We all either secretly or overtly desire to be the kind of writer that can wake up early and write all day, producing dozens and dozens of pages every twelve hours like some kind of screenplay machine. And you know what? Some people can do that (and we hate them). But for the rest of us mere mortals, screenwriting fatigue is a real phenomenon. How can we overcome those times when opening up your computer is the last thing you want to do?
1. Admit when you need a break.
Writers can be extremely driven (if we’re being polite) or obsessive (if we’re being realistic). This results in a reluctance to admit that a pause in writing is absolutely necessary at certain points. If you’re banging your fists on your computer, rereading the same lines over and over again, or bursting into tears every few minutes, consider that a break may well do you some good.
Tip: Remember that giving yourself permission to step away can dramatically improve your writing when you return. It’s important not to view it as a necessary evil to step away, but rather as another tool in your writing arsenal.
2. Get inspired again.
So, you’ve decided to take a break, but you still have the itch to be immersed in screenplays. One option is to read, read, read. Download a whole bunch of screenplays that speak to your current project. Immerse yourself in those worlds, and spark that fire of intensity and passion once again. Give yourself the time to fall in love with storytelling, particularly from those writers whom you love and admire.
Tip: If your city has one, go to a screenplay library and spend the day there. Sometimes sitting with physical copies can make all the difference.
3. Experience nature.
Unless you’re incredibly disciplined, you are one of millions who can’t stop staring at screens, whether it be your screenplay on your computer, texts on your cell phone, or books on your iPad. When you take a break from writing, be sure not to fall into the trap of passing time by clicking on one random thing after another. It does the brain a great deal of good to get fresh air and enjoy the sun, the sky, water, beach and greenery. Get oxygen back into your system to truly find space between you and your project.
Tip: If you can’t get enough of the writing process, listen to inspirational or informative podcasts such as the To Live & Dialogue in LA Podcast while enjoying your natural surroundings.
Sometimes getting outside isn’t an option either due to proximity, weather conditions or financial restraint. Fortunately, meditation is free, and can take place in the comfort of your own home. Genius writer and director David Lynch said: “Meditation is to dive all the way within, beyond thought, to the source of thought and pure consciousness. It enlarges the container, every time you transcend. When you come out, you come out refreshed, filled with energy and enthusiasm for life.” Seems to have served him well?
Tip: Lynch practices Transcendental Meditation, but you aren’t obliged to stick with that. There are many examples of mindfulness meditations online, where someone will guide you through the process if you’re unsure how to proceed. There’s also the Headspace app, which many people find useful.
5. Deconstruct your script.
Finally, if you’re having trouble moving forward but are unwilling to step too far away for too long, then start to deconstruct your script as much as you can. For example, get index cards, and write down every scene on a different card. Write down the characters involved, their objectives, and what happens. Create a “map” of your script using the cards, and then see if any changes become obvious to you, such as one scene appearing in the wrong place, one storyline being interrupted, character motivations not making sense in the order they appear, etc. Another technique is to count how many pages each character appears on, and then evaluate whether these time allocations are appropriate, and what would need to change to give your lead more time, or give less time to secondary characters.
Tip: This works well if you’re struggling to write, but you might also get bogged down in the intricacies of structure with these techniques. If it feels like it’s feeding your fatigue, then stop and use one of the other options in this article.
Matt van Onselen is a South African screenwriter living in Los Angeles and a graduate of the UCLA MFA Screenwriting program. He focuses on comedy writing, but will do anything for money.