Twitter can be a gold mine for writers. Case in point, when pro writers decide to go on a rant about the craft, such as Eric Heisserer, who occasionally will sidle up to Twitter with a libation at hand, and lay down some flat-out wisdom, 140 characters at a time.
Last night, Eric went straight at the bane of many a writer’s existence: Time Management. The entire thread of tweets reprinted here with permission from Eric (@HIGHzurrer):
Got the house to myself tonight. And this whiskey won’t drink itself. *checks the winds* Yeah, could see a rant-front moving in.
— Eric Heisserer (@HIGHzurrer) September 12, 2014
For a while, two brothers made some of my favorite instrumental music around. Franz and Helmut were the powerhouse known as E.S. Posthumus.
They are probably most famous for their NFL theme work and the trailer music for the RDJ Sherlock movies.
In 2010, Franz passed away and Helmut retired the band. I figured that was the end of that for E.S. Posthumus.
But lately Helmut has resurfaced, partly in a new band, but also completing one or two tracks his brother had started.
Here is a new favorite of mine: “Witness to History.”
I’ll use that track as my intro for tonight’s rant.
I’m drunk enough to talk about the big scary monster known as TIME MANAGEMENT.
My friends and I have been talking about it a lot, so it’s on my mind. And a few of you have asked, so here is my brain dump on it.
For a long time I had a notion of people who were experts at managing their time. They had every hour mapped out in a scheduler.
Meetings, dining, work, conference calls, reading, even page counts for the day were all scheduled to within an inch of their lives.
Having fallen on my face trying that standard, I’m aware now how much of it is “precrastination.”
And over-scheduling your time can create an inflexibility that loses sight of what matters most to you.
But we all want to be able to get our writing done, every week. For me, when I’m not productive, I don’t sleep well. I feel I wasted a day.
And that’s the key word I plugged into: Productivity. I didn’t need to hyper-manage my time, I just needed to make progress in my work.
So this led me to front door of the big monster: Resistance. Fear, by many other names. Fear kept me from being productive.
Keep in mind it doesn’t have to be a big fear, like falling off a cliff or swimming near a shark. It’s a more banal fear, which is worse.
The little fears camouflage themselves as other things. “You’re just not ready to write.” “You need to research more.” And so on.
Anything that would keep me from actually writing, even in the guise of “working,” was secretly fear-based.
When I did get the ball rolling, and I fought through the resistance to get pages done, I noticed a steep dropoff after about 10 minutes.
Fear, it seems, is a paper tiger. And when you demonstrate to the rest of your brain that the pages can be filled, the tiger slinks off.
If you had to chart resistance on a graph, it would spike fast and die off fast, like a sonar ping. But that is still a steep hill.
Conversely, after writing for an hour or so, “in the zone,” I’d build up a new energy — momentum. Momentum works slowly, then spikes up.
So I put my focus on a project I called “The first ten minutes.” Figuring out ways to conquer that fear-spike and start momentum.
Very quickly, I learned that if the trick or hack didn’t involve actually writing, it wouldn’t work. I can’t watch TV to conquer fear.
Even when it feels like it’s germane to what I’m writing, if I’m not physically typing on the keys or writing in a notebook, I’m stalled.
This helped put a finer point on the way my fear worked. It was usually specific about the next few pages I had yet to write.
“You don’t have a good idea for this scene,” it would say. Or, “You’ll have to rewrite it all later, this isn’t anywhere near perfect.”
That was the big nuke of my fear: Having to revisit pages because I couldn’t write them “correctly” the first time. It’s an old, old fear.
Rewriting is a completely natural part of the process, and it’s in fact crucial to making a script great. Yet my fear denies it. DENIES.
So, back to “the first ten minutes.” My battleground. And the hacks I’ve made to conquer this goddamn banal fear and get shit done.
My first weapon is “Write the worst version.” Some call it the “vomit pass.” I mean to go farther and free myself to be truly bad.
Have characters shout all their inner motivations. Everything goes on the nose and stays there.
This is helpful in a secret way, because it can unearth a character’s motivation I’d previously forgotten. Or it reveals what’s broken.
If, in the Worst Version Ever, I discover both characters want the same thing and they know it, I got no conflict. So I know what to alter.
But even if the Worst Version Ever doesn’t reveal something new, it activates my muscle memory of writing, and gets me moving.
I can delete five pages of crap once I’ve popped the clutch and started my hands downhill.
Second in my bag of tricks is “Adopt a Style.” This is helpful when I’ve read another author and my fear says “You’ll never be that good.”
So my exercise is to write in the voice of that author, even if it’s a piss poor likeness. It’s me sneaking past my fear in disguise.
And quite often, when I’m doing a dime-store Elmore Leonard version of something, I’ll trip on a line of dialogue that I love.
Soon as you find something you love, you are off to the goddamn races. You have momentum. And you’re writing in your own voice again.
And a third tactic I’ll bust out if I’m really blocked on a script: I write an email to explain WHY I’m blocked.
Some aspects important to this trick: It needs to be an email. I need to be writing about the problem. And it needs to go to my peers.
There is something very powerful about writing a detailed description of your problem to a group of friends whom you respect.
Because here’s the thing — you may never actually hit ‘send’ on that email. At the end of it, you’ll find your answer. You’ll alt-tab out.
And you’ll start typing for real.
But even if you don’t get that light bulb burning during your lengthy email, guess what? YOU STILL get to send it for consultation.
And your friends don’t have to have an answer — oh no. They just have to help you spark that kindling in your brain with new ideas.
And again, this is all just to get through TEN SHORT MINUTES of nothing but actual writing. Prime the pump. Light the pilot light.
Accept that you’re going to rewrite it all anyway so it’s okay to play on the page.
Accept that this is an iterative process, and you find the path once you get to the end, and start back again.
And here’s the real “oh hell, yeah” deal: Once you get past those ten minutes, the rest is pure productivity.
There was a time when, if I got two solid hours of productive work done, I could sleep like a baby. Two hours.
So that means if I can conquer those first ten minutes when I sit down, right away, I’ve got the whole damn day to rock that script.
Hell, even Navy SEALs are trained to focus only on increments of 10-20 minutes ahead, so the overall goal isn’t so daunting.
You wanna be a Navy SEAL, right? Be one for your writing!
This is the dirty truth the resistance makes you forget every time you leave: You can write. You’ve done it plenty. It’s like breathing.
You don’t have to be some goddamn Olympic-level anything to write. You just have to get past the little fears.
This was a long-winded way of saying if you get a rambling email from me one day complaining about the 2nd act of something, be gentle.
For a couple of years I shared all manner of tricks and exercises I’ve devised to crack the fear shell. Some of you veteran pals know ‘em.
If you find use for it, they’re all bundled in this Kindle book: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GKNFPGK
And that’s my one plug for the month.
I hope tonight’s whiskey-dick rant was helpful to some of you gorgeous monsters out there. I’m gonna get another drink now.
You may follow Eric on Twitter here: @HIGHzurrer.
You may read my April 2013 interview with Eric here.