My author crush on Janet Scott Batchler began in 1999 when she and her husband Lee taught one of the classes in my screenwriting program. That was hands-down the best writing class I have ever taken! (And I’ve taken some good ones!) Since then, I’ve come to know Jan as a fellow writer and a friend. One of the things that sticks with me after every conversation is what consummate professionals Jan and Lee are – no matter what is happening in their lives, they work. They meet their deadlines. Between the great things I’ve learned from them, the wonderful examples they are (as writers and as human beings), and the quality of writing they produce, it’s no wonder I have an author crush!
ON PROCRASTINATION AND DEADLINES
by Janet Scott Batchler
I hate to write.
Don’t get me wrong. I love having written. It’s the actual sitting down to write that I hate.
This is a blog about “routines for writers,” after all. And as I think it through, I realize one of the most crucial parts of my routine is the procrastination that leads up to forcing myself to sit down on my chaise lounge with my computer on my lap and open up Final Draft (I’m a screenwriter, so…), and make myself write.
(The chaise lounge is, by the way, another part of my routine. I work at my desk. I write sitting on my chaise lounge. Something about sitting with my legs stretched out, computer on lap, makes the imaginative part of my brain wake up and say, “Oh, is it time to write?” Maybe it remembers sitting on my bed writing bad poetry as a teenager…)
Procrastination is, I have come to believe, an important part of the writing process. It’s the equivalent of simmering a pot of chili. You can make “speed chili,” sure — brown the meat, toss in the spices and tomatoes and hurry it up and get it in the bowls. But it’s not as good as chili that’s been simmered for a few hours.
While I am procrastinating, I am ever aware that I should be writing. My writing for the day is on my to-do list, haunting me every time I cross off something else instead. And “haunting” is exactly the right word. Because as I run errands or make phone calls or balance my checkbook or pay my bills or do my laundry, I am always, always cognizant of the fact that, while I may be doing something worthy of my time, I am definitely not writing.
That doesn’t mean my mind isn’t at work on the script, though. You may have heard of the “Bed, Bath, Bus” theory of creativity. In essence, it says that our best ideas often come while we’re doing something else, something routine (like waking up… like taking a shower… like driving to pick up the kids from school), something that doesn’t fully use our minds. Archimedes, Einstein, and other people with far more creative minds than I are often cited as those who made great “Bed, Bath, Bus” discoveries.
And I find it works for me, as well. While I’m folding laundry, and driving around town, somehow part of my mind starts working on that plot problem I can’t solve, that passage of dialogue that hasn’t felt real yet. It gets to be like an itch. I have very dry skin, so I deal with itchiness a lot. And if I’m sitting, say, in church, I probably don’t want to reach around and start scratching my back in public. Yet at a certain point, I can’t stand not to. That’s the way it is with procrastination. I don’t want to write. Yet the time comes when I can’t stand not to.
Now, we all know people who procrastinate forever, who never get the thing done. I once had a friend who came to Los Angeles to write screenplays, and left, grouchy, after six years, feeling that he had been horribly mistreated by Hollywood… yet in in those six years, he hadn’t finished one script. Oops.
That’s why we need deadlines! I could play computer games or bounce around Facebook all day, if I let myself. But if I know that a script is due to the studio in three weeks (better yet, three days), and if I know that I’m not going to get paid unless I deliver, all that goofing off is simply not gonna happen. I will push myself past the procrastination, pull out everything that’s been simmering on the back burner of my mind, and force myself to write write write.
But as writers, we don’t always (or even often) have the wonderful pressure of an externally-imposed deadline hovering over us. And let’s face it, those internally-imposed deadlines get so mushy (“I’m going to write for three hours/10 pages/2000 words a day… Really!”).
That’s why part of my writing routine — a necessary, non-optional part — is my writers group. Every two weeks, nine or ten of us sit down to read each other’s work, to praise it (when appropriate), to slam it (when necessary), to brainstorm and critique and encourage. I take delivery of pages to my writers group as seriously as delivery to the folks who pay me, because I know how important it is. I need the outside eyes to show me where I’ve screwed up, where I was confusing, where I did something great and didn’t even realize it. I need their ideas and support in figuring out how to fix the problems. I need the little happy faces and check marks they draw on my script when a line really works.
And I need the deadline. I need to know that on Thursday night, I must deliver my pages to those ten people. Knowing that I must deliver means that by Monday or Tuesday, procrastination, as important as it may have been to my creative mind, simply won’t do. And I start to write.
And at the end of it all, I have that truly wonderful feeling: The feeling of having written.
Let your mind wander. Find someone to give you a deadline. And get into a writers group.
Janet Scott Batchler is the writer (with her partner Lee Batchler) of SMOKE AND MIRRORS, BATMAN FOREVER (the number one box office feature for 1995), and MY NAME IS MODESTY, among many other projects. She is also a writing professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, and a director. Currently, the Batchlers are writing ALPHA for Paramount Pictures, a fast-paced adventure about a team of military working dogs and their trainers. In addition, the Batchlers have just delivered to Davis Entertainment at Fox their most recent script, POMPEII, an epic drama telling the famous story of the volcanic destruction of the city. Jan is also the author of a book of prognostications, What Will Harry Do? The Unofficial Guide to Payoffs and Possibilities in Book 7, published before Deathly Hallows was released. Read her musings on writing, movies, faith, art, parenthood and more on her blog.