How To Sustain A Creative Life

by Tawnya Bhattacharya

Let me guess. As a screenwriter trying to break in, you’re probably juggling two creative projects on top of a bill-paying gig. You’re writing, pitching, taking meetings, chasing reps. You feel burned out sometimes, a spot of creative fatigue, and sometimes you just feel blocked. Isn’t that what they call it, writer’s block?

Well, that’s how it feels, but it’s not true. At Script Anatomy we don’t believe in writer’s block. Because the working artist works, it’s right there in the title. If you want writing to be your job, you need to treat writing like a job. The question isn’t whether you’re blocked, but what’s your working life like? Are you exercising, are you seeking inspiration in art, are you giving your mind a chance to rest and percolate?

Here are nine tips to help you sustain an optimal creative life.

1. EXERCISE

Two people jogging at sunrise

Can’t stress this one enough. Studies have shown that regular exercise boosts creativity and, even if those all turn out to be a hoax, it’s a known fact that exercise boosts endorphines. So if you are stuck in a rut and beating yourself up for not getting out of it, 30-60 minutes of any sort of physical activity will likely improve your state of mind about where you’re at, and as our favorite kindergarten classroom poster said, “If you can dream it you can do it.”

“When I’m feeling depressed, there’s no motivation to be creative or productive. Luckily exercise releases all those good feeling brain chemicals and I’m back on track, ready to work. This is a constant cycle for me, which is why I rely on tennis, a big walk or a bit of yoga. I’d be useless without it. Oh, and it’s cheaper than therapy and you don’t need a prescription!” ~ Ali Laventhol (Script Anatomy Instructor, Writer/Producer, “A Million Little Things”)

2. WATER

Girl by water

Some people claim that, because of all the negative ions attracted to bodies of water, it boosts creativity and inspiration. We’re not sure about  all that, but we do find it mighty coincidental thinking about how many great wordsmiths found their happy places near bodies of water. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Dorothy Parker, and all their pals took up a part of Paris right on the famous Seine river. Walden Pond was fertile enough with inspiration to make Thoreau write a whole book about it. Recent Nobel Prize winner and legendary lyricist Bob Dylan calls a part of Malibu called Point Dume home, which is a peninsula protruding off an already coastal city — doesn’t get more aquatic than that. Obviously we can’t all jump in a car to the airport real quick and book a round-trip to Paris en route, but try and find your own version of Walden Pond and work a regular visit into your routine. If you’re located in SoCal, get thee to a state beach! We have a bountiful beautiful coast and the weather’s perfect for driving it right now. Landlocked? Find a local spa or hot spring in your area. Broke and landlocked? Take a long bath and try smudging your bathroom with sage first.

“If I have writer’s block, it’s always related to something else. I walk along the beach, without cellphone or any distraction other than the dog, and try to unpack whatever stressor is making my shoulders hunch. Then I try to make a manageable plan for that issue, be it money or kids or ailing mom. THEN, I set the plan aside and do a walking meditation the rest of the way-really hear the ocean and seagulls and such. I get back to my desk a bit more empowered and a bit more free.” ~ Alyson Feltes (Script Anatomy Instructor, Co-EP, “Ozark” on Netflix)

3. ENJOY ART

Fashion mannequins in a show

You can’t approach this with a professional motive i.e. “oh I want to adapt this comic, let me read it and email my reps to inquire about the rights…” It’s all too easy to adapt to Hollywood’s tunnel-visioned mindset and forget that people who read for pleasure are smarter and (duh) have bigger vocabularies. Try a genre you wouldn’t normally choose. Don’t be a prisoner of your tastes. Go see a play. A ballet. Wander around museums. You know you want to…

4. GET OUTSIDE

Joshua Tree at sunset

There is a world outside of your computer. The longer you sit in that chair, the worse the damage to your spine. Which will turn you into a hunchback if you’re not careful. And fuck up your chakra alignment, cutting off the flow of energy from the base of your spine to your brain. The point is, you’re seriously inhibiting your creativity. And anyway, the outdoors is awesome.

Take a walk for half an hour. Set one weekend day a month where you do something cool outside. Maybe it’s a day trip or a hike with a friend. Have a picnic in the park instead of brunch reservations with friends.  A little sun will do wonders for your general outlook on your script.

“Disconnecting is crucial and we should all do it more especially when dealing with writers block.  Sometimes there’s so much news and content and everything we’re taking in, that it can be difficult to come up with something new. This past weekend I went away and turned off my phone and locked it in the safe for two days so I wouldn’t be tempted to use it. It felt so freeing. I read two books, journaled and went on a long hike without any distractions. It made me much more inspired and ready to work when I sat back down to write.” ~ Hollie Overton (Script Anatomy Instructor, Co-Producer, “Shadowhunters”)

5. GET INVOLVED

Cable Beach Cleanup

OK, picking up trash might be that appealing. Got it. But hear me out.

When you’re trying to break into screenwriting, it can feel like you are shouting into an abyss, energetically speaking. You’re writing script after script that not only will likely never be produced, but also might not even be read by very many people besides your writers group, reps, and consultant. Most artists get into this business because we want to engage with an audience and effect some sort of positive change on them, so years of being deprived of this opportunity by an industry that thrives on gatekeeping culture can feel incredibly isolating and disempowering.

Try getting involved in your community during the frustrating and stagnant times in your career. By volunteering—even if your schedule can only sustain once a month—you’re putting yourself in someone’s shoes will hopefully gain some perspective on that script you’re stuck on or that obscure I.P. you’re pitching on against a thousand other writers.

This isn’t a shaming tactic, just a reminder that outside our own relatively privileged industry bubble is a world full of complex characters with goals, dilemmas, stakes and stories we couldn’t possibly dream up on our own. As artists, it’s our responsibility to remain open to those stories and know when it’s our turn to be an audience and bear witness to them.

If you’re in LA, check out organizations like WriteGirlYoung Storytellers or 826LA for ways to work your writing talent into volunteering. Consider some beach cleanup. It’s good for the soul.

6. TOUCH BASE WITH THE REAL WORLD

Stack of magazines

Have friends outside the industry. It sounds obvious, and natural, but in LA, it’s so easy to get sucked into the vortex of the business. The industry-specific magazines, industry-specific schedules (and consequently the most hellish lunch hour on earth), the industry-specific phone etiquette. And make sure you stay abreast of magazines, the expansive longform titles. The world is full of beauty, spectacle, story and surprise.

7. DO SOMETHING YOU’RE AFRAID OF

Person skydiving

Shonda Rhimes’ book YEAR OF YES (much of which is encompassed in this Ted Talk) sells this last one hard, so we’ll keep it succinct: by pushing yourself past what you thought you were capable of, you become more aware of your own strength. It’s really that simple. By pushing your own limits, you will realize that many of those limits exist because you set them for yourself.

8. GIVE YOURSELF A WARMUP

Ballet dancers at barre

Dancers, musicians, actors, and singers all warm up extensively as part of their rehearsal or performance — so why not writers? Treat your brain like a professional athlete or artist treats their body and put together a warmup routine. Maybe journaling works for you, maybe you like word association exercises, maybe you’re not really sure because writing warmups aren’t something you’ve done before. Well, try new things until you find exercises you can do for 20 minutes or so to lubricate your creative gears and get your juices flowing.

9. REST

Cat yawning

This one is so important! Without enough sleep, you’re taxing your body and brain with way too many tasks to juggle at once, especially in this fast-paced life. If you’re already handicapping yourself for a long workday by only getting 5 or 6 hours of sleep, it will absolutely affect the energy you put into your writing. As a writer your brain is your most valuable asset — and your body is the vault that’s guarding it. So you want to treat it accordingly, with enough water and rest always.

I feel like sleep needs its own blog entry. There’s so much to say!

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