Aarthi Ramanathan’s love of animation, combined with her cross-cultural upbringing – India, where she was born, Kuwait, where she grew up, and Canada, where she lives now – has lent itself to a portfolio of rich characters and journeys in the family and fantasy genres. She has previously written for a web series, and her screenplays have also been recognized in various screenwriting contests including Final Draft Big Break (top 10 in genre), Stage 32 Feature (winner), Screencraft (finalist), PAGE (semifinalist) and AFF (2nd Rounder). Visit her website and follow her on Twitter @ajramanathan
Indulge me, if you will. You have this great idea, whip up your favorite latte or stow your favorite drink under your arm and make your way into your writing space, all ready to go, burning to write the next great movie. You even know what that trailer looks like… and you internally laugh maniacally like your favorite villain with that great secret only you know about… how amazing this story is going to be… because YOU wrote it! You open Final Draft or whatever script software you use, and then… blank. You wait for the magic.
Still nothing. Two hours, and several cookies later, you have called it quits. Worse, you feel like you are never going to get anywhere. This spells disaster for any writer, right?
Maybe not. Fear of the blank page can be incredibly crippling. First, where does this fear come from? For me, it’s always making sure what shows up on the page is something that is big enough to match what’s in my head, and usually, when it doesn’t, impatience sets in, followed by that not-so-fleeting feeling of ineptitude. Can I actually write this? Can I make the story work? Can I get it done in time?
That’s what makes us writers. We have something to say that is individual and unique to us in a way that other jobs don’t necessarily seem to quite satisfy with the same level of passion or intensity. In desperate times like these, how do we as writers find our muse, survive the page count, and oh, those scary, imperious deadlines? Well, have no fear! Here are some fun tips for creative procrastination to ignite your inner writing muse:
- Actively carve out time to procrastinate. In other words, life experience is a solid motivator for ideas, so give yourself permission to do other activities during the day, but try to keep those other activities as specific, time-wise as you can, so you can get back to writing. If you choose to take it a step further, see if you can gear it towards your screenwriting. For example, if you like music, listen to cinematic tracks. If you like to watch TV, try watching YouTube, which offers plenty of inspiring stuff from folk in the entertainment world. For reading material, consider blogs such as the always informative gointothestory and scriptmag.
- Writing schedule. Take the time to carve a writing schedule, but one that is realistic and doable for you. Think specific goals for the year, for the month, for the week and jot them down. I like to put up to-do stickies on my wall with this info, and one way to keep track is whatever I do during the day doesn’t matter as long as at the end of the day, I have crossed all those sticky items off my list. It also helps when you keep the goals small – one at a time. On the other hand, it takes time to hone these goals so don’t fret if you are not able to make them initially – the important thing is to try. It is okay to adjust and change this when needed.
- Always have something to write with. Even when you are not writing, let your mind free-associate possibilities and jot ideas down without judgment, no matter where you are. You can even record yourself. Case in point, I use my phone’s Notepad app to jot down everything. Whether it’s on a nice pleasant drive or a trip to the grocery store, you never know where a good idea may lurk.
- Read scripts. I had a screenwriting teacher tell me once that scripts are boring to read and not meant to be read. Several years and various screenplays later, I am so glad I didn’t listen to this advice. Reading current scripts also provide a great education in what it takes to write one. There are plenty of sites where free scripts are available to read. Ideally, try to go for one a week. Additional food for thought: if you are writing a particular genre, try reading scripts in the genre you write in as there are unique styles and variations in each genre that can help in complementing your own existing knowledge and help in honing your own screenplays.
- Go out and meet other fellow writers and creatives. Having other writers you trust reading your work is a great motivation for further growth as a writer and to write more. Also never underestimate the power of your passion – without passion, a script is just a script. With passion, it becomes a living entity filled with life, purpose, even when other odds are stacked against you. Don’t be afraid to share your passion with others.
- Research, research, research. While it’s easy to get carried away with this, taking the time to research a subject can have a great impact on strengthening a story. Besides written research (courtesy of books and the internet) an additional option to consider is collecting visual research – finding pictures, videos and other material online that bring your ideas together in a visual way. This can particularly help when you are trying to figure out what a character or setting looks like.
- Using other hobbies to get going. While screenwriting may be a job, its beauty lies in the creative, so don’t hesitate to use your other skills or hobbies to inspire you with your writing material. Whether it’s music or art, or making movies or even shopping, the thinking time is almost just as valuable as the time spent to write. Let your characters and story invade your psyche, so the page is a mere instrument of what you already know deep down about the story you want to write. Sometimes the only way is by getting out of your chair. Take a walk, take a shower, maybe two, drive, blast some music, LIVE outside the bubble of your office – and believe the answer will come. There will be days when you might still get nothing, but it’s part of the process and you will find those answers.
- If all else fails, go watch a good movie. Execs always look for writers to be aware of the marketplace and what’s out there. What are people watching? What is selling? What can we learn about our own writing by what we see on-screen? Good or bad? Great movies have ignited the imagination of millions of moviegoers for years, so watching one is solid inspiration to go forward and make your own mark within the movie world.
Finally, no matter what, at the end of the day, in order to write, we must continue to persevere, believe in ourselves and write our stories, as only we individually can. So that’s the final tip: choosing to just write. When you have your writing time, it’s your own, it’s precious, it’s valuable – whether it’s a few hours a day or fifteen minutes. Beg, borrow for that little time, and yes, sometimes we have to go the extra mile. So consider putting away your phone, turning off the internet during your writing spells (self-control and freedom are great time-management apps that are helpful in this regard).
Bottom-line, being successful professionally as a writer may be a long process, but the process of writing itself doesn’t have to be!
Get more advice on beating procrastination in Jenna Avery’s on-demand webinar
10 Practical Tips for More Consistent, Productive Writing