Some of you are in a funk right now. Creative fatigue. (I know, because I can tell. Or because you told me.)
It happens to everyone; not just to screenwriters, trust me. It is also possible to get out of it.
Pain In The Arts
I am in a business group, who has a conference call every Thursday night. Out of the seven members, only 3 others showed up last week. And all three sounded mildly depressed, mostly because of lack of results.
I’m not that annoying superhuman who is never affected. There have been many weeks when the group had to pull me up, too.
But this time it was my turn to pump some positivity into the call. At the end, I think some of us felt a little better.
What did I say? I’ll tell you in a minute.
In business, you get off a little more easily. When you focus on processes, strategies and efficiency, things are not that personal after all.
In the creative arts, however – and in this context screenwriting is an art and not a business – everything is a lot more personal. Your stories are you. Your writing voice is yours. Praise feels great. Criticism cuts straight to your core.
This can be painful.
A continued lack of positive feedback may well lead to creative fatigue.
Creative Fatigue? Not About You.
I don’t think I need to give you the blurb on rejection. You’ve heard about it. You may have even experienced it. Repeatedly…
But how to deal with it?
I often show this TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert to students, at the beginning of my courses. It’s a super inspiring talk. Writers don’t always immediately realise how important it is what Gilbert imparts in her talk. They do when things get rough.
Basically, what she says is: “Don’t take your creations personally.”
Easier said than done.
Gilbert explains how in ancient times, creatives didn’t take credit for their work. That honour befell The Creator (or the Muse, or whatever you call that being with higher creative power than yourself). And guess what, artists didn’t suffer creative fatigue all that much.
What she also says – i.e. the less poetic part of the talk – is that you need to apply bum to seat.
Put in the darn hard work.
Bum To Seat
So here is a motto I’ve cited recently:
Don’t beat yourself up over the lack of results.
Instead, beat yourself up for not doing the work.
There it is.
Just keep doing whatever you need to do. Every day, every week, every year. Results will follow. Of course there are going to be days when the results are not obvious. After all, outsiders can see your progress so much more easily. Don’t despair: it is there.
And if it all gets a little too much? Take it easy. But keep moving, at your own, steady pace.
But if you are not supposed be focused on results, then why continue at all? Wasn’t all this ultimately about creating financial freedom, and having a lifestyle where you can write without worrying about money??
No, it wasn’t.
And if you thought it was, you may need a reality check. (Possibly also a return to your day job.)
If you cannot find joy in the simple act of writing, and if you need the financial freedom as a necessary by-product, you may be on the wrong track, my friend.
In fact, you are creating your own creative fatigue.
Fire And Forget
Okay let’s climb back up the sunnier side of the mountain.
Say, writing does give you plenty of joy.
But you’re not seeing the results to pay the bills.
Congratulations, you are still part of an elite minority who actually has a chance of achieving a happy life. Possibly even of breaking into the industry.
The trick is now to focus on the writing, and forget about the results. Do everyday what you can do – and need to – in order to finish those scripts (and, yes, pay the bills)
While you are writing, don’t for a moment fret about the outcome.
Fire and forget.
I know, it sounds so easy, while you are there in your pit, battling creative fatigue.
Know your own priorities in life. If you truly want to realise your creative potential, you will have to make tremendous sacrifices. Our modern society is not particularly supportive of those who care about the matters of mind and soul. That’s just a fact, and it won’t change anytime soon.
You need to decide whether you are willing to pay this price.
Your sacrifices will be financial, and they will be social. If they become physical, make you sick, or keep giving you creative fatigue… Perhaps you need to reconsider.
From time to time, you may want to pause and evaluate whether you are still experiencing that joy in what you are doing.
You may want to reflect on what writing really is about for you.
What Writing Really Is About
Being a screenwriter is not about cashing in movie dollars. Not about a villa in the Hollywood hills. It is not even about getting to see your finished film on the big screen(*). None of that.
It is about the daily drudgery of getting words (not images) on your computer screen – and loving it. Irrespective of what will happen with the outcome.
Writing is about peeling the layers of obfuscation from the visible world. It is about discovering what goes on underneath the perceptible reality. It is about achieving a deep understanding of characters, actions and emotions. Then turn it all into visible images again.
This process feels so exhilarating, that creative fatigue is highly unlikely.
This understanding is a gift, far richer than any pay you will ever receive.
Ask yourself this question: “Does the mere act of writing give me joy?”
If it does not, get out.
If it does?
(*Did you know that the majority of paid screenwriters write scripts that never get made? They sell, yes. But that’s it. So, your sole satisfaction better not be in seeing your movie title above the box office.)
Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in acquisition, development and production. He has trained students worldwide, and worked with half a dozen Academy Award nominees. Karel speaks more European languages than you have fingers on your left hand, which he is still trying to find a use for in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The languages, not the fingers.