Get Real: What’s Your Excuse?

David Garrett has written feature films for DreamWorks, Disney, Sony, Universal, and Paramount.

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If you’ve watched the video for Robin Thicke’s monster hit Blurred Lines, then you’ve seen rapper T.I. gyrating gleefully amongst a bevy of scantily-clad models.

What you might not know is that T.I. previously went to prison on federal weapons charges. Something about an illegal collection of deadly machine guns. Anyway, before going to jail, T.I. said, “While I’m there, I’ll be able to strategize my comeback.” He said that he would not “just be sitting still doing nothing.”

making excuses_1So, while serving 11 months in the clink, T.I. wrote, recorded and released his seventh Grammy-nominated studio album, No Mercy. In addition, he authored two best-selling novels, created a TV show, produced a feature film, and immediately upon release—rescued a suicidal man on top of a high-rise building. 

My question:  How many scripts did you write while T.I. was behind bars?

“Look dude,” you respond, “I could write a pilot a week if I was in the state pen and had all that free time.  Heck, I could probably do even more if they put me in solitary confinement.  But in real life I have this thing called a full-time job.”

Okay, then meet Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of the multi-platinum-selling heavy metal band “Iron Maiden.” Not only is Bruce a rock star, he is a world-renowned aviator who regularly pilots the band’s chartered Boeing 757 while on tour. In his spare time, Bruce runs an aviation company, designs high-end fencing equipment and hosts a series for BBC.

But what does Bruce like to do most? He likes to write! During a 1987 tour, Dickinson authored his first novel, explaining, “I always fancied the idea of writing a book, and I was bored on the road, so I sat down and started at page one!” He added, “I wrote it the same way I write a song. Write the first note, and don’t know what the second one’s going to be. About halfway through you suddenly realize what it is you’re writing about.”

Bruce later tried screenwriting, co-authoring the feature film Chemical Wedding with director Julian Doyle.  Dickinson also acted in the movie and composed the soundtrack. I also heard a rumor he catered the wrap party—in his spare time.

“Listen here, smart-ass,” you say, “I’m not a felon, and I’m not a rock star. I’m just a regular person with responsibilities—kids, dogs, a pushy boss, in-laws, bills, parakeets, ballet classes, etc.  I want to write—it’s just too overwhelming to think about finishing a pilot or screenplay when I have all this other stuff to deal with.”

First off, I’ll call your parakeets and raise you two kidney stones and a hernia.  Okay, TMI, but the bottom-line is that every writer has a valid reason that s/he can’t write.  But, honestly, isn’t a “valid reason” simply another “excuse”?

Personal trainer Maria Kang recently became famous on the interwebs by posting a photo of her well-toned body only months after giving birth.  Apparently, Ms. Kang found time to exercise vigorously even though she had been busy raising three toddlers.  Ms. Kang titled the photo “What’s Your Excuse?”

That photo made me think about whether I had been properly exercising another muscle—my writing muscle. I realized that I had been making up excuses for my lack of productivity. While they might have been valid, they were still excuses.

What’s your excuse? It’s probably the same as most of us: I don’t have time.

Think about this: if you just wrote one page a day, you would have a full screenplay in about three months.  That’s four screenplays a year. And 40 in a decade! Forty! Double that if you’re writing one-hour pilots.  Quadruple if you’re doing half-hours!

As a writer, the only thing you have control over is the amount of pages you put out. You can’t control the market, what other people are writing, or whether an agent is going to like your script. All you can do is produce more pages. But, you have to start with that first page. Borrowing from Nancy Pelosi’s infamous Obamacare line, “You need to write the script to find out what’s in it.”

So what’s stopping you?  Nine out of ten times it’s fear. Fear of writing something bad. Fear of not being able to finish. Fear of actually finishing and having someone read—and judge—your work. We’ve all experienced it.

There’s no simple solution, but I have utilized some advice I got when I was a young actor.  I was not a good actor, mind you, so my teacher told me, “If you can’t act well, then act fast.”  At least don’t give people time to think about how bad you are. And you don’t have time to judge yourself. You think I’m joking, but it’s a tried and true method utilized by the experts!

We’ve all taken part in “Binge Watching” our favorite TV shows. But have you ever taken part in “Binge Writing”? That’s where you sit down and just start vomiting out everything you can without mulling it over.  I’m not suggesting that you put out bad writing; I’m saying that you need to get it down without judging it.

Just assume the first draft is going to be lame to get over the fear of it being lame. You can edit later to your heart’s desire. But you can’t edit what you don’t have. So, do it right now. Binge Write! And let me know how it turns out.

Watch ScriptMag Editor Share Her Advice on Facing Your Writing Fears

Jeanne Veillette Bowerman shares her personal story of facing her fears in order to propel her writing and her career. Click on the image below to watch Jeanne’s advice. In just eight minutes, you might have a whole new perspective.


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The Coffee Break Screenwriter

2 thoughts on “Get Real: What’s Your Excuse?

  1. georgehaughton

    Every spring, for the past 10+ years, I reread two of Steven Pressfield’s books–The War of Art and Do The Work. If there’s something you want to do with your life, be it novel-writing, screenwriting, songwriting, juggling, exercising, whatever, you have to beat this devil called RESISTANCE. Read the books (which only take about an hour each) and you’ll understand where David Garrett is coming from.

    I just finished reading a novel called Evil’s Aviary by Robert Campbell, and THAT’S how I want to write. I’m reading The War of Art right now, and I’m ready to sit down and put that first sentence on the paper (or the computer monitor). David inspired me, just as Pressfield and Campbell inspired me. That’s it…gotta go write, now!

  2. Leona Heraty

    Thank you, thank you, thank you David for this right-on-target article! I’ve been making too many excuses that I don’t have time to write my screenplay, and I realize after reading your excellent article that there are no valid excuses. I love your idea of binge writing! Ok, I’m getting back on track today and working on my screenplay; even if it’s one page a day, like you said, you can have a screenplay done in three to four months! Thanks for the much-needed kick in the rumpus! 🙂