Being a screenwriter can sometimes feel like you’re a walking oxymoron. To be a great writer you need to be connected to your emotions and the world around you, but you also have to have a thick skin to survive the pressure, rejection and competition this industry serves up. You need to be open to people’s opinions of your writing, but not so open that they can totally derail you and your belief in your work.
As my friend, writer/producer Jeff Melovin, who created the WGA Showrunner Training Program says, “to succeed in this business, you have to be an M&M, meaning you need a soft chocolate center to sustain your creativity and a hard candy shell to survive.” I couldn’t agree more.
It’s a constant balancing-act that can make anyone crazy from time to time (or a lot of the time).
Here are 3 things you can do right now to find more sanity in this insane career:
1. Get Rid of The Emotional Skeletons In Your Closet
We all have them. Those negative voices that tell us we’re fraud’s, we’re not smart enough, not creative enough, not a real writer. And chances are a lot of those inner doubts were planted a long time ago. Maybe from a family member who didn’t believe in you, a teacher that belittled your work, or a friend who told you being a writer wasn’t a real profession. Clear that baggage out of your closet! If you don’t, negative patterns and emotional blocks will undermine your work and keep you small, leaving you in a ‘crazy-making loop’ of constantly trying and never reaching your full potential. Write about it, talk to a therapist, talk to a friend you trust. Sometimes you need to get out of the boxing ring and regroup, to be the best you can be. If you don’t find a way to master those old (irrational) doubts, they’ll keep getting in the way of your creativity and your success.
2. Practice Emotional Boundaries.
Creating emotional boundaries as a writer is no easy feat, but they are integral for a screenwriter to stay sane. Sometimes (a lot of the time) people’s reactions to your work can feel really personal. If you don’t have strong emotional boundaries it’s way too easy to become reactive or defensive and fall into the “not good enough” trap. Create strong, but flexible emotional boundaries that you can “lower” when you need to access your creative side (like when you’re hatching a new script idea, or tackling the depths of a character), and “raise” when you need to keep other people’s thoughts and feelings at arm’s length (like when you receive notes from an executive or feedback on a pitch from your reps). The ability to keep cool, calm, and carry on when you’re in the “danger zone” of feeling rejected or criticized will help you stay balanced.
3. Get Better at Bouncing Back.
Everyone has those moments when it all seems impossible: when your career goals seem far out of reach, when you’re sure you’ll never have a fresh idea again, or maybe when you’re completely burnt out from overwork. There’s no sugar coating it, these moments suck. But the good news is these are actually the moments when you build your resilience: when you dig deep and find a way to shake off whatever is throwing you off and get back in the game. Every time you keep going despite the odds, you become more resilient, and let me tell you, no one survives Hollywood without a LOT of resilience. So start getting better at bouncing back and staying focused on the good: Practice positivity (affirmations/gratitude) when things don’t go as planned, find self acceptance for where you’re at in your career, improve your stress management skills, and above all, maintain your sense of humor.
What do you do to stay sane in this crazy career? Let me know @CaroleKirsch!