Balls of Steel: Overcoming Overthinking

Jeanne Veillette Bowerman is the Editor of Script Magazine, on Stephanie Palmer’s list of “Top 10 Most Influential Screenwriting Bloggers,” and co-founder of Twitter’s #Scriptchat. Her narrative adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Slavery by Another Name, was selected for the Tracking Board’s Top 25 Launch Pad Competition. Follow Jeanne on Twitter @jeannevb

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Before I became Editor of ScriptMag, I used to write Balls of Steel every week. I didn’t have time to overthink articles. I just needed to churn them out with confidence. Now that I’m busier, juggling 60 contributors, having no assistant and still pursuing my own screenwriting career, I really don’t have time to overthink.

overthinkingSo when a fellow writer asked me if I ever struggle with overthinking, I started thinking, and got stuck. Maybe that’s the trick. Don’t think. Just do.

I am human. I absolutely battle the beast of overthinking, mostly in my personal life. I’m remembering back to when I was younger, waiting for the boy to pick me up for our date, pondering over and over in my mind, “He’s two hours late… is he blowing me off? Did I do something wrong on our first date? Wait, this is our first date… he must have a flat tire.”

I sat there for two hours, insecure and overthinking.

Then it hit me. What the hell am I doing waiting on some guy who doesn’t have the decency to phone me to say he’s running late? Granted, this was pre-mobile phone days, but if he really respected me, if he really wanted to find a way to contact me, he would have. It wouldn’t require overthinking on his part. It would simply require thinking.

So I left. I just left… without him. And as soon as I left, I stopped overthinking. Why? Because I had drawn a line in the sand of how much time I was willing to overthink, and got on with my life.

I acted with confidence, and clarity came. He was just a jerk, unworthy of my time and mind.

If I had maintained the insecure stance of wondering what was wrong, I would have sat there another hour, and then another, overthinking, but still feeling frustrated and disrespected.

The same is true with your writing. If you’re overthinking it, maybe you just need to leave. Get the blood flowing to your brain by taking a walk. Or maybe you haven’t been sleeping well and are too physically exhausted to focus. Relax. Take a break.

You can’t force creativity.

But for me, the main cure for overthinking is confidence. When you get a story idea, it came to you for a reason. You have to start believing you are the only writer who can execute it well. Own it!

Then break it into baby steps or mini, daily goals. Ask yourself how much you want to accomplish every day. Or you could set a deadline for when you want the first draft completed and then divide out the number of scenes or pages into daily goals.

Do whatever you need to do to compartmentalize the big-picture goal into small, bite-sized chunks. The ultimate overthinking-buster goal is to stop thinking about the mundane items that clog your creativity. It’s the only way to release your imagination.

Sometimes we overthink the business side of screenwriting though. That’s a little trickier. I took on a freelance writing gig once and the communication with the team was horrible. I’d pull more than my weight, email them and hear nothing. Nada. Static. I started overthinking. I was that girl on the couch waiting for my date to show up all over again.

Guess what I did? I grew a set and stopped overthinking. If the gig didn’t work out, so be it, but I wasn’t going to be disrespected. I got on with my life and stopped wasting my precious time speculating as to what the execs were thinking and just kept writing and doing my job. What’s the worst that could happen if I stopped thinking and kept working? Sure, the gig could have fallen apart, but at least I would have content written for my other projects instead of biting my nails, overthinking.

If I hadn’t kept working and pushing forward and then the gig ultimately fell through, I would have beaten myself up for letting my fear control me and paralyze my productivity. Then, I’d only feel more insecure. That’s not a cure for overthinking. That’s another dollar in my therapist’s pocket.

Same is true with waiting for execs to follow up on your script submission. Don’t overthink their reactions to your work. You lost control of that the minute you decided your script was solid enough for submission and hit send. You can’t control how someone feels about your writing. He might just not be into your script. Or he might have gotten appendicitis. You have no idea what’s in his head so just keep writing your next project while you wait.

Keep working. Be confident.

Believe in yourself. Believe in your talent. Believe in your story. Believe in your purpose. I promise, the overthinking will subside.

Whatever happened to that boy, you wonder? The next day that boy called, furious because when he finally did show up at my door, I was gone. How dare I stand him up? His lame excuse was chugging beer and watching a game with his buddies, and he lost track of time. I admit, my mind did do some over-thinking at that moment, imagining my life with Mr. Chunkhead. Me sitting at our kitchen table, eating a fabulous meal all by myself while he was in his man cave with his buddies, screaming at the TV screen.

Nope. No thinking required. I smiled to myself and hung up. Never saw him again. I haven’t thought twice about it, until I started over-thinking this article. See how that works?

I wonder if he’s a producer now. I’d look him up… but I forgot his name, and to remember it, would require thinking. And he’s still not worth my time.

Watch our FREE video by Jeanne Veillette Bowerman on how she got
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