When I wrote about writing hard enough, a fellow playwright got in touch on Twitter to say that he thought it was more about writing something you cared about. I was talking more about how it can be difficult to force yourself to write about the places you don’t want to go emotionally/socially, but the comment got me thinking. Do we always care about what we write? I mean we care about our writing, we all want it to be excellent, moving, entertaining, inspiring etc but the reality is that when it comes to getting paid commissions, you’re not always going to be writing about something you care about. Not the 110% committed passion that would drive one of your own heart and soul projects. You might find it interesting, but caring? Different kettle of fish.
My heart and soul pieces are things that I would lay myself down on hot coals for. Or consider laying myself down for, because man that would hurt a lot. They’re the writing that gives you the sweats, that you fall in love with, become a little bit obsessed by. It would be great to think that it’s always like that, every single thing you write has that level of passion going on for it. If I’m going to be brutally honest though, it ain’t always like that. There have been commissions where I’m basically having to dance to someone else’s tune, because I’m not the one paying the fiddler here. Projects that have felt a bit like pulling teeth. Somebody has money for a project and needs a writer, you get hired and now you have to write it. It can feel a lot like doing your homework.
It’s not that you don’t care, you still want to do a good job on it. And it’s likely that there was something interesting about it at the start to pull you in. Just – and let’s whisper here, in case any producers are listening in – sometimes what’s interesting about it is the fact that you’d actually be paid for this one. The rest is mere details. You’re a professional. You can write whatever they want you to write, and you can write it in a way that makes people believe that this was your favourite thing of all time, ever.
Just. Getting there can be an uphill slog. So, what to do when you’re tackling something that you don’t have that high level of passion for?
- Find the point at which your interests intersect theirs. There’s got to be some aspect of the project that intrigues you, where suddenly questions start springing into your mind and possibilities arise. That’s going to be your starting point.
- Sometimes you can persuade them to take a bit of a sideways step. If you’re hitting an absolute dud but there’s an idea that’s kind of along similar lines which seems a bit more pleasing to your imagination, it’s worth suggesting it. Let’s say you’ve been asked to write about the NHS and have bored yourself shitless researching it. But you’ve got a great idea for a piece about plastic surgery… it’s worth seeing whether the boundaries are flexible enough to shift towards the thing you’d rather write.
- When it feels like homework, use every trick in the book you can throw at it. Bribe yourself, attack it in short bursts, take your laptop out to a coffee shop (free cuppa at Waitrose with your loyalty card), do it longhand in coloured pencils. At some point you’re just going to have to grit your teeth and get it done. Just like a page of quadratic equations.
- Take a look at my post on getting down to write. Leave your laptop at the side of your bed last thing at night, then get started first thing in the morning before you can get distracted, or before your mind is awake enough to object.
- Go back to basics. This is also a good one when you’ve been working so long on one of your own projects that you can’t see the woods for the trees, feel frustrated as billy-o and are convinced the entire thing is a total waste of time and that life is utterly futile anyway. Journal about why you want to write this thing, whether that’s because you’re convinced it’s a worthwhile cause or because the extra money will mean you get to take your kids on holiday this year. Hint; emotional reasons generally work better than practical ones. Try to recapture the reason why you thought it might be a good idea in the first place, get back to that initial spark.
- Have fun with it. Throw in something unexpected if you think you can get away with it. Set yourself some kind of creative challenge that you find inspiring eg writing a scene without dialogue. Promise yourself that if you get really stuck you’ll write in a gorilla dancing across the scene in a tutu while waving a shotgun over his head. Sometimes that’s what it takes. You can always edit him out again afterwards, although I’m of the opinion that most things can only be improved by a tutu-wearing, gun-toting, dancing gorilla.
- Deadlines help. Often it’s only the pressure of the looming deadline that makes your brain knuckle down and get on with it; the position of knowing that you really don’t have a choice, you have to get on with it. However, your life is going to be a lot easier if you’re not having to pull an all-nighter the day before the official deadline. Setting pretend deadlines doesn’t help, unless you’re incredibly susceptible. You need some kind of accountability – perhaps agreeing to email your daily work to a writing buddy who can shame you on your lack of progress.
Let’s face it, there are all kinds of unpleasant things in life that we’d rather not have to do. Your new mantra; the toilet doesn’t clean itself. It kinda boils down to the fact that we’re choosing to be writers, no one’s making us do it and so we’re just going to have to get on and write the damn thing. If all else fails, ask yourself if you’d sooner be working in Spar. And if you’ve got any more genius ideas as to how to write something when you feel like you don’t care, hit the comments and let us all know.
photo credit: Ian Bloomfield via photopin cc