So you’re hanging out online, maybe on Twitter or Facebook, and you see someone comment about selling their spec script or working with a new producer. Your heart sinks. When is it going to be your turn? You’re working so hard, but you’re not getting anywhere. You sink into a pit of despair and find yourself unable to write.
Coach Martha Beck calls this “compare and despair,” when we get so caught up in seeing other people’s successes as some kind of measure of our own lack — failure even — and allow it to put us into a tail spin.
And as artists we can be emotional creatures. We can be deeply affected by things in a negative way if we allow ourselves to be. But when we compare ourselves to others and find ourselves lacking, we are the ones that lose.
What if instead we focused on the possibilities before us?
Of course we’ll all have tough days, and there will be moments when we can’t see our way through to brighter pastures, but we can learn to remind ourselves of other truths so we can get out of compare and despair mode as quickly as possible.
What to Do When You’re Stuck
1. Turn off the feed.
When you really can’t see the forest for the trees and everyone seems to be better off than you are, just turn off the feed. Shut off your cell phone, go on a media fast, and turn off the social media. We can bounce back fairly quickly when we can get out of the insular thinking pattern that seems to be reinforced by online minutia.
Good tricks for shifting out of that myopic perspective into the bigger picture are taking a walk outside, looking at the sky, lying on your back and looking at the ceiling (or the sky if you can get outside), or reading or watching something that changes your perspective (TED talks are great for this).
In other words? Get out of your head.
2. Know that with comparison, someone always loses.
It can be helpful to remind yourself that when you indulge in comparison, someone always loses. And we don’t want that person to be you. In a moment we’ll talk about ways you can start to break the habit of comparison, but for now, just try reminding yourself that it’s your own thinking creating this despair and that you have the power to change it.
3. Give yourself time to recover.
I do want you to learn how to keep yourself from slipping into this sort of funk, but let’s face it, it happens to the best of us. When it does, don’t beat yourself up. Do some self-nourishing and creative well filling kinds of activities and get back on the horse as soon as you can.
Then, when you’re able to do so, try on some new perspectives.
Find a New Outlook
1. Be happy about the successes of other writers
One of the things I loved about ScreenwritingU‘s ProSeries is founder Hal Croasmun’s unyeilding focus not only on the craft of screenwriting, but also on the importance of the mindset behind it. He emphasizes repeatedly throughout his ProSeries courses the importance of being happy for other writers when they succeed.
Hal shares, “There are so many reasons to celebrate another writer’s success. First, it communicates to your subconscious that ‘success is good!’ You need that as part of your philosophy for you to have a similar successes. Second, celebrating their success is a great way to bring them into your network. And third, they deserve the success, just as you will when it happens for you. So be happy for them.”
2. Remember that you have a choice.
The bottom line is that you have a choice. You get to choose how you’re going to respond to someone’s success. It may not be an easy choice to make, but it’s worth it.
You can decide to see another writer’s success as a door closing: “Oh man, there goes another chance I didn’t get.”
Or you can decide that if someone can get through a door, there might just be an opening for you too: “Wow, if she can do it, I bet I can too!”
When you teach yourself to respond positively to other people being successful and see their successes as a possibilities for you, you train yourself to be persistent, something we all need in this industry.
3. Adopt a “growth-mindset.”
Professor of Psychology Carol Dweck and author of the book Mindset, teaches about the difference between having a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset.” People who have a fixed mindset are much more likely to fall into compare and despair, because they tend to see everything as a test they either pass or fail. Writers with a growth mindset will instead ask themselves, “What can I learn from this? How can I grow in response to this?”
When you see another writer succeeding, try putting yourself in their shoes and see what you can learn from them. What steps did they take? What was their mindset? What can you learn from them to springboard yourself forward?
4. Reframe how you think of mistakes and failures.
I listened to Brian Johnson of the En*theos Academy recently talking about how he’s learned from minister Michael Beckwith to think of mistakes as “mis-takes” — just like we would think of shooting multiple takes for a movie. We don’t expect to shoot a whole movie from start to finish in one shot, right? We expect to shoot multiple takes of each scene let alone the whole movie.
So start changing how you’re thinking of your career and your path as either a “success” or a “failure” and start thinking of it as an ever-evolving, ever-unfolding process. If you were done, you’d be dead. So keep going. Do better next time with your next take. What did you learn? How can you make it better?
5. Remember why you’re here.
As part of your pathway back into the bigger picture, remind yourself of who you are. If you don’t have mission statement for the Big Why behind your writing, get one. Know what’s important to you about writing, why it drives you, and what you care about.
Then remind yourself that your mission and your passion has absolutely nothing to do with anyone else. There’s always room for great work in the world, and if you let yourself get caught up into thinking that someone else doing well is somehow closing a door for you, you are making a big mistake.
On the days I get lost, I remind myself of people like Joss Whedon, who is passionate about making stories that people love and who has overcome setback after setback to see himself making the 3rd highest grossing movie (The Avengers).
I’m also reminded of George Lucas in the early days of Star Wars who faced endless obstacles from others in terms of doubts of his vision along with difficult budget and funding issues.
Both of these men were so committed to their visions and to their work that they let nothing stop them. So try to remember to keep your eyes on your own paper and do the work YOU were put here to do. The rest is none of your business.
6. Use your envy as a road map.
The other day I saw someone raging on Facebook about how much they hated people who were jealous and believed that it is such a base emotion. I couldn’t disagree more. I believe that envy is like a powerful signpost that says, “I want that too.”
The distinction comes in when we decide what to do with the information our envy provides. We can stew over it, or we can go out and get that success we want for ourselves.
Which one are you going to choose?
Thanks for reading.
- Writers on the Verge: Stories from the Front Lines
- Get a New Story: Set Smarter Writing Goals
- Balls of Steel: ‘American Pickers’ Road to TV with Show Creator Mike Wolfe Part 1
Tools to Help:
- Sell My Script Course – Screenwriters University
- Simple Strategies for Building a Successful Screenwriting Career
- Successful Television Writing