Why Am I Procrastinating?

I want to start today’s podcast with a personal story, something that happened to me early in my writing career. I had just sold my first screenplay, which meant I got to do the thing that everybody dreams of doing, the thing that I had always dreamed of doing.

I got to leave my job and I got to devote every hour of every day to the thing that really mattered to me. I got to spend every moment being a writer. 

And I was primed for success. I was ready to create, and create, and create and write screenplay after screenplay. I was filled with passion and excitement and I felt like the dream was finally coming true.

And what came instead of the dream that I had planned was months of the most intense writer’s block and procrastination that I have ever experienced. 

What followed was three months in which I accomplished pretty much nothing. And what followed was emotionally probably the hardest three months in my career.

I was very lucky.  My dear friend and writing partner, John Wierick, drove down to Venice Beach, took me for a walk on the beach and he said, “Jake, I’m worried about my friend.” 

And I said, “You know, I am really struggling. Every idea that I write is not as good as the one I just sold. I start something and then I abandon it. And lately, I am not even starting at all… And I am not having fun procrastinating, I am not flying to Tahiti or going for a walk or working out or painting or playing my guitar or doing anything that gives me joy.  I’m sitting in front of my computer just staring and not writing or I’m reading the Hollywood Reporter or the Daily Variety cover to cover or I’m playing that stupid MineHunter game” (if you remember 20 years ago that crappy little game you’d play on your computer where you clicked on little boxes on a grid and tried not to get blown up by mines) “this is what I’m doing with my days and I’m miserable. But somehow, I can’t seem to find any time to write, even though I have all the time in the world.”

And it was John Wierick who pulled me out of that tailspin with some very powerful advice. 

He said, “Jake, it doesn’t matter which idea you choose. It doesn’t matter if the idea is good or bad. And it doesn’t matter if it is the right one or if the script is any good at all.” 

He said, “You have to choose an idea today and you have to start writing it today and you have to finish it and you can worry about making it good later.”

And that was some of the best advice I ever got as a writer and it was the first step of pulling me out of a very, very dark time and really saving my career. 

And so, I want to do for you today what John Wierick did for me early in my career.

Because, for many writers in our community, we’ve, in a different way, just experienced what I experienced all those years ago.

Our lives suddenly and irrevocably changed. And we found ourselves suddenly with this strange thing that we’ve never had before called time.

And I’m hearing from so many writers their frustration with themselves, feeling like “I have all this time but I’m not doing anything with it. I have all this time but I’m still stuck. I have all this time but I’m watching Tiger King and checking Facebook instead of doing something that matters. I have all this time but I feel lazy and scared and I can’t seem to get myself focused on anything. I have all this time but all my ideas seem so unimportant in light of what’s actually happening out in the world.”

“I have all this time, but somehow, I don’t seem to have any time.”

And so, I want to tell you how I was able to pull myself out of my writer’s block. 

With the benefit of some good 2020 hindsight, I want to talk to you about what actually causes writer’s block and procrastination. 

I want to talk about why you’re doing it, and some very concrete steps you can take today to pull yourself out of it.

Because, months from now, our world will go back to normal. But our lives will never be exactly the same. Our lives will be changed by this period. And there will come a time where we are back at our jobs, and our economy is an economy again, and people can move and communicate. 

And we will look back at this time and some of us will say, “This was the time that actually refocused my whole life, that actually pointed me back towards the things that really matter to me.” 

And others of us will look back at this time with sadness and regret saying, “I had all this time, but I was distracted. I had all this time, but I was scared. I had all this time and somehow I ended up right back where I started.”

And I know that feeling well, because, for years I beat myself up over those three missing months. For years I beat myself up over that missed opportunity right at the hottest of my career.

Procrastination doesn’t come from laziness. Writer’s block doesn’t come from laziness.

And if you’re one of those people who believe there is no such thing as writer’s block (because I always get some emails about that after I do a writer’s block podcast), I want to share that I used to believe there was no such thing as writer’s block either! I was never blocked as a writer. 

In fact, I considered it a gift when I got to write, because most of the time I was stealing time to write. I was stealing time between work. I was stealing an extra hour here, an extra 10 minutes here, an extra moment here. My writing time was precious and valued, and I got it done even though I didn’t have any time. 

And then oddly, when I had all the time in the world, it suddenly seemed like I had no time. 

It suddenly seemed like I became a different person—a lazy person, an undisciplined person, a sad person, a person who didn’t have anything to say.

So, writer’s block does exist, but it doesn’t exist for the reasons that you think. And the things that trigger it are probably different than the things you’re imagining. 

Most writers who have writer’s block beat themselves up in a couple of different ways.

They beat themselves up by saying, “Well, I guess I don’t really want it. If I really wanted it, I wouldn’t be sitting here looking  at Facebook., I would be actually writing… I guess I don’t want it.”

Or they beat themselves up by saying, “Well, I guess I’m just not good enough. If I were good enough, I would be like all those other writers, writing,” or “I guess I just can’t get into the flow,” or “I guess I don’t have anything to say,” or, “I guess I’m undisciplined. I just can’t stick to it.” 

And these things we say to punish ourselves are never the truth. 

Being a successful writer has absolutely nothing to do with discipline. 

I’m not a disciplined person, and, in fact, when someone tries to discipline me or when I try to discipline myself, I find that I rebel against that discipline. 

And most artists are rebels. Most of us will rebel against discipline.

There is a huge difference between discipline, which is some internal voice or external voice saying, “You have to do this,” and passion, which is some internal voice saying, “I want to do this. I choose to do this.”

The challenge is, our passions are passionate. They are not controlled. They are not “safe” emotions that drive our passion. They are powerful emotions. And if we don’t have some kind of infrastructure to pour all of that passion into, the passion itself can actually undo us. 

The passion itself, the desire to be great, can actually undo our ability just to sit down and write.

I want to paint a metaphor for you.

If you imagine a desert, a barren desert, this is how a lot of us feel about our writing lives. 

We feel like our writing lives, our creative lives, are a desert. It just never rains. We wish it would rain one day. We imagine a day where it could just rain and rain and rain and just fill us with all that creative nourishment. But our actual lives feel like a desert.

We dream, “I’m going to rent a cabin for a week and just disappear into the wilderness.” We dream, “I’m going to write my whole script this weekend.” 

We dream of the time that giant rainstorm of passionate creativity that’s going to turn our desert into a wonderful rainforest. 

But if you actually go to the desert in the rain, you’ll notice that when that kind of torrential downpour comes, it can be actually very destructive. When we get so much rain and there is nowhere for it to flow to, we get violent flash floods. 

But, oddly, on the other side of those flashfloods, the rain doesn’t get diverted into a reservoir or suddenly lead to trees and flowers blooming. The rain disappears back into the sand and we’re back in a desert again.

This is the experience of a lot of writers who wait for that inspiration to come: 

Whoosh! There is all the inspiration… and then it is gone.

Oh! The screenwriting gods spoke to me! the Muse took me! But now I have to rewrite it… and then it is gone.

I’m halfway through… and then it is gone. I’m back in a desert again.

Waiting for that flash flood is part of the problem that causes writer’s block. Waiting for the time when the time is right, is part of the problem that causes procrastination. 

Waiting for the time where you have enough time, or more time, or just the right amount of time, or when the kids grow up, or when the kids are born, or before I have kids, or when I graduate from this, or when I finish that, or when I get through this project, or when I’m less scared, or when I have more money, or when money is not important anymore… 

All of these are just reasons we create to put off our passion. 

In our dreams of hitting the lottery and getting that big rainstorm of money, or selling a script and quitting our jobs, we’re longing for that big rainstorm that changes our lives.

And what we have to actually accept is that that big rainstorm is not what changes our lives. 

What that big rainstorm will do is come and shake up your life. 

We’re all in a certain kind of rainstorm right now that’s shaking up our lives. And similarly, that creative rainstorm will come and it will shake up your life.

But unless you actually find the structure in your life that you need to channel all that rain, the creative structure, on the other side of that creative storm, you will be back in the desert. And you’ll be wondering, “how did that happen when there was so much rain?”

So, if instead of looking for a rainstorm, you look for just a tiny drip of water, and you just let that water keep dripping, what you’ll notice is that that tiny drip of water, that steady drip of water, creates a little tiny mark in the sand, a little tiny indentation.

And if you let that tiny drip of water run long enough, that tiny little indentation will become a little stream. And if you pour little more water in and you just let it keep running, that stream will turn into a brook, and that brook will eventually turn into a river, and that river will eventually turn into a mighty river, and at that point you can pour as much water as you want in.

You can send that giant rainstorm and all that water will end up channeled into that river, flowing with creative power and focus. 

So, how do you develop that creative river in a world where we’re filled with fear and procrastination?

How do you develop that creative river in a world where we’re overwhelmed by both how much time we have, and how little time we seem to have? 

How do you turn on that little drip for yourself? How do you build that riverbed?

First, it’s important for you to understand what actually gets in the way.

Here’s what got in the way in my life, when I had so much time. Here’s why having so much time became the hardest thing for me as a writer. 

Back in the day when I had to “steal” time to write, every time I wrote I felt successful. 

“I’ve got ten minutes! I’ve got to page some thoughts down!” “Oh, cool I got an hour.” I felt great! That time was precious. And I always felt good after doing it, because I knew I had achieved something that was hard. 

When I had all the time in the world, it didn’t matter how long I wrote.

If I wrote for an hour I’d think, “There are 24 hours in a day and you don’t have anything else to do, just an hour, really?”

If I wrote for 10 hours I’d think, “You could have written for 12.” 

If I wrote for 12 hours, I’d think, “You could have written for 15.” 

If I wrote for 15, I’d think, “Well, you wrote for 15 hours, this is all you created?”

It didn’t matter how much I wrote. I always felt like I could have done more, because suddenly I had this gift of time, and I had no structure to measure it by. 

The job I had quit was also a writing job, but in that writing job, it was very different.

I had a boss.

My boss wasn’t the nicest guy in the world. In fact, he wasn’t a nice guy at all. But he played a valuable role for me. 

When you’ve got a boss, the boss comes in and says, “This is good,” and you know, “Okay I’m good,” or the boss comes in and goes, “This is bad,” and you know, “Okay I have to make it better.”

When you’ve got a boss the boss says it’s due on Thursday and you know you’ve got to get it done on Thursday. And if you don’t get it done on Thursday your boss says, “Hey you’ve got to finish this or you’re not going to have a job.”

Your boss is giving you constant feedback that lets you know if you are moving towards your goal, or if you are moving away from your goal.  Is your work good? Is your work bad? Have you done enough? Have you done not enough? 

If you have a good boss, your boss will be great at setting super achievable goals for you. If you’ve got a lousy boss, you have a boss who will probably make you feel crappy most of the time and eventually you’ll quit.

But, in writing, most of us don’t have a boss. As writers, we have to think and act more like entrepreneurs.

Like entrepreneurs, we’ve got something inside ourselves– and maybe we don’t exactly even know what it is– but we have a feeling that if we could just get it out, it is going to change the world. People are going to respond to it, people are going to want it. If I can just get it out of my head! 

Writing is a radical act of trust in that belief.

But along the way, until you actually have that product and millions of people say, “We love this,” up until that day, you never know if it is any good. 

So, what ends up happening is, when we try to play the role of our own inner boss, oftentimes we end up lost at sea. 

Let me build another metaphor for you.

Let’s say your job is working as a burger flipper. It’s an easy job with an easy boss, because the boss comes in and says, “this is what a burger looks like, this is how long they have to sit, this is when you flip them.” And if you do this, and you flip enough burgers in the right amount of time, then you’re doing a good job. And if you’re faster than that you’re doing a great job. And if you’re slower, then that you’re doing a crappy job. You know exactly what to shoot for, “Oh I hit my burger quota. I’m good.”

But in screenwriting, we are not making burgers. In any kind of writing, we are not making burgers. In any kind of art, we are not making burgers. 

In art, sometimes that first burger comes out and it doesn’t even look like a freaking burger. In art, sometimes the first 100 burgers don’t come out.

Imagine if you were a burger flipper and you flipped 100 burgers and they don’t come out. And your boss is like, “Oh that is not a burger, that is not a burger, that is not a burger.” 

Well, pretty soon you probably would quit. Pretty soon, you’ll say to yourself is, “Well I guess I don’t have the talent to be a burger flipper.”

But the truth is, of course you have the talent to be a burger flipper. It is not a talent issue. 

The natural process of writing is that most of our writing is crappy. There is a belief that great writers must write great all the time, but it is not true. 

The truth is that great writers write badly more than you do. 

And what great writers are great at, is finding that one beautiful thing in those 10 crappy pages. In looking at a burger that doesn’t look like a burger yet and going, “I know how that can become a burger.”

Our job as writers is so much different than those normal jobs, so in order to create structure, in order to build that river bed, we need to set goals that we can achieve.

This is challenging because “good” is not measurable in screenwriting. It is not a number of burgers.

So the first thing that we need to do to break through writer’s block and procrastination is to get ourselves out of the game of trying to write well.

Just like, way back when, I needed to get out of the game of trying to find the right idea, you need to refocus the way you set your goals. If you happen to get the right idea, wonderful, congratulations. If you happen to write well, good for you.

If you don’t, it doesn’t matter!

Because most great scripts started as terrible scripts that became great over time, as the writer looked deeper, and looked deeper, and looked deeper, and applied craft, and applied more craft, and went inside, and found their voice, and learned what they were really writing about. and restructured, and changed, and rewrote and reinvented.

The writing process is such an intuitive process; it is a spiritual process. And it is a process about trust.

You have to trust that this thing that is not yet a burger is someday going to become the most delicious Kobe beef burger. (or if you’re a vegetarian, the most delicious veggie burger) you’ve ever eaten.

The challenge that writers have is, not only does it take a long time to develop our craft to the point where we know how to make that burger great, it takes a long time to develop the skills to actually determine what is a good burger and what is a bad burger?

In fact, many writers, when evaluating their own writing,  will actually pick the McDonald’s hamburger that they are familiar with and throw out that Kobe beef burger, because it feels weird and unusual and it doesn’t look like the burgers they’ve seen elsewhere. 

Most writers will actually judge their best work most harshly and keep the work that is most derivative, most cliché, most derived from things that they’ve already seen in other films, because our best work makes us vulnerable and our worst work makes us feel safe.

So, we need to get out of the judgment game, and we need to get into the objective goal setting game. 

That means setting goals for your writing that you don’t have to wonder if you achieved or not. 

The best way to do that is to set a page goal for yourself, a certain number of pages that you owe yourself. And then, what I would recommend, is picking a day of the week. If you’ve taken my Write Your Screenplay class, you remember how we did this first thing every class day. and if you haven’t, you can start by just picking a day of the week that is your day to set your goals, every single week.

And don’t set the dream goals. Don’t set the giant rainstorm goals. Set the trickle goals. 

Set the goals that are so small that you absolutely know you can achieve them.

It’s so vital to achieve these small goals, because if you achieve them, what will happen is you’ll feel success and each little success will build your riverbed.

There is science behind this. It’s a process that will help you to make writing a habit as simple and unavoidable as brushing your teeth, and banish writers block and procrastination forever. 

When you achieve a goal, you release a chemical called dopamine that makes you feel euphoric and good. You can think of that dopamine as like a little drip into your riverbed, deepening that riverbed each time little by little, giving you a way to focus your energy, to build a rhythm and an infrastructure for your life.

So step one is to set nice, clear, page goals. 

Think about your real life, think about the crazy things that are going to happen, think about the scary article that’s going to suck you down into a rabbit hole of research. Think about how long you’re going to spend disinfecting your groceries. Think about the kids that are going to need your attention and the dog that’s going to need a walk. Think about all that stuff. 

And think, how many pages do I actually know I’m going to write this week? 

Once you have that very clear number, cut the number in half.

Make it so easy that you can’t help but achieve the goal

I want you to achieve the goal, because if you don’t achieve the goal, a different chemical gets released: a chemical called cortisol.

Cortisol will make you fat and depressed and it will make you not want to write. And that means that the next time you set out to write, you will have to fight through that cortisol feeling.

If you think back to the story I told you, you will realize that I was playing the wrong game  

I should have been playing the dopamine game of little successes. Instead I was playing the cortisol game of feeling failure, then feeling more failure, then beating myself up for failure, then punishing myself for failure, then feeling worse about the failure, then procrastinating because of the failure. 

And you could see, I was building a little cortisol bubble for myself that I had to fight through with little drips of dopamine, little tiny successes, until I had that river that I could pour my energy into again.

If you want to break through writer’s block and procrastination, you must become a master of goal setting.

So you’re going to set a goal that you know you can achieve. You’re going to cut it in half so you absolutely know you can achieve it. And then you’re going to schedule the actual times you’re going to achieve it. 

This is the most important part. 

Many people think, “I got it, I got my goal, I’m going to write three pages and I’m going to do it this weekend,” or, “I’m going to do it Tuesday.”

Well, guess what? You are not going to do it.

You are not going to do it because it is not scheduled at a specific time. It’s too darn general.

You’re going to want to do it, and you’re going to feel bad about not doing it. But you’re not going to do it.

Because when things aren’t specifically scheduled, our subconscious mind knows they are not that important. 

When you schedule things generally, or don’t schedule them at all, it means you are going to try to do it.

And we all know when you try to do something, what you’re actually going to do is fail. 

Just think of the last time you told your friend you’d “try” to make it to their (zoom) party… you didn’t show up, did you? 

So you want to schedule the actual times. And here is my trick; for any given day, I’m going to set my goal small enough that I could do it in seven minutes.

That means for any given day, my goal might be somewhere between half a page and two pages. 

I’m going to set a goal small enough that I could do it in seven minutes.  So if I’m running out of time, or if things get crazy, woohoo! I just blow through it, write a page of terrible, terrible screenwriting, I’m done and I can work at making it better tomorrow.

The seven minute trick is one of the most powerful tricks in the arsenal for breaking through writer’s block and procrastination.

I can’t fool myself about seven minutes. No matter how busy I am, I can’t convince myself that I don’t have seven minutes. 

No matter how scared I am, no matter how painful writing feels today, I can’t realistically look at myself in the mirror and have any hope of convincing myself that I’m too scared to write for seven minutes, or too bad to write for seven minutes, or it’s too hard to write for seven minutes, or I don’t have time to write for seven minutes. It’s too easy.  Anyone can do it. 

So I like to set my page goals low enough that I can get it done in seven minutes if I have to. 

And if seven minutes is all you have, then you can schedule seven minutes. 

But when possible, what I try to do is schedule a large block of time to do that seven minute goal. 

So, I’ll give you a real example… this coming Saturday.

This is a very busy time for us. We’ve taken all of our classes online, we’re building a new program for kids, we’re building a scholarship fund  to help students who are affected by COVID-19, who have lost their jobs. We want students to be able to continue to move forward and to take advantage of this time. So we’re working our butts off so I don’t have a lot of time right now. 

But Saturday, I have some time.

Saturday, between 11am and 1pm, I owe myself a page and a half. 

That two hour block to write a page and a half is a gift.

Sometimes you have a good writing day. And, guess what? You can’t control it. 

The screenwriting gods decide if you’re going to have a good writing day or not. And sometimes the heavens open up and you just have a great writing day.

And if that happens, and Saturday happens to be a good writing day, I can keep writing. I have a whole two hours to fill. 

I can write my page and a half and I can keep going. I might get three, four, five, fifteen, twenty pages, I might get a lot of great pages. 

On other days we have terrible writing days. And you can’t control those either. 

On those days, it hurts to even sit down and write. Every word is painful. Everything feels disconnected. 

And you might think that if you’re having those days it means you are not a writer. But it means exactly the opposite. 

If the real writing happened on the great writing days, everyone would be a writer. 

Real writers make their bones in the days when their writing is not flowing.

The greatest skill that you can give yourself as a writer is the skill to keep writing on days when it is not coming. That is what great writers do.

So what you’re going to do on a bad writing day, is what I do on a bad writing day. I say to myself, “Okay, man, I really don’t want to be here, I’m going to blow out a page and a half in seven minutes, I’m going to just write nonstop a bunch of crappy bad writing. And then, I’ll deal with it tomorrow. It gives me something to edit.”

And when I finish those 7 minutes and I have the pages I owe myself, then I can close my laptop and I can do anything I want. 

I can spend an hour and 53 minutes surfing the web. I can spend an hour and 53 minutes going for a walk. I can spend an hour and 53 minutes playing with my dog or playing my guitar. I have already been a writer today.

On other days, I might really feel the need to meditate on my script. So, I can sit down, write a page and a half in seven minutes and spend the rest of the time just meditating, just thinking about my script.

On other days, I might feel the need to really get crunchy in a revision, maybe go line by line and really make sure each image is working. And I might take that whole two hours just to work on one and a half pages, just to look at them with that kind of detail. 

But I have to hit that one and a half page goal.

Now the next important thing about this is, notice I didn’t say, “one and a half, good pages.” 

As soon as you add the word “good,” you’re in trouble, because you don’t know if your writing is good. You won’t know if it is good until many, many, many drafts from now. 

And even if you try to get feedback, guess what, most people won’t know if it is good. Most people are good at looking at a good movie and saying “that’s good.” 

But most people (and unfortunately this includes most people who are paid to give feedback on screenplays) are not very good at looking at a raw piece of diamond that just came out of the ground and actually seeing what it can become.

You wish they would be able to see it like an artist and say, “Oh yeah, you’ve just got to remove this dirt, polish that up, get this cut in the right way and it is going to be a diamond.” 

But most people will look at an uncut diamond and say, “Well that just looks like an ugly rock.” 

It takes a lot of experience to actually recognize what’s good.

And also what gets tied up with “good,” if the person giving you feedback isn’t extremely well trained, is a little issue called genre preferences. 

Let me give you an example of genre preference, I didn’t like Titanic.

But was it good? 

Well, billions of people thought so. 

For billions of people, that movie was powerful and meaningful and one of those cornerstone movies. It won the Academy Award. I didn’t like it, because of my genre preferences.

One of the movies that I like most is a terrible movie called The Fountain.

The Fountain is the film that I most wish I had been hired to rewrite. Because that movie, even though what they shot does not work, with a few more drafts, I can see how The Fountain could have been one of those beautiful movies ever made. 

I love that movie because of my genre preferences. Not because it is effective in its current form. I love that movie for what it could become. 

So one of the things that we have to understand is that feedback from other people, and even feedback from ourselves, is very dangerous.

Unless you’ve gotten a lot of training, unless you are working as a professional writer or with a professional writer, who is not just a great writer but also a great mentor, you’ve got to be so careful about feedback. 

Eventually you will develop a radar, not for what’s good but for what’s true, and eventually you’ll be able to use that radar to help you navigate through all the self-judgment and criticisms and fears that come up with writing.

But for right now, we’re building the river, we are not worried about what is flowing in it. 

So for right now we are going to get out of the quality game and into the quantity game. 

Your job is not to write a good page, your job is to write a page. 

Your job is not to write a great script, your job is to write a script. 

Your job is not to write for 7 minutes and discover something wonderful. Your job is to write for 7 minutes and discover whatever you discover.

What we are doing right now is building the foundation. 

Once you get that stream of writing flowing, editing is a lot less scary. When you are creating every day, if you write something terrible it doesn’t matter.

One of my great mentors was a guy named Joe Blaustein.

Joe Blaustein was a painter, still is a painter out in Los Angeles and he is the guy who taught me how to paint. Joe used to say, “Don’t paint on canvas. You’ll get precious. Paint on paper. You want to feel like you could throw it away.”

And when he first said that, I thought he was crazy. But what I realized is, when you are painting every day, it doesn’t matter. If you make a bad painting, you throw it away. 

It is only so precious when we are not doing it enough. That’s when we are so scared about having wasted time.

So all we are focusing on right now is to get the writing flowing, we are working to build that riverbed. 

And the way we do it is that we set small achievable goals, we write as many times a week for short periods as we can.

But we also let ourselves rest, even G-d rested, (if you believe in G-d), even God rested creating the universe. You can rest too.

That means we don’t write everyday. But maybe we write three times a week. Maybe we write four times a week. 

We are going to set small consistent goals, and what you are going to notice as you start to achieve these goals is that 7 minutes in the morning turns into thinking about your writing all day. 

While you’re disinfecting your doorknobs you’re thinking about your writing, while you’re walking the dog you’re thinking about your writing, while you’re making dinner, you’re thinking about your writing, while you’re doing your work, an idea comes for you.

And once you realize how much you can actually accomplish in 7 minutes, what happens is you start to realize you have lots of 7 minute blocks. 

Suddenly an idea comes and instead of lying to yourself, “Oh I’ll remember that tomorrow,” you think, “Oh, I’m going to grab 7 minutes and write it.” 

A line of dialogue, an image, a thought, suddenly you realize you can steal these 7 minute chunks all over the place, you can create so much, and all the stuff you create in one day becomes fodder for rewriting in the next day. 

In fact, you can count a rewritten page the same way as a newly written page, so long as you at least retype everything so that you are actually generating that page and making those decisions again.

This is what’s really beautiful about setting writing goals in this way. Soon you start to find more opportunities to write. And it is not discipline that makes you do it, it is passion. 

It is not somebody forcing you. It is not an external voice saying, “you should,” or “you have to.”

It is an internal voice saying, “I want to. I can. And I have learned. Because I have started to make those choices today… and today… and today.”

You’ll also notice that seven minutes starts to become 10 minutes, starts to become 15 minutes, starts to become a half hour or an hour. 

If you jog you probably know about an app called “Couch to 5K.” It’s a wonderful app that’s used to help aspiring runners overcome their inner blocks and build a running habit. 

You start off, and you’re doing two minutes, and you can barely breathe.

And then a few weeks later,  you’re doing half an hour. And it is only a few weeks but suddenly half an hour straight of running is easy when on the first day running for two minutes is hard. 

Once you build that river of writing, it becomes so easy to play in it. 

It becomes so easy to come back to it. 

And one of the things you’ll find is that you actually have time that you didn’t know you had. That as you build that river it starts to grow.

But for it to work what has to happen is this, you have to be kind to yourself. You have to remember that you are doing this by choice. Because you want to do it. Because it matters to you.

If you achieve your goal, you can choose to keep going, but you can also choose to stop. 

And if you choose to stop, you still want to celebrate. 

Every time you achieve your writing goal, you want to celebrate.

There are so many ways you can celebrate. Post something on Facebook. Tag me, @thejkstudio.  I’ll like it. 

You can email a friend, “Hey, I wrote my pages today, how did you do?” 

You can do a little happy dance. 

You can check it off on your calendar. 

Do something to celebrate the fact that today you were more brave than most writers in the world. Today you actually sat down and wrote something. 

If you fall short of your goal, don’t beat yourself up, don’t punish yourself, don’t double your goal. 

This is how you get into the cortisol game. Don’t discipline yourself, don’t yell at yourself. 

If you mess up, if you set your goal right, you can fix it in 7 minutes. 

So the moment you realize you messed up, grab something to write with or on, go hide somewhere for 7 minutes, and fix it. 

Get in the habit of fixing it the moment you realize you messed up.

But really get in the habit of keeping that scheduled time sacred. 

Show up on time, like you would for the most important meeting in your life. And don’t leave until you’ve completed what you owe yourself. 

And what that will do for you is teach you that this matters. It will teach not the conscious part of your mind that already knows it matters. It will teach the subconscious part of your mind, that is like a child, that is learning who you are and who it is every day– that part of you that’s a creative child, that wants to write, that wants to do something that matters, that wants to be an artist and that might not even know what she or he has to say yet, but desperately needs to say it.

So this is the gift that I want to leave you with today. I want you to focus on building that river. I want you to ask yourself what are the steps you can take, today, and tomorrow and the next day. What are the steps you can take every day? 

I want you to ask yourself what is the infrastructure that you need to support you? What do you need to help you as you start to make progress as that riverbed starts to grow. 

If you need a free resource, I want to invite you to join our free Online Happy Hour of Writing Exercises, every Thursday at 7pm Eastern until the quarantine ends.

If you need structure or feedback on your writing, then talk to us about our ProTrack mentorship program, that pairs you one-on-one with a professional writer, our new Group Workshops at every level, or our Screenwriting, TV Comedy and TV Drama Writing classes. And if you’ve been affected by the COVID-19 crisis and need a scholarship to offset some of the cost, we have a fund to help you.

I want you to give yourself the gift. 

Because years from now, months from now, maybe even days from now, this gift of time that we have will be gone, and so will hopefully be the many pains and obstacles that are afflicting us. We will be looking back at this time saying, “This is the time that made me who I am today.”

Let the person you look back on be the person you want to be. 

Transcript edited for length and clarity.

4 Comments

  1. Bob Woods 5 months ago

    Hi Jacob,

    Another Great Podcast! Bravo!!

    I’m a senior playing in the ninth inning of my life and I found your advice to be very meaningful. I suggest to all of the younger writers reading this to take the time to digest this podcast and use it in their daily lives. Your first seven minutes might last you to your own ninth inning.

    Stay Healthy & Sage, Jacob,

    • Author
      Jacob 5 months ago

      Thanks so much, Bob! I’m delighted to hear this was helpful for you. And wishing you lots of extra innings!
      Jake

  2. Marla Rice-Evans 5 months ago

    Excellent wisdom imparted for everyone! whether for screenwriting or other creative pursuit. So appreciated during the Twilight Zone World!!!

    • Author
      Jacob 5 months ago

      Thanks Marla! It sure is a twilight zone world, but hopefully we come out better on the other side!

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