Last summer, I got an email from a student in the television writing class for which I was a teaching assistant. He had reached a brick wall in progress and I loved his analogy. “What I’m doing wrong with my pilot, by the way, is that writing scripts is a lot like playing golf.”
“I can take 15 lessons on the range about how to correct my swing,” he continued. “But when I get out on the course I still go back to what feels comfortable. I simply can’t bring myself to stoke my script with conflict, even though I know I need to. I have this story in my head, and I can’t help but write what’s there.”
Routine and patterns are indeed hard to break, and it takes time to become good at anything. I mean really good. Talent helps, but it’s hard work over time that does it. The most successful, content people I know work harder than anybody else – though I’m hardly the first to observe this.
Here are a few of my small, keep calm and carry on failsafes used in the interim during which my hundreds of thousands of actions coalesce to make something happen.
When feeling tired/angry/stressed (or all at once, like a petulant child), I:
– Stream The Graham Norton Show: my go-to when I need to laugh out loud. The Irish presenter and his team are truly gifted; guaranteed, they’ll have me in stitches at some point.
– Practice yoga. I discover new things on the mat every session. Even when feeling lost, “Trust you are being guided,” our instructor Lisa told our class last time. There’s a bigger reason for what’s going on, that we can’t make out quite yet.
– Book a ticket for something fun – it’s a great distraction from the day’s challenges to simply have something to look forward to. Or if money’s tight, I window shop on ba.com. Just looking at holidays and destinations and dates when I could travel makes me content. Again, a perfect distraction.
When I’m feeling blue, or romantically hopeless:
– My friend Natasha told me the best way to cheer up is to cheer someone else up, and it’s true. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture – a letter, a card, a phone call, a cup of chai and a chat; maybe voluntary work with older people. Just dropping a card in the mailbox can put a huge smile on my face.
– I re-watch one of my favorite classic romcoms: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Some Like it Hot… On TV, Ugly Betty was always like tonic for me, too, as are Parks and Rec and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
– I make sure I get a good night’s sleep. It’s so easy for me to slip into a vicious circle of worry, insomnia, frazzled nerves and continued worry from a simple lack of shuteye and proper rest. Whenever I find myself questioning all things, I remember that’s my internal signal for bedtime. Better I pray and meditate and then find my eyes naturally ready to close by the end.
When lacking creative direction:
There’s no point in me staring at a screen, waiting for inspiration to somehow strike. I go and do something completely different – that’s often when I get the great ideas. If I’m too busy to go to a museum or catch the sunset over the ocean, I settle instead for a tea break, a 20 minute phone call with a good friend, a swim (or if no time, even a bath. No coincidence that’s where Archimedes literally had his Eureka moment.) Whatever it takes to reset, refocus, rejuvenate.
When I’m feeling a bit stuck when script writing – or frustrated my ability doesn’t meet my creative vision, I:
– Watch The Gap by Ira Glass. My (hard working, talented) friend Edmund sent along this video, and it never fails to encourage. It takes a long, long, long, long, long time to become great,* and I realize both my former student and I are far from alone in how we feel. To improve, we need to write, write, write and rewrite.
– Go back to reading the masters. Here’s a starter list from Stephanie Palmer’s GoodInARoom.com, which is an excellent blog in general, full of anecdotes, advice and reading material which distract me from wallowing in self pity like an introspective hippo.
– Rework my log line and outline, or if that doesn’t work, I go back to index cards and notes: pen on paper. Sometimes even jotting down a visual helps spark my creative process. When I scribble down my notes, one thought leads to another, and before I know it, I’ll have turned my idea/visual/note into a story beat into a half page.
When I’m about to give up, I:
Read Edgar Albert Guest’s poem. Bless you mom for introducing this to me.
Above all, I remember I’m exactly where I need to be. I am where I am because of all the decisions I, and only I, have taken. “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul,” British poet William Ernest Henley also reminds me. Whether I’m stuck, frustrated, blue, angry, I recall his lines and how my actions have brought me here, how my actions will move me on, and how in the meantime there are a few fun ways to help me to get on with it.
(*said no Kardashian ever – Ed.)