You’re going to reward that short burst of uncomfortable work by doing what you love to do (or closing your laptop, ending your writing day, and going to do something fun). 

If you’re an outliner who’s struggling to get started, you can outline for 15 hours if you want… after you write that one crazy scene you’re so afraid of. 

But let your outline grow out of that writing, and before you switch gears, make sure to compliment the crap out of everything that actually works in that crazy little scene that your subconscious mind just wrote.

You can reward yourself with the thing you’re comfortable with, but first, you want to do for a short period of time a short burst, something you’re not comfortable with. 

You want to build the strength of those two parts until they actually feel in communion. 

If you’re really strong with art, you might just need some craft skills. 

You might need to take a great class (we have some) and learn some craft. You might need to dissect some movies or TV shows, you might need to learn how a script is built. 

And if you’re really better at craft than art, you might a different kind of guidance, that helps you let go of your craft for a little while and just really explore your voice, really explore the limits of what the page might be, explore writing some scenes that don’t work, that instead just push the edges of what your project might be, rather than what you think it is. 

(And if you’re looking to build both sides of yourself as an artist, you may want to check out my Write Your Screenplay class, where we learn to balance the art, craft and structure of screenwriting and even give you a 1:1 consult with a professional writer who will give you personalized feedback on your writing).

Once you’ve pushed into the uncomfortable parts for a short burst, you can reward yourself by doing the parts that you enjoy that you’re more comfortable with. 

We’re trying to build this perfect dance. 

 

Once you’ve built that perfect dance, especially if you have a lot of frequency, at the same times, in the same sacred place, you end up with a Pavlovian response every time you come to that space.

Writing isn’t hard anymore, because you do it all the time. Because you only do it in short bursts unless you want to do more. 

You’re trying to get that frequency so that every time the bell rings, you start to salivate. 

Every time you sit down in that sacred place, you know, “this is when I just start writing nonstop.”

Every time you sit down in that sacred place, you know, I’m always going to get that dopamine hit, even if I had a bad day, because I’m going to go back in with my conscious mind or my subconscious mind– whatever part is stronger– and I’m going to use that to excavate everything that really works. 

Even if I had the worst day of writing ever, I don’t have to sit in the dentist chair forever. I don’t have to go rent a cabin in the woods in the middle of nowhere. 

I need 7 minutes. 

If you give yourself 7 minutes, three to four times a week. I promise you a year from now you’re going to be writing for hours. You’re going to be finishing screenplays. You’re going to be doing that, whether you think you have time to do it or not. 

 

One of the amazing things about writing is, once you get these two parts of your mind into alignment, and once you realize how much you can accomplish in 7 minutes, you’re going to start to discover how many 7 minute periods you actually have during an average day. 

You’re also going to notice, magically, even though it seemed impossible just a few months before, that 7 minute period starts to expand.

You show up early in the morning. Maybe you think “I don’t want to do it.” But you agree with yourself– you’re only there for 7 minutes– then somehow you realize you just wrote for half an hour. 

You’re showing up late at night, after work, after the kids have gone to sleep, and your partner’s gone to sleep. And maybe you think, “I don’t want to do it.”

But the conscious mind says “come on subconscious mind, we’re just going to show up, we’re just going to do 7 minutes, just 7 minutes, nonstop, have some fun, do some bad writing…

And suddenly it’s four in the morning and you’re still writing. 

You’re never going to have the right time to write. Your schedule is never going to be less busy. But if you can get these two parts into alignment, in little tiny blocks that are too small to say “no” to, you will become a writer. 

If you can gently build up the strength, until you get that perfect amount of pressure between the two parts, then you don’t end up needing discipline to write. Writing becomes something you want to do so badly that it would actually take pressure to stop you. 

Because you no longer have the internal war inside of yourself. You’re now actually in alignment. 

If you’d like to learn more about it, please check out my online Write Your Screenplay Class and Write Your TV Series Class. I teach it multiple times a year. And it includes a 1:1 consultation with a professional writer.

If you’re interested in our playwriting, or comics writing programs you can attend any class online from anywhere in the world!

If you want, you can even join us for free every Thursday at Thursday Night Writes where a guest and I cover a different screenwriting topic each week! 

*Edited for length and clarity.

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