Welcome to “Ask the Coach.” As a writing coach, I answer questions from writers about making the work of writing happen, tackling craft, business, and personal questions along the way. (Have a question you’d like answered? Check the details at the end of the article about how to submit one.)
Today I’m addressing a collection of shorter questions.
Here’s our first, about finding your voice as a writer:
“I think I need the most help with networking and finding my voice as a writer. What are some ways to find your voice and churn out script after script?”
Your writer’s voice develops throughout your life, as you become more and more yourself. While that might sound a little odd, once we reach early adulthood, we begin shedding the trappings of family and culture and coming into our own. The courageousness with which we are present on the page, explore the topics we care most about, and write as much as possible will hasten this effort. It’s my belief that writers find themselves on the page, whether through journaling, storytelling, or essay writing. Voice, to me, has to do with style, tone, perspective, and opinion.
As we write, we build confidence in ourselves, which is expressed through our voice on the page. Therefore, to find your voice as a writer, writing itself — frequently — is the best pathway to pursue. As you write, pay attention to your own natural inclinations and tone, and work on being more and more you. What makes you different? What do you do well? How can you do even more?
Bottom line: to find your voice, keep writing, and be you.
Here’s our second question, about keeping the creative juices going:
"I have the concept of my script and my characters broken down but when I'm writing I get stuck at times. What can I do to keep my creative juices going in the process of writing my script?”
When you get stuck with writing, think of it as a temporary setback. Sometimes getting stuck results from having a ton of ideas trying to rush through a bottleneck all at once. Sometimes it’s from self-doubt and fear cropping up. Other times, we’re uncertain about how to proceed at a particular story point. My favorite strategy for all of these is to “write outside the draft.” For me, this can manifest in one of several forms, like writing longhand in my notebook, writing in a separate document on my computer, scrawling a mind map on a large piece of paper, or jotting ideas in the notes app on my phone. Being stuck dissipates often once I see the story from a new angle.
If it’s a question of “creative juices” — which I think of as the “creative well” — it’s valuable to make a practice of keeping the well full. This means pursuing activities that feed, excite, nourish, and inspire you. My favorites include seeing movies (especially at the theater), getting a favorite meal, going to the beach, visiting the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco, traveling, reading, and going to toy and art stores and browsing. These also double as writing rewards. Many fantastic well-filling activities are free or low cost, including watching TED Talks online, getting books and movies from the library, and going for walks in nature. Your task is to find the activities that feed you, and make sure you’re giving them to yourself often.
Together, writing and well-filling are excellent methods to keep your writing practice vibrant.
Here’s our third question, about whether to shift from scripts to books:
“How do I know if I should just ‘give up’ screenwriting and focus only on writing books? I’ve been writing screenplays on and off for 10 years... so tired of all the ‘It’s not ready’ B.S. but I still have many screenplay ideas. Thanks!”
This is a complex question to answer. There’s a lot to consider when evaluating whether to continue pursuing something that hasn’t worked out the way you’d hoped, yet. Allow me to offer some perspectives to consider.
Could this be a question of "yes-and" rather than "either-or"? Are there scripts you’ve written that you’d love to see as books? Many screenwriters I know pursue writing in both forms for the same story. The advantage is that it gives you an opportunity to either pursue publication of your story or to self-publish, either way creating an underlying intellectual property for your script, which could make it more marketable. It also allows you to get your story in front of more eyeballs, which can be satisfying for screenwriters who otherwise rarely have their work widely read. You might adopt this as a general strategy: writing books and scripts hand-in-hand.
And, you might approach book writing as an experiment. You may find you even enjoy it more. And if you don’t, it sounds like you have script ideas to return to.
I’ll leave you with this: As someone who sees writing as a calling, I rather expect you’ll be writing regardless, so it’s up to you to decide which form you love the most. If it’s screenwriting, and you’re determined to pursue it, the next order of business may be revisiting your scripts — hard and annoying as it may be — to see how you can elevate your craft and storytelling skills until you’re hearing the Yes’s you’re seeking.
That’s a Wrap
As writers, we have a lot to navigate, from sorting out who we are and want to be on the page, to getting unstuck and keeping our creativity alive, choosing our creative projects, and more. My intention today is to give you perspectives, tools, and questions to help you keep moving forward as a writer, and I hope I’ve succeeded in this today.
Thank you for submitting your questions, and until next time, happy writing!
Submit your question to be answered anonymously via my online form here or send an email directly to email@example.com. Look for answers to selected questions in my monthly “Ask the Coach” column on the third Thursday of the month. And reach out to me on Twitter to share your thoughts: @JennaAvery.