When I first started screenwriting years ago, I was orderly. I worked on one project at a time. I wouldn’t start a new one until the other was finished. It’s hard to drop a ball when you only have one in the air. I was in complete control.
Translation: I was a miserable control freak.
I sat my frustrated self down with a producer and lamented my stress over the latest script. I spent so much time on it that the mere sight of the zillionth draft made me want to vomit. He advised I push it aside and write something else. In fact, I should write as much as I possibly could and hit the streets with a stack of specs.
“Learn how to juggle.”
Some of the best career advice I ever got.
Years after that heartfelt talk, I am blissfully happy in my writing career. Why? Because by juggling like a circus clown, I have grown as a writer. The only control I seek now is the quality of my craft and choosing projects I love.
Currently, I’m rewriting the Slavery by Another Name(SBAN) adaptation, as well as writing a novel, a short film script, a comedy feature, and on the writing team of a new TV series. Beyond writing, I’m producing a friend’s short, gone Elvis.
I got this juggling thing down… most days.
Balance is the key. Here’s how I find mine:
First step is finding what hours in the day your creative juices flow. If you're going to juggle projects, you need to carve out time to write every single day. For me, my creativity is most electric in the afternoon. I guard those hours for writing. During the morning, I catch up on emails, tweets, research, and Scriptchat business.
In order to keep track of my various projects, I have a physical file box and notebook for each one as well as computer files. On my Mac desktop is a “TO DO” document where I organize my weekly goals. Every project makes the list, even if the goal is to let that draft simmer. If I don’t see the goal in front of me, it doesn’t get done, which is probably why my desk is a disaster. I should post a picture of it to make you all feel better… or not.
When I get writing assignments or offers to enter into new writing partnerships, I spend time deciding what projects excite me. But that is my nighttime task, as being tired makes me less likely to say “yes” when I should say “no”. I admit this is one area I have not mastered because I’m blessed with a talented group of friends who I would chop my arm off to work with. My cup runneth over.
A variety of projects helps me pick one that fits my mood – one heavy, one light, one cerebral, etc.
For the last couple of years, SBAN has been my heavy hitter, that’s why I chose to follow it up with a comedy. As my current cerebral project, I’m producing a short film called gone Elvis, which explores the challenges of a homeless female veteran. Raising money and awareness while learning the behind-the-scenes skill set of a producer has indeed changed my writing. When you create not only as a writer but also as a businessperson, the end results benefit.
Only you can decide how many balls you can juggle at once. You might ultimately take on five, a different one for each weekday, but start with two and work your way up. Be advised, if you spread yourself too thin, nothing gets accomplished. “No” isn’t a dirty word.
It all comes back to balance.
As much as one may want to write 24 hours a day, you must, I repeat must, live your life. It’s in living life you find story ideas and learn about your characters’ motivations. It’s how you regroup and reenergize to be able to create.
Above all, don’t be afraid to drop a ball every now and then. Failure won’t kill you. In fact, you might learn more from watching a ball bounce across the floor than from keeping them all in the air successfully.
I dare say, if you can keep all the balls in the air, maybe you aren’t challenging yourself enough. Just a thought.
Since I’ve given up being a control freak, the comment section is all yours to share juggling tips of your own. I’d love to learn some new tricks of the trade!
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