The Fear of Writing
Scott Edward Smith explains how fear of writing isn't really "fear". It's part of your DNA.
Melissa: Hi, and welcome to Writing For Actors. I'm Melissa Jobe. I'm an actor and content creator here in Los Angeles, California, and I am going to have the pleasure of talking with Scott Edward Smith. He is the writer and creator of Intimate Fame, the audio drama series of full length, one person performances that capture a moment in time of some of the most remarkable people who have ever lived. It's a great series. I highly recommend it. I'm a little biased, but you'll know why as we talk to Scott a little bit more. Hi, Scott, how are you? Great to talk with you.
Scott: Good day. How are you doing?
Melissa: I'm great, thank you. Yeah, it's just another sunny day here in California.
Scott: Good. And it's a cold winter day in Santa Fe.
Melissa: Oh, I can only imagine. It must be beautiful. So as we talk about writing for actors, and I'm so excited you're willing to share your words of wisdom with us because there's lots of things that I have questions about, and I'm curious to know how you deal with certain things as primarily a writer yourself. But there's one thing in particular that plagues me and a lot of my actor friends, and that is putting the word down on the page. There's a fear factor or insecurity about this, you know, self-imposed judgment that I think people are going to put on my project who frankly may never even see it if I don't choose to show it to them, and no one's ever even gonna know I've written a word. But they're still just getting started and getting through it. So I'm curious to know, what are your words of wisdom for getting over that fear of putting the word down on the page?
Scott: Okay. The first and probably the most important thing, and actually the only thing I need you to say, and we can just cut this off at the end of it, is that it's not fear. It is the profession that you have and you have to embrace that. It doesn't matter if you're a writer, a musician, or an actor, anything, especially in the creative world. You want to call it fear, but you can't because it's just a genetic part of you that's going to be there in the issues of self-doubt and expectations.
And you will spend so much time – we'll talk about procrastination in a minute – but you will spend so much time absorbing in the fear part of it, when it's really just part of your, you know, makeup and who you are, and you've got to make peace with that and move on from it. Because it doesn't matter. You can be opening in a Broadway show. You can be opening in a big movie. You can have written or directed it. Fear is still there on opening night and you're already successful. So it's just there and you have to find peace with it. And I think that there are ways of finding peace with that.
Melissa: Awesome. Because I have so many ideas that I'm just trying to get down on paper as a start, a good start. So I'm really anxious to hear your ways of combating this.
Scott: Okay. I think there's two areas and one of them is practical and the other is psychological. And practical – we'll speak more about the fundamentals of it in a couple of the other episodes.
Just from the practical thing. You’ve got two choices:
1. The old-fashioned way, cards
2. There's a lot of software out there that can just force you to answer questions and build a concept. It's not gonna build the best material for you, but it'll give you structure.
I use both, and the cards are still to me the best. Just put the ideas down and figure out where they go. Just from the visual point of it I'll use:
1. White cards for dialogue stuff
2. Blue cards for backstory stuff
3. Green cards for action
Then you just start building those up. And you put them up and you can look at him and you can go “there's no character development for 20 pages here. “There's no action. Nobody's moved, there's nothing going. Or it's like, what happened to that third character, you know, or the co-star of it? She just disappeared, or he just disappeared.” So that is a very practical way of forcing you just to do it.
The other is that bigger element of just making peace with the fact that fear is part of your life and it always will be and the nature of this business is isolation, and it's not just writers. Actors face isolation as do musicians and choreographers, directors. I mean, writers are probably the only one few that like, our isolation can stay ours and we never really have to deal with it unless we're on a press junket or something. Which is where true fear comes out, I think for most writers, but for actors and musicians, anyone who's performing you…
Melissa: That's a good point because, now that you say that, I think it really feels like you're performing when you're writing. It's another way of performing. And I think that's… I can see where that kind of pulls out that fear, if you will.
Scott: Yeah, but it's the… I was struggling with that because the performance side of it. If you, if you're an actor and you're writing or something like that, it's like the performance gets in your head when you're writing and it can't. You've gotta have a clean slate about it.
You know, here's a great example: when I decided to create Intimate Fame and I pulled a couple of people in on this crazy journey, you know the concept was these one person shows – 90 minutes to two hours – and, um, they could be produced once a month. So that means I just put all this pressure on me to focus and do the work. And the first two came out of stage plays – one person's stage plays – and so it was a little bit easier because I had that there. But the transformation for me was I had to get it off of the page so it was audio. And that meant because there's no visual, that it really, really, really depended on the words. And it actually made both of the scripts better stage plays because it just… it forced me to stop being a playwright and imagining what it was on the stage. Because I’m a very visual writer and that's what I see. I’ve worked on big shows and it's influenced me, and when you're doing audio it's just all taken away from me. And you're forced to do the words, which at the end of the day is what writers are supposed to be doing.
So, yeah, it's that… It's like releasing it, just getting it out of you that it isn't anything but the writing. That's where you need to stay. You can't think of it in, especially if you are performing in it or you're dancing it, or you're playing it, the music of it, you've gotta stay internalized and not think about, you know, what people are gonna think about it when they see it.
Well, listen, we are going to talk again and I'll talk about, you know, more personalized side of concepts of coaching, concepts of procrastination, which is a really important part of writing. So, um, I'm looking forward to it.
Melissa: Awesome. Thank you, Scott.
Scott: All right. Thank you.