Give Yourself a Break: Thank Me Later

Recently, I've taken a bit of a writing hiatus for a variety of reasons. I could make the excuse that I've been too busy. Call it treating myself, call it writer's block. Call it what you will. What's important is that I am taking a mental health break on my own terms. This is necessary every now and then. Yes, it can be seen as lazy. Yes, it can be seen as a lack of creative energy. What I call it is: essential. There was a time in which my output was off the charts. Quite possibly unhealthy levels of writing. Of course I write because I enjoy it. But, I had reached a certain point where my writing became laborious. It felt like a job. It should NEVER feel like a job.

Avoid Burnout at ALL Costs

Burnout is the number one enemy of a writer. Quite frankly, it's the mortal enemy of anyone. Burnout is a real thing. Writer's block is a real thing. Give yourself a break. I don't know or care how long it is or should be. You have to give your mind, your creativity, your edge a rest. It's the only way we can come back from or prevent burnout. As I mentioned before, it will or could appear as laziness to others. We cannot care about nor can we give credence to this perception. This is about rejuvenation. We must rejuvenate our creative juices. If we sit down and bleed at the keyboard, we could very well be forcing it. And everyone knows that if you force it, it's probably gonna be shit. We cannot allow this to happen. And it's draining when it does. Granted, I understand that the best writing comes out in rewriting. But when we're straining to put words on the page, and it hurts our heads, it might be time to give it a rest. It's the prudent thing to do for our fragile minds.

The Time Will Come When We HAVE to Work

And I understand this. There's no one who understands this more than I do. We will have writing assignments. I get that. But in between creative projects, if you ever have this luxury, we have to take this time to rest our strained brains. I am a firm believer in the adage, "one for you, one for me." Yes, we will have scripts in which we are conscripted to write. Of course we may not always have time to write our passion project, or whatever the case might be. If there's absolutely no time to write what we will enjoy writing, then sadly we do have to put that on the back-burner. There's no doubt that writing for others might not be the ideal situation. We do have to look within ourselves and be thankful that we even have that opportunity. Let's take a step back and get some perspective. Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to write for others, let alone themselves. So, let's work hard on that project so we can get back to what we actually want to write. Or, let's give that writing assignment our all so that we can have that well-deserved break. Either way, your hard work will be rewarded in the end.

Ways to Fend Off Burnout

The tried and true ways of defending against burnout would, of course, be taking a vacation, going for walks, or simply, just living life. More specifically, I've found that watching movies, shows, reading other scripts, doing research related to your screenplay, and gaining inspiration from other works are great ways of doing this. Now, if that is too much for you, meaning you just want to get away from film, TV, and anything associated with writing in general, then I have other ways for you.

  1. Get in the Zone: One way to do this is via meditation. Meditation is probably the single most tranquil way of alleviating your burnout, or ideally, preventing it entirely. Yoga is another serene way to get away and clear your mind.
  2. All Naturale: Find yourself in nature. If you live in a densely populated area, going for a hike, sitting by a pond (or the beach), or going sightseeing are all great ways to rid yourself of dissonance. Pete Docter (Soul, Inside Out, etc) had himself a breakthrough when he went out for a walk in the woods while working on the script for Inside Out. This comes highly recommended.
  3. Quality Time: Hanging out with friends, family, or even taking a solo trip might just be what you need to regain peace of mind. I have gained inspiration from a night out with friends, a family get-together, and treating myself to a solo vacation. These may seem obvious, but many writers shut themselves out to the outside world until they finish their screenplay. And while that's all well and good, being more social can be the key to the success of your screenplay that maybe you just weren't seeing before. This is not only potentially good for your script, it can be good for the soul, too.

This Vacation Could Be Exactly What Your Script Needed

It's also quite possible that it may not even be a vacation at all. Maybe it's just a staycation. Perhaps you just needed to walk away from your keyboard for a few days. If you shelf your script for a bit, and simply just live life, then you might find that inspiration that you so desperately needed on that script. I also recognize that we all have deadlines. This may not be a luxury we can all enjoy. But I promise, if you kindly request from your boss (whomever that may be) that you have an extension or a break, it's possible they may grant you just that. It's also entirely possible I'm just living in my own dream world where all of this could be reality. Maybe none of this is realistic. All I'm saying is, how about we just try? You cannot force greatness. I hope that producers, directors, financiers, whomever all recognize this (I'm sure they do). The answer for that project might be right in front of our faces, but it's hard to see when we're staring at a screen all day.

Get out, take a breath, and find that answer in nature.

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By Rob McNeil

My name is Rob McNeil. I was born and raised in Normal, Illinois and I am a 28 year-old award winning screenwriter. I am very passionate about film, so much that I watch far too many films on a daily basis. I have written fifteen feature screenplays, a spec pilot thriller series, and several short scripts. I aim to make filmmaking a career, but for now, I will write about it.

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