Jump-Starting Your Next Creative Project With 5 Intentional Strategies I Learned from a Successful Screenwriter
The Man I Loved Taught Me When Creativity Fizzles, it’s Not Forever
About a month ago my creativity fizzled. It went to the darkest place imaginable… the black hole of “I’m not good enough.”
My creative war began after an article I posted didn’t receive the views I’d come to expect. I hated myself for having those thoughts. Was it really the views? Was that the source of my motivation?
There was a time when I simply wrote because it soothed me. It was my way of healing from a long list of losses and disappointments. I missed the solitude of writing; not so much the intimacy of my writing “nest,” but the fact I wrote for my eyes only.
I decided not to write again for a while, days actually, and life changed. My mind had no place to go… lost, wandering, and wondering what I would do with my thoughts if I couldn’t write them down.
So much of my writing is tied to my well-being. It centers me, gives me a buzz, and a huge amount of satisfaction, and I’m not referring to the number of “views” I get on a blog. I’m referring to the actual feelings I have when I sit in the chair and do the work.
I’ve written in a journal my whole life. It was a private, safe place to compartmentalize my thoughts. No one could judge me or react… they were thoughts that were mine to keep, and it was enough.
I realized I allowed my desire for an audience to be more important than what I was writing.
And that’s what I had to get back to… the love of doing something I desired with all my heart.
Steven Pressfield has crafted some of the most significant commentaries on writing and the creative struggle along with novels and screenplays. Whenever I’m at a creative impasse, his books take me by the hand and urge me to fall in love again.
Are you stuck, blocked, stalled, out of fuel? Pressfield says you’re not alone. Often times it is not your creative flow that’s blocked, but the resistance to doing the work. He says resistance is a normal and natural reaction to living a creative life.
Your creativity is there inside of you. It’s hanging around in the form of a whisper, recurring thoughts, even jealousy when you see other people doing what you wish you could do.
“Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what resistance is… The resistance you feel is a force of nature.” -Steven Pressfield
The Shadow Career
For the longest time, I kept finding other things that filled the creative longing. Pressfield calls it the “shadow career.” I did everything BUT write. I made jewelry, planted a garden, practiced calligraphy, studied acting. It was all enjoyable and fulfilled some part of creative yearning, but I still felt restless. It would pop up when I wrote in my journal, and that little voice kept taunting me to write more.
The birth of my daughter was the catalyst for me to commit to writing on my own. She was born with a birth defect and my desire to write her a story far outweighed my resistance. I wanted to have a tool of encouragement, a book that strengthened her self-esteem. I thought her own fairytale might be just the thing.
I didn’t foresee it becoming as far-reaching as it did. It was published just before my daughter started kindergarten. The book was featured in schools and in media, raising awareness about children with special needs. And that one book gave me the confidence to continue as a writer.
If you commit to the discovery process, one thing will lead to another and another. Then, one day you’ll wake up knowing what your true direction is. You’ll recognize the flutter of excitement when the sun rises and it’s the joy you feel when you realize you get to spend another day doing what you love.
If you don’t do it now, your longing will exist forever. It will take up residence in your mind in the form of a small voice that says… put it off another day; it’s not that important.
But that mind chatter won’t leave you alone, it will torment you and turn ugly with thoughts like, see… you’re not good enough or you’d be doing it.
It chips away at your self-esteem, your confidence, and destroys your desire to fulfill your potential. It affects all areas of your life, undermining and seeding you with doubts about your ability to be successful at all.
I procrastinated forever about writing my 4th book. I couldn’t face the pain. My heart kept calling, and I could hear my son’s voice saying, do it, Mom.
That voice was everything to me. It was my beautiful son who lived 16 years, 3 months, and 10 days on this planet. His life was suddenly ripped away by meningitis, and I had nothing left of him but his things, sweet memories, and overwhelming sorrow.
It was a long and arduous journey of self-discovery in rebuilding my life. Much of it was documented in my journal. I remember the only thing I could write on the day he died, “My son died, and my life will never be the same.”
I couldn’t imagine life after that, but each day I wrote more until I began to see the pattern of healing that was taking place within the pages of my journal. It was remarkable to look back and see how far I’d come. I was living proof there’s life after loss, and I needed to write a book about it.
I stopped avoiding it. I returned to the success strategies I learned from the man I loved. My husband, David Peckinpah, was a professional screenwriter and Emmy nominated producer for television and movies. He was my inspiration and proof that you can have a wonderful life when you fulfill your creative destiny. Here are the ways he kept focussed:
1. The Intentional Mindset
The key to successful creation is to make it important enough to think of it as non-negotiable.
David didn’t wait for inspiration, he planned for it. If he didn’t write, there wouldn’t be anything for the actors, directors, and crew to film. Waiting for inspiration was not an option.
He used growth mindset strategies before the term was even popularized by the work of Carol Dweck, Stanford University Psychologist in her book Mindset, The New Psychology of Success.
“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point.”
And that’s exactly what David believed…. hard work and dedication. David banked everything on becoming a successful writer. He never gave himself any other option, and he showed up to do the work every single day.
I was fortunate to be David’s editor and collaborator on everything he wrote. We had a creative partnership! We lived and breathed the entertainment business as though it had already happened until one day it did… he sold a script to Disney and had a long career until the day he died.
2. The Ritual
David started each writing day with a cup of coffee and then read a few chapters of a book. He loved westerns, mysteries, and biographies. He often wrote a letter to someone, usually handwritten. The process of handwriting opens the flow of the mind-body connection.
Once he finished, he was ready to start writing. He never went home until dinnertime, even if writing wasn’t going well.
He considered a “good day” one where he completed 10 pages of a script. Even if it needed massive rewrites, it was still a creative accomplishment.
All of these tactics composed what I call, “A Ritual.” The steps were consistent and reliable to set the platform for writing every single day.
The key to making your artistic expression come alive is to craft a ritual and a strategy to make it happen.
Make your creative time as necessary as showing up to work on time. Build creativity into your week. Establish spots in your calendar that are devoted to the process of your art.
This is the page of my planner showing how I schedule writing “appointments.”
3. The Declaration
David called himself a writer from the moment he had the desire and wrote his first page. It took me a lot longer to feel comfortable labeling myself a writer. It wasn’t until I started acting like a writer that I felt I’d earned the title.
If you struggle with declaring yourself a writer, a chef, an artist… whatever your expression of creativity is… you’re not alone.
Studies show that 70% of the population feel like a fraud at one time or another and tend to downplay their gifts and accomplishments. I wrote a blog about it: Stop Feeling Like an Imposter… How to Gain Confidence and Credibility.
Your declaration should also include your intentions for the completion of your project. Your intentions drive you to your objective… to be a writer, a photographer… whatever your heart desires.
I write because it helps me make sense of my life. I ask words to tell me things I don’t know about myself… I look to it as an inner GPS, guiding me to a greater understanding of myself, and others.
Writing healed me through my greatest sorrow and lifted me up when I thought I could only look down. It makes me more alive and brings me hope for the future.
My words shape my life. I ask and it suddenly comes out the end of my pen. Words have incredible power!
I must always write. Always. (allowing for an occasional fit).
“Our job in this life is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.” ― Steven Pressfield
5. Don’t wait for inspiration… plan for it.
My fitful writing hiatus of a few weeks ago lasted just 4 days, yet it seemed like forever. I barely survived. I went back to the basics that my husband taught me: schedule your work, adjust your mindset, establish a ritual, and declare your intentions, and know why you’re doing it.
I didn’t wait for inspiration, I planned for it.
The entertainment business is an up and down life. Sometimes your TV shows get canceled or a script you worked on for a year wouldn’t get made (even though there were 13 page-one rewrites). In the case of my husband’s Disney movie, it didn’t get made for 10 years!
Sometimes I’d feel discouraged, but then David would give me a hug and say, “Don’t worry, Sandy. If we just sit down and do the work, it can all change in a day.”
And it always did.
Thanks for reading! If you’ve got creativity on your mind… I have a complimentary sample for you. A short ebook on how to establish some simple habits to set your creativity on fire: How to Develop the Creative Mindset.
**Previously published on Medium**