Where the hell is my muse?
I wasn’t thinking that my first post on Medium would be about my writing schedule. I’ve long thought of “moving” Hollywood Bound and Down over from its present location on Blogger (where I never post anymore) to here but have been busy and it was always pushed to later. (I have no interested in migrating all my old posts though if someone knows how to easily do that it would be much appreciated).
That said, posting about my writing schedule seems a fitting start for what I hope to be many more post about the creative process behind filmmaking. Mostly, I’ve been trying to figure out what to say and the chaos of moving from Los Angeles to New York has finally given way to silence and reflection that makes figuring out what to say possible.
I’ve spent the last couple weeks trying to write and getting nowhere. I’ve half heartedly pecked at the keys or written longhand in a notebook while thinking about building things and the trail system I want to create around my house. I spent time researching and reading books for the project I was trying to write but I eventually realized I was just stalling.
I knew that I need to make change if I want to going to do this. I had been reading ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King (highly recommend if you haven’t read it) and, as I assume its supposed to do, it inspired me. There were several things I knew I needed to do beyond writing: get healthy with daily workouts, take my son to school, meditate (which I hadn’t done in a while), and enjoy my coffee on my deck listening to the wind in the trees (because if you have that available to you why wouldn’t do something like that?). To do all this and write and keep myself honest about it I needed a schedule. So I created one and I put it on every weekday in my calendar (I have a 3 1/2 year old and 4 acres of property, so weekends are playtime for both of us). And for the past two days (a small but significant accomplishment) I’ve stuck to it.
I feel healthier. I feel happier. Calmer and more at peace. And I think I’m doing some pretty good writing: twenty-one first draft pages on a new script.
Here’s my schedule:
6–6:15am: Wake up, drink water and eat a banana, throw on some clothes.
6:15–7:00am: Take my dog for a walk.
7–7:10am: Make coffee (french press).
7:10–7:20am: Meditate. I use Headspace on my phone. It’s amazing and I highly recommend it.
7:20–8am: Journal. I write about anything and everything. My dreams, how the previous day’s writing went, how I feel, whatever pops into my head. If I feel done, I sit on my deck and listen to the wind and drink my coffee until 8am rolls around.
8— 8:30am: Drive my son to school. Usually takes about 30 minutes.
8:30–9am: Cook and eat breakfast. While eating breakfast I do something most productivity experts say you shouldn’t do: I look at email, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Here’s why: I found that if I didn’t, I would spend my writing time thinking about looking at them and treating it like a reward. Instead, I just get it out of the way in about five minutes, save anything that requires a response for later and forget about it.
9am-12pm: Writing time. I close the door to my office, light a candle, turn on Freedom, which blocks all websites on my computer and apps on my phone, flip on whatever the writing soundtrack is that day and I dive in. I leave my iPad available in case I need to do quick research (it doesn’t have any social media apps or email on it), I have whatever materials around me that I need and I sit there and type. I blink once, an hour has passed; twice, another hour; and before I know it, it’s noon and I’m done for the day. So far, for the past two days, I’ve stopped at noon and haven’t felt the need to keep going. I suppose I could if I were on a roll but I’d honestly rather jot down what‘s next and save it for the following day as a head start (nothing better than knowing exactly what you need to do as you begin writing each day).
When writing a script I almost never outline. I have a simple beat sheet, I have lots of notes, but I’ve found I actually prefer the process of discovery. I don’t like having too much of it mapped out. Sometimes, instead of typing, I’ll write long hand in a notebook what it is I want to write. Something like:
“Okay, so at this point, Sandra has met Alex but we know she doesn’t like him. What’s going to change her mind? Oh, what if this happens…”
And I sort of write it and test it out in the notebook and if it feels good I’ll type it up. In a weird way, this feels easier to me than trying to write in script format. Instead, I make it a conversation with myself and this seems to lead to breakthroughs. Sometimes I’ll back and forth from notebook to computer throughout the writing time. Other times, I’ll write out the plot of the next ten pages in the notebook and then expand it in the script on my computer.
12–1pm: Workout. I don’t do anything crazy but I realized long ago that a sedentary lifestyle isn’t really for me so I try to do what I can. My wife built a home gym in our garage (because she is crazy) which excuses difficult and unconvincing.
1–2pm: Make and eat lunch. Usually, I’ll read a book while I’m eating. Non-fiction since, per Tim Ferris, I save fiction for the evenings.
2–5pm: This is my free time and almost never involves writing (though I can imagine using this time if I have multiple projects going on). I use it for errands, building things in my garage, working in the yard, chopping wood (one of my favorite things to do) or lounging around reading. I use it for my hobbies, which as I note below, lets the writing happen in the background while I focus on something else.
5pm: Pick up my son from school.
5:30–7pm: Prep, cook and eat dinner as a family. Always.
7–7:30pm: While my wife gets our son ready for bed I try to get dishes clean and put away. I hate it, it’s the worst thing having to clean up dishes after you cook but I’ve long ago realize that I hate a messy kitchen. So I soldier up and get it done.
8–10pm: Read a book, preferably fiction, or sometimes watch a movie or show. When we moved, my wife and I ditched cable (finally) and never looked back. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot but sometimes, if we’re into a show, we’ll watch that in bed on the iPad. I use to stay up later, sometimes till midnight, but getting up at 6am doesn’t allow for that, so I try to go bed at 10 and so far have made it happen. I also try to limit screen time to help with sleep which is why lately I’ve been reading more than watching.
Then I wake up and start all over again. It works for me because for the most part, my muse knows when to show up (9am — 12pm) and writing doesn’t consume my whole day (which is great when you’re on a roll and the worst thing ever if you’re not).
As we all know, everyone is different and I hardly expect this schedule to work for you but maybe the point is you need a schedule, whatever it is — some hard and fast times when you’re writing and when you’re not. And when you’re not, you need to stop and do something else. Find a hobby, get out of the house, do a sport, do something that let’s your mind move your writing from the foreground to the background, where it can do its work.
If you’re looking for more inspiration regarding a writing routine, I highly recommend Writing Routines and ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King.
Drop me a line if you have any questions.