How I Stayed Focused on My Screenplay Tips for avoiding time-sinks and black holes of YouTube, bookkeeping and other distractions
Jessica M. Thompson is an Australian filmmaker who moved to Brooklyn over four years ago and founded Stedfast Productions, a collective of visual storytellers. Jessica looks forward to making her feature directorial debut with The Light of The Moon, which she’s currently crowdfunding through Seed&Spark.
When I started writing my latest feature film, The Light of The Moon, I knew that I would have to master self-discipline to see it through to fruition. I did not want to become one of those writer/directors who has a bunch of half-finished projects lying around and who talks about all the exciting ideas they have, but produces no “real” work. I did not want to be all smoke, no fire.
You don’t want to write like a mathematician, you want to write like a free-spirited hippie.
We have all been there in one way or another. Staring at the blank document with the keys begging you to start punching away. Or looking at the hours upon hours of dailies footage sitting in an editing bin, and your mind just begins to stray to those all-important thoughts, like: “I wonder what Jon Stewart spoke about last night? Surely, it’s politically incorrect if I don’t know these things.” Or “I need to watch a recap of “Game of Thrones” Season 4 in order to prep for the Season 5 premiere in a month.” Thus, the never-ending YouTube-rabbit-hole vortex begins. Five minutes later you look up only to find that four hours have passed, your next script has no more than a title page with today’s date on it, and you’re really effing hungry.
I founded Stedfast Productions and have been working as a professional freelance editor, writer, director and producer for over five years now and it has always been a challenge to find self-motivation. But lo and behold, I managed to master it this time around while working on the script, development and crowdfunding campaign for The Light of The Moon!
Here are some tools I’ve learned:
1) Get your admin out of the way first.
Despite the above musings, I am typically more of a “productive procrastinator.” I get sidetracked by answering emails, cleaning my apartment, reorganizing my QuickBooks accounts, or cooking a gourmet lunch. But hang on, that isn’t procrastination, because they’re all things that need to get done, right?
They are all just ways for you to avoid throwing your heart and soul on the page and making what could be your life’s masterpiece. They come about most likely out of a fear of failing. Or succeeding. Or because your mother didn’t hug you enough as a child. Whatever it is, you’re making excuses.
So I simply made a rule: Before lunch, you can do all the administrative stuff you want.
Go to town! You can invoice clients, pay your bills, alphabetize your bookshelf, and color-code your spice rack, but after you eat lunch, it is 100% time to be creative and ONLY creative. This gives you a sense of accomplishment early on in the day, because you got your entire list of admin tasks out of the way—good for you! Plus, it allows you to move seamlessly from your logical brain to your creative brain, without them crossing into each other’s territory.
We all produce much more quality art when we allow the creativity to flow and not be hindered by the part of our brain that wants to balance our bank accounts. Because you don’t want to write prose like a mathematician, you want to write like a free-spirited hippie discovering the world for the first time.
2) Meditate for 30 seconds.
Not 30 minutes, not 15 minutes, not even five minutes—just 30 seconds. You might think (like I initially did when I first tried) that you’re terrible at meditation, that you can’t do it for one minute without thinking about your grocery list. But trust me, you’re not terrible at it—you just have to start doing it for only 30 seconds instead.
Meditation is simply focusing and thinking about one thing and one thing only. We are meditating each time we say we are “in the zone.” When you’re stuck or clouded by too many thoughts, all you have to do is pick a small detail in your room or the cafe where you’re working—it could be the surface of your mug of coffee or a nail in your desk or the pen in front of you—and focus hard on that object. Describe it to yourself in infinitesimal detail: the color, the texture, the way the light hits it, the lip marks on the side of the mug, the fingerprint smudge. List in your mind every little detail you can for 30 seconds and then turn back to what you were working on and start creating. You will immediately find that you have new ideas and are “in the zone” again. You have just successfully meditated and trained your brain to focus on just one thing at a time.
3) Get re-inspired.
When you’ve finished your lunch and are ready to plow into your creative journey for the afternoon, or say if you have writer’s block, or are just feeling unmotivated that day, all you need to do is watch, listen or read something that you find inspiring—something that expands your mind and gets the creative energy flowing. I have the poem “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann above my desk and I read it often, or another favorite is Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech to The University of the Arts in 2012.
There’s nothing like witnessing another person’s work of genius, integrity and art to help you shift gears into creating your own piece of magic.
Now go forth and create!
All photos and images courtesy of Jessica M. Thompson.
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