Barton Fink goes to Hollywood and can’t write

John Turturro wrestles with a wrestling screenplay

In the Coen brothers movie Barton Fink, the main character (John Turturro) experiences some success as a socially relevant, intellectual playwright in NYC, who prides himself with addressing the plight of the common man in his art. When he is offered quite a bit of money to write for a studio in Hollywood, he accepts, not knowing what a nightmare is getting into.

You wouldn’t think that an opportunity to make good money as a writer could turn out too badly, but it does. Not only does Barton abandon his passion for uplifting the common man through his writing, he’s also completely unable to write the Wallace Beery wrestling picture assigned to him. Totally blocked, he’s a fish out of water, gasping in tinsel town. Continue reading

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A word of caution about giving advice to a procrastinator

 

I, like so many others, am guilty of giving advice to procrastinators. I’ll bet I do it again in this blog post. It is so tempting to offer “help”, and even if my motives are pure and compassionate, the odds are low that advice will change a damn thing. This is a difficult reality pill for me (a man who wrote a book of advice for writers) to swallow.

The primary problem with advice is that generally it is a recommendation to “do” something, and procrastination by its nature implies having a problem with “doing”. Whether the underlying feeling is rebelliousness, anxiety, overwhelm or laziness, there is a resistance to “doing” at the procrastinator’s core. And even when a choice piece of advice from a well-intentioned source appears to the procrastinator as the perfect thing to do; the comforting thought arises, “I’ll do it later.”

If you are putting some task off, your own mind is probably also spewing advice. You feel uneasy about not writing, and compelled to hector yourself with repetitive pep-talks and unrealistic commands. You may repeat these lectures to yourself for years, even if they’ve generated no appreciable improvements.  It’s what people do. Continue reading

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Upcoming Events

10/29/2018: Writing Productivity for Faculty

This 90 minute presentation will be for Stanford Faculty, sponsored by the Faculty Development Office at Stanford University.

10/13/2018: Writing Productivity Challenges for Indie Authors

I will be speaking at the Indie Authors Day Event in Pacific Grove at 1:15 pm, at the Natural Museum in Pacific Grove.

9/18/2018: Writing Productivity for Graduate Students

A day-long workshop at UC Santa Cruz Humanities Institute for UCSC graduate students in the Humanities.

 

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Overcoming Writing Blocks for Scriptwriters

7/21/2018: Workshop: 

Overcoming Writing Blocks and Procrastination for Scriptwriters

I will be speaking from 1:00 – 3:00 pm at the Scriptwriter’s Network in Los Angeles., on Saturday, July 21.  More information about registration for the talk is available at: https://scriptwritersnetwork.com/events/overcoming-writing-blocks-and-procrastination-2/

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Online Class on Overcoming Writing Blocks and Procrastination

Beginning June 25th, I will be teaching a five-week course through Stanford University’s Continuing Education Program. This will be an online class for writers who wish to improve their ability to initiate and sustain an ongoing practice of writing. Class enrollment will be limited. For information about the course and how to register, see:

EGL 96 W — Overcoming Writing Blocks and Procrastination 

https://continuingstudies.stanford.edu/registration-policies/how-to-register

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The Procrastination Wheel of Suffering: Part Six – Writing Binge, Disappointment, Rationalizing

IMG_0045

Binge; Disappointment; Rationalizing

At this point on the Wheel of Suffering, a last-minute, deadline driven frenzy of writing erupts. With or without the use of stimulants of various sorts, long binges of work ensue in an adrenalized state of hyperactivity. Everything else in life is sidelined and forgotten as the monomaniacal focus on writing takes center stage.

You might feel both dread and thrill in trying to beat the clock and perhaps a perverse sense of satisfaction that you were able to procrastinate for so long and yet will still be able to complete the project.

Generally, if you finish in this way, you know you could have done a better job if you had not been forced to write in a manic binge. There may be a sense of disappointment in either the final product, yourself, or both. After this disappointment comes the ego soothing mental exercise where you tell yourself that you really are more capable than the writing shows, and that you could have done better if you had had sufficient time. You might also come up with other rationalizations that explain why things turned out the way they did.

“I’ll Do Better Next Time!”

This is the juncture where, after the work is completed, you make a promise to yourself to change how you approach your writing. You know it would be better to not procrastinate and mentally, you reaffirm your commitment to this goal.

The problem is that you leave out the implementation of a clear and defined plan to accomplish these non-trivial changes in your behavior. Somehow you feel it is enough to simply tell yourself that it will be different next time. But it isn’t.

You start another journey around the wheel.

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The Procrastination Wheel of Suffering: Part Five – Anxiety, Deadlines and Binge Writing

IMG_0039Still spinning on the wheel…

 Overwhelm; Deadline; Anxiety Threshold

As the final deadline for completing your project becomes imminent, reality breaks through and you become motivated by dread and fear of failure. As this fear of failure becomes more powerful than the fear of facing your writing, you are propelled into desperate action.

You imagine the awful consequences of not completing your work on time, and are genuinely baffled about how you could have put yourself in this predicament again. You had promised yourself you would not wait until the last minute to begin, but you did.

Now, however, there is no time for wallowing in self-pity, daydreaming, or lecturing yourself. Somehow you have to do it, and even though the challenge seems monumental, you force yourself to face the task.

Binge; Disappointment; Rationalizing

At this point on the Wheel of Suffering, a last-minute, deadline driven frenzy of writing erupts. With or without the use of stimulants of various sorts, long binges of work ensue in an adrenalized state of hyperactivity.

Everything else in life is sidelined and forgotten as the monomaniacal focus on writing takes center stage. You might feel both dread and thrill in trying to beat the clock, and perhaps a perverse sense of satisfaction that you were able to procrastinate for so long and yet will still be able to complete the project.

Generally, if you finish in this way, you know you could have done a better job if you had not been forced to write in a manic binge. There may be a sense of disappointment in either the final product, yourself, or both. After this disappointment comes the ego- soothing mental exercise where you tell yourself that you really are more capable than the writing shows, and that you could have done better if you had had sufficient time.

(to be continued)

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