It’s easier to write every day if you get organized first.

People say that the secret to screenwriting is to “just write.” It’s sound advice, but it’s also convenient advice. It’s right up there with “just be yourself,” “have fun with it,” and “go with your gut,” advice that’s got a grain of truth in it, but that’s also frequently used by lazy people who don’t want to put much thought into the question you’ve asked.

So, while I agree with the advice of “write every day,” I like breaking it down a few steps further.

If you’re going to write every day, you need two things: a place to write, and a place to put the writing you do.

The absolute easiest place to put your writing is in a flexible catchall like Evernote. I like evernote because it’s searchable and flexible, and if you’re ever super bored, you can spend a day curating the ideas that you’ve stored there. But honestly, anything that’s searchable will work. In the age of modern computing, you can save all your documents to one folder and use your computer’s search feature to find keywords or hashtags if you ever want to tie all your fight scenes together.

The other thing you’re going to to need is a place to write. Some writers like to take their laptop out to a Starbucks. If that works for you, more power to you. But most writers have a desk or a workspace. Most beginning writers don’t use this space well. Your desk is your physical locus of control for your projects, the cockpit you sit in as you navigate your craft deep into the subconscious. If you’re using your desk as a big horizontal shelf, it’s not serving it’s intended purpose.

So if you’re stuck on writing every day, spend a day getting organized. Clean everything off your desk, keep it clear so you have a nice clean space to mess up with all the keystrokes, post-its and scrawling you’re going to make in the service of creativity. Get your notes off your gmail drafts, your iNotes, and the post-its on your mirror and put them all into a place that is easy to search.

If you’re serious about writing, you’re going to spend every day of the rest of your life doing it. Make sure you carve out enough space to make that task easy.

Related .

Tasks, Resistance, Pick Up Sticks, Prerequisites.

Many of the tasks we do actually require prerequisite tasks (or, to make that a little more street, and you gotta do thing one before you do thing two, cabron).

I was talking to a client about her process, and we talked about the importance of her desk being clean (thematic upshot, your desk is a focusing tool, not for storing papers – if you’re blocked creatively, clean your desk).  I thought the topic might make for a good blog, so I took some notes and put them in my trusted system.  Later, when I sat down to write,  I recalled that there was a cool quote from Anthony Bourdain’s kitchen confidential that I wanted to use, but which I didn’t have readily available.  The blog would have to wait.

Then I remembered that I had started this same blog three times and each time I’d hit the same stumbling block. I had an emotional attachment to the quote but I didn’t have the book.  As past events are an indicator of future performance, the desk Blog won’t get written until I get that book.  So I have to schedule time to get to a library or bookstore or find a way to immediately bring up tasks relevant to a location when I’m at that location.

I decided to turn this example of a bad process into a teachable moment and/badly needed content for my anemic blog.  Tasks are like pickup sticks.  The lesson I take is that tasks are like pickup sticks ***, and and often the task you want to do is buried under three more tasks that you’re barely aware of.

sticks

So when you’re stuck, in a scene, in a process, or in life, reflect on all the steps the task requires, past present and future. Odds are, the psychology/reluctance that makes you stuck is based on a subconscious knowledge that your past self screwed your present self by skipping a step. So identity the next step and do that instead.

Footnotes:
* This blog is set in a hypothetical, better, world where pirating books isn’t an option. 

** The lack of a desk Blog is holding up a grander idea I have for making a cool flow chart of how to start writing. Procrastination begets procrastination.

***I asked a bunch of 20 something at a mall if they’d heard of pickup sticks. They were all vaguely aware of them. I’m happy for their cultural literacy, but genuinely curious as to how they all had pickup sticks as kids.   They had Nintendo 64’s. Why were they playing with colored wood? ****

**** I’m a little footnote happy this week because I’ve been reading/inspired by Bill Simmons.  That dude loves footnotes.

File your screenplay ideas in a trusted system.

People ask writers where they get their ideas.  The more interesting question is where do you put your ideas, once you have them?   Every writer needs a “trusted system” to file ideas in, a system that enables you to record, collect your ideas and easily recall and deploy them in a context specific way.

That’s a mouthful.  Here are two illustrative anecdotes:

Rodney Dangerfield came to comedy late.  He worked a day job, but when he thought of a joke, he’d write it down and put itn a duffel bag.  When he finally launched his career, he had a duffel bag full of jokes ready to go.

Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris, and Paul Dinello were working on a book, but, in the words of Amy, ” We kept coming up with funny [stuff for STRANGERS WITH CANDY protagonist Jerri Blank] to say, so it would go into a file, and by the end of the book, Paul opened the file and there was all this Blank stuff.” That file became the STRANGERS WITH CANDY movie.

If you’re working on Project A, you’ll have ideas for Projects B-through-Z, but you don’t have room in your short-term memory for more than a handful of ideas.     So you need to file these tangential concepts somewhere, and keep that unearthed gold from getting buried again.

THE SPECIFICS OF YOUR FILING SYSTEM DON’T MATTER SO LONG AS YOU USE IT AND TRUST IT.

1) Analog Files  – For Luddites, this is the way to go.  If you have an idea, write it on a piece of paper, drop it in the relevant file (sample folders: project a, random jokes, random scenes, etc).  Most writers I’ve met are terrible at maintaining file cabinets, and file cabinets are rarely convenient to your workspace.  If you must do this, I recommend putting all your active files in a box, one that’s at arms reach from your desk.

2) Master Document (or Spreadsheet)  – It’s called “word processing for a reason.”  You can search, copy, paste, and shuffle the words around till doomsday morning, and you can make it into a “database” by hash tagging ideas (i.e. Act three idea – love interest turns on hero, turns over tape to corrupt cop <#copStory><#thirdAct><#plotTwist> (the “#” symbol makes it easy to search the document).  If you store your data this way, searching is a breeze, and you do’t have to worry about your software going out of date.

3) Database – Just as the file cabinet was king of the 70’s, and the Word document was king of the 90’s, the database in the king of the now.  The big advantage of databases is that you can store lots of types of information (pictures, files, audio clips) and you can tag one item for multiple projects.  I use Evernote, which merits a blog post on its own.

By using your system wisely, you’ll make your mind exponentially more agile and ensure that every sentence you write adds value to your projects and your life.