Screenplay: the exorcism (i)

Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.

~Kahlil Gibran

I turned 40 last year and decided it was time to get my poop in a group. Pull it out, as they say in Australia.

I had allowed my life to get kidnapped by work that wasn’t serving my passion and purpose. It was depleting my energy and spirit. I desperately needed to get back to my creative writing and the daily habit of it… I had to extract myself from my 7 days-per-week job. But then what? I hadn’t written anything new in a year (other than a few poems). I was frozen. I thought I had forgotten how to start something new or edit anything old.

Years of personal development have convinced me that I’m the only thing standing in my way… yet I still stand in my way. (well, duh, eating popcorn for dinner isn’t good for me, but if left to my own devices, that’s what I’d do)

What I failed to realize was that even though I was standing in my own way, it didn’t mean I couldn’t ask for help in pushing myself out of the way. I didn’t have to do it alone. It’s so easy to “suffer” through it all alone, because then I can be right. I can be a victim of circumstance and say See? This is the reason I can’t succeed… I’m stuck at this job and I don’t have any time because… blah, blah, blah.

I needed a little cosmic bitch-slapping.

So I started asking for help. Major help.

I read Pronoia, A New Earth, Love Made Visible, works by Pema Chodron and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and Anne of Green Gables. I cast soul cards and recorded dreams, I enlisted my friends, had psychic surgery and bio energy sessions, called the entities, angels, ancestors, and avatars. The big guns… Buddha, Krishna, Christ, Gaia (and Madam Pele when I was in Hawaii)… and a tonne of small furry animals as well.

One of my human helpers was the amazing Alanna Fero, who literally wrote the book on how to do what you love to do: Love Made Visible. I was armed, energized, and ready to dive in head first. Alanna helped me successfully resign from my soul-eating job and transition into something that better supported my writing life and my sanity.

…and still I resisted doing the thing I professed to love to do the most.

One day I was telling her all about how I had gone from one job to the other and it was still a bit crazy and although this job was way better than the old one and I was so grateful and now I had less stress and more time to work on the house and blah and blah but I just couldn’t focus on my writing right now except little blog posts and maybe I can start next month…

She said, There are 11,000 reasons why it can’t be done and none of them are true.

Darn. That’s what happens when you enlist helpers to really help you. They don’t let you get away with anything.

If anyone had said that to a much younger me, I would have gotten self-righteous and indignant. Now I know what real support, love, and compassion look like. One of my favourite lines from a lecture by Allen Ginsberg is I never learned so much as when I shut up and listened.

(BTW – If you tell your friends all the reasons it can’t be done and they nod and concur and tell you their own woes, then they are not supporting you.)

Alanna asked me how many script ideas I had. I laughed and told her, Enough for several lifetimes. She told me to pick one and start by Feb 1st.

So here I go, and you can come too. Whether you’re working on a screenplay or novel or something else entirely, the following exercises will help. This week is about pre-work to writing the thing. This is to get you ready to do the thing you profess to love to do the most. (And if you’re already one of those keeners who works on their novel every morning from 5:30 AM – 7:30 AM without fail, you may still be amused.)

Always remember the universe is on your side. Once you make a commitment to something with passion and persistence, everyone and everything will jump in to support you. That’s pronoia!


1) Find a support system, a team of people who’ve got your back. You meet on a regular basis. They can be individuals, a small group, a paid professional.They hold you to your commitments and keep you on purpose.

I meet every week with two friends to go over challenges, successes, new goals, and support needed from each other. I just hooked up with another writer to meet once a month to critique and brainstorm. And I’ve got Alanna, who I’ve scheduled a total of 12 sessions with. Hiring a professional (life coach, career coach, etc) can be affective because they have no emotional attachment to you or your situation.

2) Take a long walk alone. Let your mind wander. Allow all your ideas and stories and characters and images float around in your brain. Decide on your next project before you get home. Make a mental commitment that when everything else seems more interesting and easier, you will stick with that project. Tell everyone on your team what you’re working on.

I took a walk this week and decided to work on a script of mine called The Van Goes. I call it my “Lttle Miss Sunshine.”

3) Buy a notebook and a bunch of your favoutie pens. This notebook is your brainstorming and exercise book for your story. Write the name of your story on the cover. Carry it with you everywhere. Any time you have 5 minutes (on the bus, waiting for a friend, etc), write your ideas down in it (I’ve suggested some start lines below). Do not edit, do not cross out, just write without stopping.

You can use the startlines below, write character lists (names, ages, descriptions, etc.), or write down what I call “moments.” That’s when a scene hits me and I’m not sure when it goes in the story, but I want to write it down. Scene when Chelle overhears Max getting a girl’s cell phone number and she feels like a bad mom because she can’t afford to get the family a cell phone.

4) Pull a page out of your notebook and write a letter to yourself that you will not open until you are done with your screenplay, novel, story, etc. In the letter congratulate yourself and give suggestions of how to celebrate. Tell yourself you knew you could do it, etc. If this seems cheesy, it totally is. But sometimes we forget to celebrate our successes and just keep going. Your team will also help you celebrate.


If you find yourself stuck in front of a blank page, here are a few start lines you can try. Remember, write quickly without stopping and without editing. If you run out of things to say, write blah, blah, blah, i can’t think of anything to write about my character Susie because I’ve never known anyone like her… etc.

Also, I use conjunctions to connect ideas and use very little punctuation… keeps things flowing.

This is a story about… (forgiveness, forbidden love, jealousy, revenge…)

Before this story began, my protagonist…

When this story begins, my protagonist…

More than anything, my protagonist wants…

By the end of the story, my protagonist has learned…

What if… (always a good one, just lists when you get stuck on an answer… what if the twins find a kitten? what if Max wants a job? what if her father dies? and then when you strike something that resonates, riff on that for a while… Oh, yeah, Max not only wants a job, he wants to be emancipated and move in with this girlfriend…)

Feel free to mention the project you’ll be working on in the comments. Saying it out loud keeps you more committed to it.


  1. larryhoser
    Jan 24, 2009

    I’m writing my first book.

  2. openchannel
    Jan 25, 2009

    of course you are! you rock, Larry!

  3. Paul
    Jan 25, 2009

    Yayay, ‘digitus extractus’ as they say in Australia, haha. The most important thing, as you point out, is to have a small group of people around you who you respect and whose support will be both honest and unconditional. Everything is always possible and life is an amazing adventure. Rage on, I say.

    hey, look, I figured out how to respond inside the comment like you do. neato.

  4. openchannel
    Jan 25, 2009

    hey Paul. yeah, when my Australian friend Sian first said “pull it out” to me – I thought that was the best phrase ever (especially in the accent).

    absolutely… friends don’t let friends make excuses for being small.

    (Paul rocks, too, check out his site.)

  5. Matt Haley
    Jan 25, 2009

    Good on you luv, that’s how it’s got to be done, it’s why I threw caution to the wind and built SAFE. You rock – mh

    Matt! did you hurt your back throwing that caution into the wind?

  6. julia
    Jan 26, 2009

    I love your experience with the helper who gives the advice you need, not the advice you want. Annoying, isn’t it?

    I’m glad you’ve made some steps forward in switching jobs. It’s just a matter of habit to work in the writing. I’ve grown accustomed to sitting my butt in front of the computer every night at 7:30. A few years ago I didn’t have that habit. I also had a different job (a soul-sucking job, in fact.) Things work out!

  7. art predator
    Jan 26, 2009

    yay for you danika! great post!

    and umm….Anne of Green Gables????

    Yes, Anne of Green Gables! I needed something to inspire the child in me. I’d never read it before. Love it.


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