It's no secret that when it comes to sitting
down to actually doing the writing, we writers excel at procrastination.
If, anywhere within a five mile radius of the computer, we happen to
notice an unsharpened pencil, a window, a refrigerator, a phone,
unopened mail, a magazine, something needing dusting, the TV remote, a
ladybug making its way up the wall, a freckle, a birthmark, a pimple, a
scab, or even a stray thought—that's more than enough reason to stop
writing (assuming we've even started yet) and focus on that distracting
alternative, at least until it suddenly occurs to us why we happen to
have been sitting in front of that blank computer screen for the past
Sometimes, we take advantage of even longer
periods of procrastination—and for each of these, in order to deal
with the guilt, we have invented a specific rationalization. It's not
"meeting a friend for lunch"—it's Networking. It's not "vacationing in
Hawaii"—it's Gathering Important Life Experience. It's not "having sex
all afternoon with your lover"—it's Getting In Touch With Your Emotions
and Learning About the Opposite Sex. It's not "going to see a
movie"—it's "Research—Hey, Come On, If I'm Going To Be Writing Them, I
Have To Know What's Out There." My mother used to tell me, "You have an
answer for everything, a solution for nothing," and I'm starting to
appreciate her wisdom.
Lately, however, I've become aware of yet another form of
procrastination to which we writers fall victim. Okay, to which I fall
victim; I won't drag the rest of you down with me. Because if you
identify with me, you're doing a good enough job dragging yourself down.
For this form of procrastination is perhaps the most disturbing and
insidious of them all. It speaks to the very heart of who we are, what
we do, what we want. And I'm really not sure I'll ever be able to
overcome it. Ladies and gentlemen, fellow writers, I hope you appreciate
the amount of courage it's taking me to come clean about this, but here
goes: I have become addicted to the trappings of being a writer.
Yes, sadly, it's true—I am passionately interested in and devoted to
every possible aspect of being a writer, with just one exception—doing
the actual writing. Ironic, isn't it? Or better yet, crazy, irrational,
tragic. How dare I presume to even call myself a writer? Would someone
who watched the Food Channel all day refer to himself as a chef? Would
someone who collected band-aids call himself a doctor? Would a woman who
read all day long about famous architects call herself an architect? And
yet, is what I am doing so very different from these professional wanna-bees?
And I call myself a writer. Hah! I disgust myself.
Think I'm exaggerating? Check out all the writing-related activities
with which I fill my time—time that could be spent actually writing:
Books. I must have a hundred books on writing. 500 Ways to
Beat the Hollywood Script Reader, Getting Your Script Through the
Hollywood Maze, Screenwriting On The Internet, The Hollywood Creative
Directory, How to Enter Screenplay Contests and Win, Power Shmoozing,
The Script is Finished--Now What Do I Do?, The Craft of the Screenwriter—Is there useful information in these books? Yes. Have I read even
half of them? No. Would I be approximately 115 years old by the time I
finish reading them all? Absolutely. Of course, by then, there'd be new
ones to read.
Conferences and Seminars. Screenwriting Expo, Independent Feature
Project, Learning Annex, Maui Writers Conference, Words Into Pictures,
Southern California Writers Conference, Sherwood Oaks Experimental
College. I've been to them all, keep attending them, and apparently just
can't get enough in-person information about "The Hero's Journey,"
"Story Brainstorming," "How to Write a Blockbuster," "Building Strong
Characters," "Seducing the Studio Reader," and "Creating Narrative
Tension." The best thing about these conferences and seminars: while
you're there, you have a legitimate excuse not to be writing!
Screenwriting Software. I was so jazzed to purchase my current
screenwriting software, which came with so many bells and whistles I
honestly wondered how Shakespeare was able to create without owning it.
Its Name Bank helps me generate character names. It has real-time
pagination, spell-check and auto-correction; auto-floppy back-up to
protect my work; Voice Readback, online collaboration with a partner,
and a rave from Francis Ford Coppola on the back. Heck, the box even
proclaims, "Write polished professional scripts within minutes of
opening the box!" Well, I've had the box opened for months, not minutes,
and apparently, as it turns out, in addition to the software's
impressive features, you also need an idea, talent, and discipline. But
do they tell you that on the box? Noooooo!
Writers Guild of America. I'm a member, so I can attend the Film
Society screenings, where I'm free to shmooze (see Power Shmoozing, in
Books section, above) with other writers who aren't working. I have
access to the Script Registration Department, where I'm free to register
scripts I haven't written. I can visit their library, where I can read
scripts other writers have written, or read about other writers in
screenwriting magazines. I can join writer-related committees. I can
offer my services as a mentor to another aspiring writer. I can become
involved in WGA politics. I can attend readings of works by fellow
members, tributes to fellow members, and a variety of "An Evening With…"
fellow members, during which, though I'm not actually writing, I'm
gaining insight by finding out how someone else writes.
Writing Paraphernalia. My mousepad has the design of an
old-fashioned typewriter. I have a baseball cap that says "Writer" on
the rim. One of my t-shirts proudly proclaims the fact that I survived
one of the Writers Guild strikes. My set of refrigerator word magnets
allows me to form sentences while waiting for my pasta to boil. I've
lost count of how many free pens I've accumulated from companies
promoting writing software, books, and script consultant services. I've
decorated the back of my door with photos of movies I wish I'd written.
I have an audiocassette of Steve Martin reading one of his short story
collections. Any half-decent detective might deduce that the owner of
all this stuff is a writer. That same detective would have a far more
difficult task acquiring evidence of actual writing on the premises.
Okay, you get the idea. It's procrastination, pure and simple. And
granted, my procrastination is completely writer-related; it's not like
I'm spending all day at the racetrack—though mightn't that give me the
Life Experience to write something wonderful about a racetrack? Still,
it's clear that I've been doing a lot of things that fall into the
category of Not Writing. I'm circling the writing area. I'm in the
writing air space. I'm holding for writing landing clearance. But I'm
not writing. And I'm telling you this so that the next time you see me
reading a book on writing, attending a writers conference, power
shmoozing with someone at a Film Society screening, or about to pick up
a complimentary writer book mark—you stop me, snatch the book mark out
of my hand, shake me if you have to, look me straight in the eyes, and
remind me that I should be at home, writing. I have been warned.
Mark Miller is a Los Angeles-based comedy writer, who has written and
produced TV sit-coms, sold feature film comedies, been a humor columnist
for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, contributed to numerous national
publications and websites, and has produced a weekly comedic
relationships feature for America Online. He can be reached at