4 writerly rules for managing the ebb and flow of life

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wa rahmatullahi wabarakatahu. God’s blessings, peace and mercy be on you, fellow traveler.

So I’ve been trying to practice Scott Myer’s mantra for two weeks now: 1, 2, 7, 14.

Read one screenplay a week.

Watch 2 movies a week.

Write 7 pages i.e. a page a day.

Do 14 hours of prep i.e. 2 hours of prep a day.

It’s been a challenge. But it’s been rewarding. I’ve invested more in my screenwriting ambitions in the last 2 weeks than I have in my entire life. That kind of rigor has forced me to think about what I am willing to give up and where I’m willing to go. I don’t just mean sleep and free time. I mean heart-ache, anxiety, despair, depression or my personal favorite, failure.

My husband would say I’m being too dramatic. Let’s just say I’ve decided I’ll brave the Uncertainty and the lack of Certainty that comes with filmmaking and screenwriting.

But I have failed a fair amount. I’ve missed pages, prepped reduced hours, been utterly paralysed by the blank page.

In the process, I’ve discovered that the probability of success is linked to my energy. My creative energy cycles with my body.

It is foolish to push your body to achieve more and more and more when we are designed to need replenishment. This is where the animal kingdom has the jump on us humans. Lions rest an entire day after a hunt. Bears take the whole winter off.

But we work day and night, ignoring God’s blessing of the night-time and rest.

He splits the sky at dawn, and appoints the night as a time of stillness and the Sun and Moon as a means of reckoning. (Qur’an, 6:96)

(Go here for a brief explanation of the above verse)

While society favors the Type-A “harder, faster, stronger” personality, something tells me that I’m made of cream cheese and I can only manage that for a little while before I have a meltdown.

I’ve discovered a few basic ground rules so I can work with my energy cycles rather than against them.

1. Work as early as possible

I’ve blocked out times that my family is least likely to interrupt me – between 10 – 12:30 in the morning. Or between 2:30 and 6:30 in the evening. Sigh. An embarrassment of riches.

But still things come up. Family calls from overseas. Errands need to be run. Life does not respect my ambitions.

I haven’t managed to wake up uber-early and do my prep. Yet. But I’m aspiring to it.

I am far more likely to be tired in the evening and so writing or prepping closer to night-time should be avoided if it can be helped. Hubby comes home too and spending 2 hours staring at a laptop while he’s around is hardly likely to work wonders for our relationship. Though being the sweetheart that he is, he totally understands. But he deserves better than that. And so do I

2. Schedule the hard stuff for earlier in the week

Earlier in the week, when I’m primed and ready to go, I get a whole lot more done a lot more efficiently in prep time. And the pages just zip out.

Later in the week, I get a little exhausted. Come Friday, I just feel like playing which is a great time for an ‘artist date’. Though I’ve not really been too successful at having one of those yet.

It’s also a great time to kick back and pay attention to a movie or a screenplay.

3. Get a routine

A routine makes my hours that much easier.

  1. I start with 15 minutes of concept brainstorming. This is a great way to massage my brain before getting into the nitty-gritty. Plus it’s a great way to generate story concepts, a good 95% of which are invariably duds.
  2. 1.5 hours of prep.
  3. Another 15 minutes of looking over the above concepts with a critical eye. Not just, “Is this good?” But also “What can I do to make this better?” “Why is this so bad?” “Why do I want to write about ice-cream so much?”

4. Reward yourself with some fire-gazing time

I find I get cabin fever if I stay inside too much. I like taking a walk or just sitting with my father-in-law. He’s always watching Animal Planet so metaphorically at least, we’re being spirited away to different lands.

What works for you in terms of maintaining consistency with your routine?

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah. Peace and God’s protection, peeps.

The Happy Muslimah.

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3 thoughts on “4 writerly rules for managing the ebb and flow of life

  1. salaam sabina
    i dont undersand what you mean by ‘prep time’- could you please tell me what this is- what you have to do?

    1. Walaikum salam wr wb!

      Scott Myers recommend that screenwriters spend a good chunk of time plotting and characterising their screenplays before sitting down to write them. He recommends 6 weeks of prep.

      How that woks in the context of “1,2,7,14” is that it assumes that you are stacking projects i.e. researching one project, writing one (in pages), rewriting yet another.

      I don’t know if you’re a screenwriter at all, so I have no idea if that makes any sense.

      Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,
      Sabina.

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