Don’t Make Resolutions; Find Your Resolve
by Bill True – Writer and Dept. Chair & Head of Dramatic Writing at the Scottsdale School of Film+Theatre
I’ve always hated the idea of making New Years resolutions.
I mean, I get it. New year, clean slate. Another shot at getting it right and improving your life. In general, of course, I support these ideas. They’re admirable. The problem, from my view, is the pressure “resolutions” put on people, especially writers. Like your writing life is some version of Eminem’s Lose Yourself where “You only get one shot” to get it right.
The common resolutions I’m talking about are of the “I’m gonna write more” or “I’m gonna finally finish this thing” varieties. The intention is fine, but simply saying it’s gonna happen is kinda like wishing up on a star. It implies some external force will somehow work magic on your writing life. Spoiler alert: it pretty much always ends with your supreme disappointment and feeling shame when “writing more” or “finishing this thing” doesn’t happen for you. Again.
Instead of making resolutions, my suggestion is to find your resolve.
What’s the difference? Finding your resolve isn’t about the Universe gifting you an outcome. It’s about committing to the process of understanding your, well, process. It’s plowing through the arduous, complex, and mentally and emotionally taxing work to understand how you translate the big (and often amorphous) ideas floating around in your head onto the page.
The other day, Jon Kasdan tweeted a “screenwriting tip” from his dad, legendary writer/ director Lawrence Kasdan: “For years, my dad had a 5″ X 8″ index card pinned up on the cork board above his desk that read, ‘BUTT + CHAIR = SCRIPT.’” The moral of the story is that one of the most important things about writing is putting in the time and sticking with it, even when you want to throw up your hands and say, “‘F#@k it all!”
Still, most people are like guy in the internet meme that’s been digging and digging, but gives up because he hasn’t struck gold like he thought he would. The meme, however, offers the viewer a perspective that poor fellow doesn’t have: the gold is right there, but the guy quit just shy of the treasure. He doesn’t realize we often need to dig longer than we ever imagined, long after exhaustion and discouragement set in, in order to strike gold.
The trick with writing—getting better at it, and “doing it more” and “finishing things”—is to keep digging. Push through the confusion and frustration to the other side. At times, that will be excruciating. It will take longer than you want it to, but eventually, to your surprise, one day you’ll find you’re getting…better. You won’t worry so much about “writing more” or “finishing things” anymore because that’ll become the norm for you.
To get there, though, you’ll have to commit to two practices. The first one is to MAKE time to write. All the time, I hear from people who are “gonna write,” but “just can’t find time to do it.” Listen, there is always going to be something in your life that gets in the way of your writing. If you’re trying to FIND time to do it, you rarely will.
If you want to be a writer, you have to prioritize writing. Other things need to wait, so you can keep your butt in that chair. It’s straightforward as that. Claim the time. Schedule it, and keep the appointment, even if it means other (also important) things are left for later or fall by the wayside.
The second thing is to be gentle with yourself. Give the negative self talk a break. Like a good friend reminded me at the start of my writing journey, “If this was easy, everyone would do it.” It takes a long time to get good at writing, and even longer to strike gold. Some days, you’re going to hate the crap you vomit onto the page. Other days, you won’t get anything out, no matter how hard you try. Some days, you’re not going to be able to drag your sorry butt to that chair. It’s okay. The thing most new writers don’t see is these hard times aren’t failure. They’re trying to teach you something about your writing process.
When stuff like that happens to me these days, I say to myself, “Okay, that didn’t work. What can I do differently tomorrow?” Sometimes the answer is nothing. Sometimes I’m just exhausted. I need to step away and rest. But I always come back. I return my butt to that chair, tackle the problems again, and commit words to the page.
It never gets easy, but over time it has gotten easier.
Happy New Year to you. This coming year, leave the resolutions for those people who probably won’t really be “writing more” and “finishing things.” Instead, my profound wish is for you to find your resolve and do what you need to do make writing happen. Every day.
Bill True’s debut feature, Runaway, was hailed by critics as “Brilliant” and “Hitchcockian” as it premiered to universal accolades at Tribeca and Toronto. Bill also took the top prize at the Austin Film Festival for his work on Runaway, which was subsequently released by eOne Films. He has since developed feature and television projects with The Film Collective, NBA Entertainment, Warner Horizon Television, Veritas Entertainment, More/Medavoy Productions, eOne Television, and more He is currently in development at Echo Lake Entertainment on his original drama series, Way Beyond. He also scripted the upcoming family feature, Fort Rules, targeted to shoot Summer 2021.
In addition to his work in Hollywood, Bill is Faculty-in-Residence for Screenwriting and Department Chair at the esteemed Scottsdale School of Film+Theatre.