Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tip: Play

the thing is, if there's a problem in my life it's up to me to fix it. And I'm talking about writing here: if I'm not happy with what I'm writing, or with the amount of writing I'm getting done, I'll have to change my life in order to get happy.

I realised this somewhere around Day 2000 of writing The Limit. I was 5 and a 1/2 years into writing my script (it turns out that criticism of my previous film + perfectionism + no job = a pathological number of rewrites), when I had to acknowledge to myself that I was stuck, I was bored, and my brain wasn't fresh.

That's important: my brain wasn't fresh. While my writing was varying in its usual way (*), my mind had been focused on writing the same intense dark thriller material for way too long.

(*) My writing schedule varies between procrastination, not flowing, insights, and enjoyment, and then back to procrastination again once I feel I've done enough to rest on my laurels, or that I've hit a benchmark where I can tell myself I'll stop writing for a while so I can come back and look at the script with 'fresh eyes'.

So, that was the problem: non-fresh brain. It was up to me to find a solution and fix it.

Thinking about it, I realised that all my writing was being done under pressure. Pressure I was putting on myself. I certainly wasn't being playful. I wasn't writing just for the sake of it. I wasn't taking a look at any of the many, many ideas that were building up in my filing cabinet as I struggled to finish The Limit.

So, I created something I call "PLAY".(*) I decided that every two months, after working on a single project, I would take two weeks off. During those two weeks, I could PLAY with any project I wanted. Anything that inspired me or that took my fancy. I'd pull out my folders of TV ideas, skills I wanted to learn, blog posts I wanted to write. ... And then I'd just do it.

(*) Yes, for some reason the all-caps are important to me.

I'm in the middle of PLAY right now, and I'm working on "a game to change the world", and a pitch for a TV show (that I'm also going to use to learn a layout programme with). I've also varied when I PLAY a little: it turns out that 2 months was just a little bit too long. I'm now on a six-weeks of focused writing followed by 2 weeks of PLAY, which seems to be a better ratio for me.

PLAY has changed my approach to writing. It's a reward for hard, focused work. It's an opportunity to get inspired about stuff I might do next. It takes the pressure off me to create 'good' stuff, and instead lets me explore.

So there you go. Identify a problem in your life. Try a solution. Don't be afraid to make radical changes. This why I admire Matt trying out different schedules; and Jenni for taking Wednesdays off to write. It's the sort of stuff we need to do; as writers, we need to create a life that works for us (and the people around us).

(This was previously posted on Jenni's blog.)
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