WRITERS ON THE WEB: Pay Yourself First

Rebecca Norris is a writer, producer, web enthusiast, and creator of the award-winning web series Split with her production company, Freebird Entertainment. Follow Rebecca on Twitter at @beckaroohoo.

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WRITERS ON THE WEB: Pay Yourself First by Rebecca Norris | Script Magazine #scriptchat

Photo credit: Krzysztof (Kriss) Szkurlatowski

I was out to lunch with a writer friend recently, and she asked me “So, what are your writing goals for next year?” I struggled to answer her seemingly simple question. I’ve been Queen of Doing a Thousand Things at once for years now, never figuring out how to narrow my focus to concentrate on writing the way I’d like.  Sure, I’ve been writing, but not finishing.  

Something has always popped up that demands my immediate attention and distracts me from completing my work. It can be anything: my boss sending a text and needing something done immediately, being given an extra script to read over the weekend when I had planned a writing session, a bill that needs paying, or even running out of underwear and needing to do laundry right away.  Some other task that needs to be done NOW has always has taken hold of my precious writing time and had its way with it.

And who’s fault is this? Mine. I have always let life get in the way of my creative endeavors. Never fully trusting that creative work could pay the bills, I’ve always had a day job (or three) which consume nearly all of my time, so there’s hardly any energy or time left to focus on writing or filmmaking. I’ve had an idea for a new web series rattling around for almost three years now, and I haven’t carved out the time to put pen to paper to even just write the idea down.  I start, but then remember that I have that dry cleaning I need to pick up, we ran out of milk, I owe my friend a phone call, and I promised another writer I’d read her pages and give feedback.  Better do those first and then, afterwards, I’ll have the mental space to concentrate on my writing.

But it never works that way.  The everyday tasks of life, work commitments, and promises I’ve made to help out others always take more time than I imagine, and before I know it, it’s time for bed and the cycle repeats itself the next day.

I’ve particularly allowed this to happen over the last year, giving myself a pass because I was involved in the wonderful yet stressful process of planning my wedding.  “After the wedding,” I told myself, “I’ll get on a schedule for writing.”  The wedding came and went and still I felt stuck around finding time to write.

This all came to a head over the past two weeks, when I realized that when I’m not writing or doing something creative in a day to move my career forward, I feel actual depressive feelings. Like some sort of Writing Affective Disorder. It goes away when I write, and then sneaks right back in on the days that I skip writing in favor of tasks and errands. When the Writing Affective Disorder comes, it seeps in slowly, and before long it’s fogged up the whole day, and I feel depleted, resentful, and frustrated.

It’s writer’s block, but not because of fear or lack of ideas: it’s simply lack of time management.

WRITERS ON THE WEB: Pay Yourself First by Rebecca Norris | Script Magazine #scriptchat

Photo credit: Fernando Mengoni

Luckily, I came up with a solution that has been working.  You’ve probably heard financial experts talk about how you should “pay yourself first” when it comes to your finances.  Put aside a certain amount of your paycheck that’s for YOU and your savings, before the whole thing gets frittered away to groceries, bills, rent, gas, childcare, etc.  They say to set it up to pay yourself automatically, so that you don’t even notice the money’s gone, and before you know it you’re giving to yourself while also taking care of everything and everyone else.

So years ago, I did just that: I set up an automatic withdrawal from my checking to my savings every month. And I never even notice that the money has transferred, I just go along with life, and in the meantime, my savings have started to accumulate. I thought about that recently and realized – why haven’t I been applying that same philosophy to my time?  Instead of trying to find time to spend after it’s been frittered away all week to everything else, why don’t I pay myself first?

Now, the first thing I’ll do when I wake up, regardless of what’s on tap for the day, is give myself ten to fifteen minutes of writing time.  In that time, I can usually crank out at least a page (being as non-judgmental as possible, of course, and not looking back on the previous pages.) If I can write at least a page a day, that means in thirty days I could theoretically have a completed half-hour pilot. And in ninety days I could have a completed feature film. Or in less than a year I could even have a completed novel.  And I can still get everything else done that I need to in a day.

And let’s face it, I’ve wasted far more than fifteen minutes per day reading my News Feed on Facebook or getting caught up in House Hunters on HGTV.

I’m happy to report that this method works. At least for me.  And I’ve found myself eagerly writing for more than fifteen minutes every day, and writing more than one page without blinking an eye.  At this rate, I’ll be finished with the pilot I’m working on in about a week and then can get started on revisions. I’m also in the process of writing a new TV spec, and a feature, and am making progress on both of those.

By being productive and creative with my writing, I’ve also found myself becoming more productive and creative in other areas of my life too, and the Writing Affective Disorder is at bay. I’ve been finding a balance between keeping my commitments to myself and keeping my commitments to others. A balance between time spent making money and time spent on my art (until one day the two completely coincide).  I’m back to being the Queen of Doing a Thousand Things, and finally some of those include finishing scripts.

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