PODCAST - First Challenge Check-In
The First Challenge Check-In!
By Jacob Krueger
The 2017 Screenwriting Challenge!
We’re now 5 days into the screenwriting challenge, and we’re so excited about the tremendous response that we’ve had, and how many people have been doing such amazing work.
We’re going to use today’s podcast just for a little check-in to answer some questions from people who might be struggling with the challenge and maybe to give a little bit of inspiration for people who are doing it. If you don’t know what all this screenwriting challenge is about and you want to learn about it, go to writeyourscreenplay.com/challenge for all the details.
Here’s the most common question we always get about the challenge:
What if I want to participate and I missed the deadline? Should I wait till next year?
Of course the answer is no, it’s never too late to start.
Oftentimes as writers we end up pushing off those things that really matter to us. It always feels like it’s not the right time, and we think maybe it’ll be a little quieter next year, it’ll be a little easier next year. My life will slow down, my kid will grow up, my family will be less crazy, my job will be less intense, and of course this is never true.
It’s like if you wanted to become a mighty river, but you keep telling yourself there’s just not enough water.
Really the creation of a great river begins with a tiny little stream.
It all begins with a few droplets, and as that riverbed starts to get deeper and deeper, it starts to make room for the kind of volume of water that we really want.
One of the things that is really interesting is a lot of people think that they’re going to quit their job and do nothing but write, but the facts are that actually that is one of the hardest things to do as a writer. For many writers, that first year, when they actually sell their first script and are able to quit their job is the hardest year, because they often don’t have the infrastructure underneath them to sustain that kind of volume.
So you can look at this time now, even if you’re too busy, even if you’re feeling behind, you can look at this time now as a time to start building that riverbed, a time to start allowing those few droplets that you have to carve a path that eventually the water will come to fill. This is truly an “if you build it, they will come” situation.
If you’re hesitating, if you haven’t bought your journal yet, if you haven’t started yet, go grab a piece of paper right now. Take 7 minutes right now.
Because here’s the thing — you have 7 minutes. You can’t bullshit yourself out of 7 minutes. You can bullshit yourself out of an hour. You can bullshit yourself out of time to finish your script. But you can’t bullshit yourself out of 7 minutes, and those 7 minutes are going to end up changing your life.
Here’s the other really common issue that comes up with the screenwriting challenge. A lot of people have been doing the challenge, but they really hate the things they are writing.
Sometimes that feeling of judgment can cause us to lose steam.
As writers we play a really strange game with ourselves. Instead of dwelling on our successes, we often focus on our failures as evidence that we’re not meant to be writers.
Usually this has more to do with fear than anything — fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear that we don’t have what it takes.
When your judgment of your writing is based on fear, it has very little connection to reality. You may dismiss really brilliant writing as terrible, simply because you’re afraid that other people aren’t going to like it. Or you may fall in love with scenes that are not working simply because they feel safe to you.
There are a ton of ways to overcome these kinds of fears.
Oftentimes we have expectations of ourselves as writers that are not fair. If you were taking your first violin lesson, you wouldn’t expect to play Carnegie Hall. Yet for a lot of writers there’s so much pressure on making that first script– that first scribbling, that first page– something you can sell or something that can lead you to somewhere very specific.
The result is that you never actually give yourself the chance to learn.
Picasso said he spent four years of his life trying to paint like Raphael, and the second half trying to paint like a child.
One of the things we often forget as writers is the power of the beginner’s mind.
I would like to suggest to you that rather than focusing on the fears, I want you to focus on the joy of beginning.
That begins with shifting your perspective.
Rather than giving yourself the kind of feedback that tears you down, see what happens if you start with the kind of feedback that inspires you. Look at the things that are great about your writing rather than the things that are problematic.
If you don’t know what’s good about your writing, find somebody who can help you see it. Take a class, find a mentor.
One thing a lot of people don’t realize about professional writers is that professional writers do not write well any more often than you do. Professional writers write badly more often than you do.
But the gift of professional writers, of successful professional writers, is being able to see the beauty in their own writing before other people can see it, before it’s been brought to the surface. Being able to identify the thing that, in its infancy, is still a child stumbling around, crawling and drooling, and to recognize what that is eventually going to grow into when it’s all grown up, many drafts from now.
The challenge that many young writers have is that, rather than thinking of their writing as something that they nurture and grow, they think of it as something that should be different from what it is.
If you are experiencing that, find somebody who can point you in the right direction. Obviously here at the Studio, we have classes and one-on-one mentorships that’s designed to do that. But whether you work with us or with somebody else, find someone who points you in the right direction rather than tearing you down.
It’s so easy to tear down writers, and it’s so easy to tear down ourselves.
Most of our population is filled with blocked artists: people who did not pursue their dreams. It’s easy for a blocked artist to admire the people who have already succeeded in achieving their dream.
But watching somebody in the infancy of pursuing their dreams is scary to a blocked artist.
It’s scary because it suggests that maybe they could be pursuing their dreams.
And it’s scary because all of the fears that they have that have kept them blocked are going to come out in relation to you.
The person who’s blocking you may be your mother, may be your father. It may be your best friend or your boss. It may be your writing group, and if you’re with the wrong person it may even be your writing teacher.
Great feedback all has one thing in common. Great feedback doesn’t tell you what to do. Great feedback helps you explore the things to find the solutions yourself.
Great feedback does not tear you down. Great feedback shows you what can be beautiful and puts you on a path to shaping it into its beautiful form. Great feedback doesn’t impose somebody else’s formula. Great feedback shows you what’s working in your script and allows you to build the structure that only your script could follow.
Most importantly, great feedback does not focus on what’s wrong. Great feedback focuses on what’s already working, even in the earliest drafts.
This is something that you can do for yourself.
You can start this right now by simply refusing to engage with the part of you that wants to tear you down, the part of you that’s a blocked writer, the part of you that’s stuck, the part of you that’s scared.
See what happens if you simply refuse to engage with that part, because the truth of the matter is that it is so much easier to tear something down than build it up.
We are all trained to tear things down from the moment we come out of the womb.
From the moment we see our first movie, we learn how to dish with our friends about what sucks. That comes easy.
When it comes to our own writing, it comes even easier. We say things to ourselves that we would never dream of or dare saying to another writer.
So I’m going to challenge you, as part of your screenwriting challenge, as you’re doing your daily writing for the rest of this challenge, not to look for the bad at all.
Ignore every thought you have about what’s bad.
In fact, for every thought that tears you down, come up with 2 that build you up.
I’m not talking about baloney. I’m not talking about looking in the mirror and saying, “I’m smart enough, and people like me.”
I’m talking about looking at the actual thing you wrote, and for everything that you tore down, find 2 things that genuinely do work, that you genuinely do like, that you genuinely do see potential in.
It can be the tiniest little thing, and it might not even be on the surface yet. I want you to look for the opportunities rather than the problems. I want you to focus on building on what you have, rather than fixing your problems.
If you’ve taken my screenwriting classes, you know that one of the most powerful tools we have for this is an exercise called “the bad screenwriting exercise.”
All writers write badly all the time. Even the true greats leave hundreds of discarded pages in their hard drives, never to see the light of day.
Accepting that this is a natural part of the process allows you to focus your energy where it belongs, not on judging your pages, but on creating them.
When you give yourself permission to write badly, you’re actually allowing the inspiration to come in. And you’re going to notice a couple of things.
You’ll notice that your writing becomes a lot more fun and exciting. It becomes freer and fuller. Writing stops being a chore and starts to feel like an adventure.
Before long you’ll discover that you no longer have to drag yourself to your journal every morning– that you actually want to write. A Pavlovian response starts to happen. Because Pavlovian response — habit — is all based on reward.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is a time when judging your work is important. There is a time when it’s important to invite the editing brain to the table and give it free reign to pull apart the pages you’ve written.
But it’s not during the initial creation of your work. It’s not during these first 20 days.
Remember, it really is only by writing the bad stuff that you can discover the good.
The final issue that comes up for many people is falling off of their rhythm.
Many people feel like they start really strong and then miss a day and suddenly they’re out of rhythm. Next thing you know, you’re a few days behind and maybe you’re wondering if it’s not worth it anymore, if you’re not really dedicated to this after all.
Usually when a writer’s think about giving up, it’s more about fear than it is about rhythm, but there are times when we just do get off our game.
Here’s the key — don’t let a couple of missed days get between you and your life as a writer. Don’t let a couple of missed days get between you and what you really want.
If you were a vegetarian and you accidentally took a bite of a burger, it wouldn’t mean that you were no longer a vegetarian. It means you took a bite of a burger.
But countless writers will interpret a day or two of missed writing as evidence that they’re not really dedicated to their craft, and usually the truth is just the opposite.
If writing was just a hobby for you, you wouldn’t be agonizing over your missed writing days. You’d just find another hobby.
In fact, it’s probably your fierce dedication to being a writer that’s actually causing you so much agony, because you’re not writing and you don’t understand why, Dwelling on the past is not going to help you overcome this problem.
The only way to get back into rhythm is by allowing yourself permission not to be perfect.
There are going to be days that you miss. There might even be weeks. The key is recognizing when you get off rhythm and picking back up as soon as you do.
Here’s what’s really important. When you do this you cannot punish yourself.
If you were not ready to write for 7 minutes yesterday, you’re not ready to write for 15 minutes today, and you’re certainly not ready to lock yourself in a cabin all weekend and try to finish your script.
If you keep taking steps toward your destination, you can be guaranteed that eventually you will arrive. It is only by taking the small steps that we actually get to where we want to go.
This is true for you as a writer. And, if you study with me and you understand organic structure, you know this is also true for your characters.
The big changes, the big journeys, the big structures, the incredible movies that we want to write and incredible stories that we want our own lives to be don’t come from the big choices. They come from the little ones.
They come from making choice after choice after choice, choosing it every moment. Yes, I am going to pursue the things that matter to me, even if only in this little tiny way.
So wherever you are in the challenge, go ahead and grab your journal. If you don’t have one, go buy one today. If you can’t buy one today, grab a piece of paper, a napkin, the back of a script, anything you’ve got. Hide out for 7 minutes right now and write at least a page.
Pretty soon you’re going to find that you don’t have to try so hard to find your rhythm. You’re going to find that you rhythm will find you.