NOTES FROM THE MARGINS: Finding Your Writing Process – A Procrastinator’s Journey

Danny Manus is an in-demand script consultant and founder of No BullScript Consulting and author of No B.S. for Screenwriters: Advice from the Executive Perspective. Follow Danny on Twitter @dannymanus.

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Writing ProcessNot being able to write for an hour a day doesn’t make you less of a writer, or a human being.
It doesn’t mean you’re not serious about your craft. And it doesn’t mean you’ll never finish your script. It just means you have a different process that works for you. And that’s fine… As long as you HAVE (or are trying to find) a process that works for you.

Writing isn’t about following everyone else’s process – it’s about finding a personalized process that helps you harness the most creativity which results in the most productivity.

Some people can only write at home; others can only write in public. Some can only write in silence; others can only write with music blasting in their ears. Some write it all out long-hand; some use the latest software. It’s all a personal choice and it can be a trial and error process to find out what works best. I know screenwriters who didn’t figure out their process until their 10th script. And that’s okay too.

Start simple. Create a weekly goal – whether it be a certain number of pages or a couple of specific scenes to finish. But don’t obsess over finding the time EVERY day to work towards the goal. Just know that by the end of the week, you have to hit that goal one way or another. If that means you procrastinate until Day 7 and pull an all-nighter, that’s fine – if it works for you.

The key is to know if it’s ACTUALLY working. You may have a process that is productive – but it doesn’t mean it’s actually working for you.

I used to be the all-nighter king in college. I would pull one every 2 weeks just for fun, just to stay up and get shit done. And it worked for me then. But now, 15 years later, my body doesn’t enjoy the all-nighter the way it used to and it screws up my energy and sleep schedule for 2 days after. I still do it sometimes and it is productive – but I know that in the long run, it’s working AGAINST me and not for me. So that is not a sustainable writing process (for me).

I also know that for me, I cannot get any real writing done on a coffee break. Or a cigarette break. Or a lunch break. You know why? Because I’d rather be drinking coffee, eating lunch or smoking cigarettes.

I can’t set aside 30 or 60 minutes every day just to write because I have too much other shit to do and it takes me a good 20 minutes just to rev myself up and mentally (and physically) prepare to sit and write. Kudos to those who can just flip a switch and be in writing mode for 15 minutes and then flip it back and stop – but I’m not like that (I dare say most men aren’t) but at least I know that about myself.

And NO, I am not going to get up at 5AM to write before the day starts, because I go to sleep at 3AM! If I’m waking up at 5AM, either I need to catch a plane or someone has died.

Stop feeling guilty for not making time the way THEY tell you to, and start feeling inspired to create the time the way YOU want to.

Personally, I need to know that my whole day is only about writing. Or at least half a day – a good 4-6 hour period. It’s the procrastinator’s curse. It has to be the ONLY thing on my “To Do List” for that day because if I see “Write for 30 Minutes” on a To Do List along with 15 other things I need to get done – guess which thing is not getting done? But if I can get my other work, errands and bullshit done during the week (for example) and then on Sunday, the only thing I have on my list is “Write,” then I don’t have any other choice. There’s no alternative assignment I can do instead. The only thing I like about Football season ending is I get my Sundays back to do more work. Shit, that’s sad. Anywho…

Find the day of the week you are most productive. Everyone has one. For some, it’s Monday because they like to start the week out right. For some, it’s Friday because they need to finish everything before the weekend. For some, it’s Wednesday because… I don’t know why. But figure out the day where you find you are most amped up to work and get shit done. Now figure out what time during that day you feel most inspired – not 30 minutes but a REAL window of time – and make that the day and time you set aside to write.

Consultants, like myself, tell writers all the time to just write a “crap draft” – a first draft you know sucks, just to get everything down on paper. That’s great advice. But personally, I don’t follow it. I can’t. If I know a line of dialogue sucks, I may leave it bold on the page and come back to it later, but I’m not going to write a whole draft like that. I’m too much of a perfectionist.

And that’s OK.

Forgive yourself for your own personal character flaws and find ways to achieve your goals despite them.

I am an outliner, and you should be too. I’m not telling you what your process should include, but without an outline, you’re probably wasting half of the time you’re dedicating to writing. I need to know what scenes I need to write and the basics for what happens in them and how I’m going to transition from one to the next and how they connect before I start typing or else I’ll just get lost in a scene or get stumped and frustrated, which only wastes more writing time.

If I have an outline and I know there’s a particularly hard or intricate scene or sequence I need to write that’s going to take me a while… I skip it. I write the scene heading, I’ll write a few lines (basically copying from my outline) about what has to happen in the scene, but I will save writing it for later. Because I’d rather stick with the momentum I have and get pages DONE, and then come back and write the 3 or 4 scenes in the script I know are going to make me want to pull my ever-diminishing hair out. I’m sure there are plenty of pros who will tell you not to do this… But ya know what?

It doesn’t fucking matter what they say.

Find the writing process that works for YOU that keeps you engaged in writing and excited about your story. A writing process that keeps you feeling like there is always forward motion occurring. If you find that your process makes you feel like you’re just treading water for an extended period of time, then switch it up and try something new. That’s the beauty of finding your own process… No one else can tell you if it’s working or not.

You have to let the work be the judge.

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5 thoughts on “NOTES FROM THE MARGINS: Finding Your Writing Process – A Procrastinator’s Journey

  1. robdixon

    Danny, this is great. Your process fits me to a T: procrastination; occasional all-nighters; unable to do much unless I get a couple hours in a block; relieved football season is over so there’s more time to write. But like Mona above I get ideas at all times and at least I’ve developed a process for capturing those — usually by recording voice notes on my phone. So even though the real writing only happens once a week or so, the ideas are being developed all the time. Thanks for a really useful post.

  2. JestJake

    This may be the best advice I’ve read in a loooooong time.

    I’m a streak writer. I go for weeks mentally writing, forming in my head what I want on the page. I edit in my head for weeks sometimes before what I want can come out onto the page. All the sages say just put your butt in the seat and write. So I tried it and instead all I got was writer’s block and a sore ass…

    This article just reinforces what I suspected all along: do what works for you.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  3. MonaLiNYC

    This was right on time. Weekly is a doable commitment. Bless all out there who can get up at 5 a.m. to write, spit out vomit drafts with no edits or crank it out everyday — but everyone isn’t built that way..

    This was a great artiicle for those of us that aren’t. I’m one of those people where scenes, dialogue comes to me while I’m cooking, vegging out with a movie, then I write it on a legal pad. I’m not bound to my big chair in front of my desktop, but feel I’m not any less creatively committed than some of my brethren.

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