First Draft: Don’t Beat Yourself Up for Downtime From Screenwriting

In partnership with Creative Screenwriting and ScreenCraft, “First Draft” is a series on everything to do with screenwriting.


I used to have a big problem whenever I didn’t write something—anything—for even a single day. Not writing caused me major anxiety and stress, so much so that if I tried to force myself to write something—anything—I’d freeze the minute my fingers touched the keyboard. Performance anxiety overwhelmed me, doubt crept in, and then I’d stress out over being stressed out, and that vicious cycle would get me nowhere near my page count.

At the end of the day, I’d feel like a big fat failure, suffering from major FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) syndrome, fearing that all the other writers out there were doing more than me. Being more. Having more. They were zipping through first drafts and edits, selling pilots, getting green-lit, and basically just being more successful humans than I was.

Or so I thought.

Here’s what I’ve discovered, after suffering from many a meltdown:

Not writing for an extended amount of time is, actually, extremely valuable. In fact, downtime is downright necessary for a creative person.

Why?

1. It Gives You Perspective

Stephen King says, “A manuscript should take a season to write.” That’s why he will put a physical copy of his latest work in a drawer and forget about it for at least six weeks. Why? Because it gives you space between you and your writing. There’s no sense in going over and over that script that’s been giving you a headache all week.

BLOCK

Sometimes that major block you’ve been encountering is a sign that it’s time to step away from the computer and focus on something else completely different. This will help your mind percolate additional ideas and flesh them out more.

On the other hand, you might return to your story, only to realize that it actually wasn’t that great. When you take a break from something that you’ve been holding onto so tightly, it can help you finally release it so you can move onto something better.

2. You Get to Live Life

One of the greatest gifts of being a writer is that we live to write, and (hopefully) write to live. Sometimes it becomes difficult to remember the first part because of deadlines, life stresses and responsibilities, but living your life to the fullest is essential to your writing. Trying new things, traveling, exploring, forming relationships—even dissolving relationships—makes you a better writer.

ROAD-TRIP

Because even when you’re on a road trip with a pal, or going to that dreaded dinner party with college alumni, your writer’s subconscious is storing and creating new ideas that will only help your writing.

3. It Will Make You More Productive

Mental fatigue is a writer’s worst nightmare. Sitting at your computer, forcing yourself to write something—anything!—while feeling physically tired and creatively depleted will only extinguish your creative spark, and probably make you sick in the process.

Instead, consider taking a brief sabbatical from your work. According to a study referenced by Entrepreneur.com, “A total of 61 percent of surveyed employees viewed time off as improving physical health, while 55 percent said it improves mental health.” Disconnecting from writing—whether it’s for an hour, an afternoon or even a week—can do wonders for your mindset and energy levels.

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Indulge in another creative activity, dive into meditation, or pack up and escape to the mountains for a weekend. Afterwards, when you return to your script, you’ll feel revitalized and raring to go.

So, if you’re feeling stuck, tired or uninspired, don’t be afraid to stop writing. Turn off the computer, step outside and connect with the other three-dimensional people. Your page count will thank you.

Now when I’m tired or uninspired, and I just don’t feel the urge to write, I simply don’t. And I don’t even feel guilty about it! MM

This post originally appeared on the blog ScreenCraft. ScreenCraft is dedicated to helping screenwriters and filmmakers succeed through educational events, screenwriting competitions and the annual ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship program, connecting screenwriters with agents, managers and Hollywood producers. Follow ScreenCraft on TwitterFacebook, and YouTube.

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