There Are Voices In My Head

“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” E.L. DoctorowThe-Simpsons-s11e22-Behind-the-Laughter

Maybe it’s because I just finished binge watching United States of Tara on Netflix (highly recommended), but I’ve been thinking about voices in my head. Specifically, when I write.

A couple of voices talk to me when I am working on a script. Some good, some bad.

There’s the voice of my college professor telling me to up the stakes, to put my protagonist through hell, to get them into a situation that they can’t back out of. This voice helps me. It challenges me. I imagine the questions he would ask, the plot holes he would point out. It’s a useful voice; I’m always happy to hear it.

Then sometimes I hear the voice of the “Professional Screenwriter”. Not a specific person. This person reads half a page of what I am working on and can’t continue. He sees only rookie mistakes. He’s bored by my writing. Professional Screenwriter Guy is hard to get out of my head.

Sometimes I imagine what Craig Mazin and John August would say about my script in their Three Page Challenge on their Scriptnotes podcast.

“Nice try,” I imagine them saying, “But this needs a lot of work.”

Luckily, these are the same guys I hear offering encouragement and writing tips. Recently I was writing a scene that took place on a nondescript sidewalk on a suburban street we’ve seen a million times. But then I remembered John and Craig talking about specificity of setting, and the importance of creating a unique place for your characters to inhabit. I replayed their advice in my head and changed the scene.

Then once in awhile I’ll hear the sound of people laughing at a joke I just wrote. The audience, pleasantly surprised by the wording of a particular line, and I’m amped to top it on the next page.

Alternatively sometimes I’ll hear my dad saying, “Is this supposed to be comedy?”

On good days I’ll reach that state where I hear the characters talking: arguing with each other, explaining their thoughts, defending themselves. The scenes write themselves.

The challenge is getting past the negative voices that cause me to second guess myself, so I can reach the point of hearing my characters. I imagine that writers more experienced than I have a sort of on/off switch, where they can let voices enter their head as much or as little as they please, block out the negative, and let the positive thoughts pour in.

One thing that has helped me move past the discouraging stuff is to just keep writing. To ignore whatever is in my head telling me to stop, to check facebook, to quit, that nothing I write is good enough. Ignore that stuff long enough and it seems to fade away little by little…

One thought on “There Are Voices In My Head

  1. wadewade says:

    I know all these voices very well, Emily. And I’m not quite sure if more experienced writers have that on/off switch. I think what you’re going through is the same thing every writer goes through every time they sit down to write. At least, that’s what one of my more encouraging voices tells me. 🙂


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