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- Creating Regular Work Habits in an Irregular Line of Work, or: How to Sit Down and Write
So, I've asked myself whether or not I’m even supposed to write, and I've concluded that I should. It is now time to face another difficult question – how, exactly? And I'm still not referring to the technical practice of writing, which I'll delve into in future posts. I'm referring to something much more fundamental, something that, at least for me, is no less of an obstacle – how to create the conditions that will allow me to write? That is, the concentration and routine required for the type of daily writing needed to write a series, a film, or any other long-form project. In this post, I'll list the lessons and tools that I've personally found helpful over years of daily struggles to sit down and write. Some of these tools I’ve borrowed from others, some I stumbled upon on my own, and hopefully, at least a few will be useful for others dealing with this form of writing paralysis. Although this post was written during a horribly abnormal time, it is also intended for normal times. Because, as we all know, sitting down to write can be tough on any given day. In fact, these tools can be used for any endeavor that requires concentration, not just writing, and particularly for those working from home. For convenience, I've divided these tools into five categories: Choosing the Time, Choosing the Tasks, Set and Setting, External Aids, and Mental Approach. And since, ironically, I'm starting to cross the boundary between writing the introduction and procrastinating writing the post itself, let's start with: Choosing the Time Oh, how I long to be a night owl. It's not just the romantic image of writing by candlelight, either – writing at night also has practical advantages, such as no phone calls or emails, as well as much less activity on social networks. But alas, I am the sleepy sort. As such, after 10 PM, my brain can barely muster the concentration required to watch Non-Challenging Niche Content with my partner. For this same reason, I also can't be the other type of person I would have liked to be – one belonging to the Stephen King school of those who wake up at 5 AM and manage to churn out three hours of writing before the world even wakes up. If you are one of these two types of people - I genuinely envy you. Unfortunately, I'm stuck with a depressingly basic brain that provides its optimal concentration between 9 AM and noon. In any case, let's not judge ourselves; we have the rest of our lives for that. What's important now is to understand when our good, mediocre, and bad hours are, and act accordingly. Of course, all of this is further complicated by additional objective constraints – like upcoming deadlines, non-sleeping children, or having to maintain a day job – but let’s start with how to use what time we do have. Once we’ve noted our good, mediocre, and bad hours, the task is relatively simple: divide them into work blocks and then slot our tasks into them, according to the mental capacity needed for each task. For example, I generally divide my day into two work blocks – the morning block (my good hours) and the afternoon block (my mediocre hours). Each block lasts two to four hours, depending on deadlines, and each is filled with tasks that match my concentration level during those hours of the day. In the morning block, I try to schedule tasks that require the most brain power. Code name - "Creative Block." For example, breaking a new episode, writing new script pages, or a complex rewrite. After this block, I'll schedule a break of about an hour or two, ideally including food and a power nap. Then I'll return for the afternoon block (my mediocre hours), where I'll schedule tasks that require some thought, but less of it. Code name - "Edit Block." These tasks may include more technical rewrites, research, and work meetings or Zoom calls. During upcoming deadlines or intense production, I may need to convert the Edit Block into a Creative Block to write more pages per day. Tasks that require minimal thought – such as non-urgent work meetings, logistics, invoices, emails, reading a blog about screenwriting, etc. – will be saved for my bad hours, the in-between hours (code name "Email Block"). The Email Block can be spread out at different times of the day - for example, half an hour at the end of a work block, right after lunch, or late in the evening. During less busy periods, I may switch the afternoon "Edit Block" for a less taxing "Email Block." But how do we divide our time within the blocks themselves? Should we sit and focus on writing or editing for two, three, or four consecutive hours? Generally, no. Except for rare occasions, it's rare for me to write for such long stretches. Therefore, I break up each working block into shorter mini-blocks, about an hour to an hour and a half each. Between them, I’ll take a short coffee-snack-phone break of about 10-15 minutes and go back to work. Each of these mini-blocks will generally include one primary creative task. If my concentration levels are low, I may try the Pomodoro technique, which consists of 25 minutes of work followed by a 5-minute break, and so on. Here's an example of how such a day might look like: Some tips I’ve picked up the hard way: 1. Do not schedule meetings on your Creative Block. True, these hours are often the most sought after for meetings – because we all generally prefer not to work – but it's a surefire recipe for squandering away a day of writing. 2. Don't start your workday by responding to non-urgent emails, as this will often kill your momentum and somehow always leave just not enough time to do any meaningful work. 3. Do not - and I emphasize once more, do not - schedule an entire day for "work" without any internal division or limitations. For me, this usually leads to minimal productivity. As I continue to discover, I'm not very good at dealing with large chunks of time. Hence, the logic of dividing a big chunk of unmanageable time into smaller and smaller blocks. Choosing the Tasks Just as I find myself confounded in the face of vast chunks of time, I repeatedly discover that contrary to my perception of myself as a formidable task-juggling octopus - I'm actually a middling multi-tasker at best. While scheduling more than two or three creative tasks for the same day may sound like an efficient option, for me, it will usually end with rescheduling the same tasks for the next day on my to-do list. The optimal situation for me is scheduling one large task for the Creative Block (morning) and one large task for the Edit Block (afternoon). If these two tasks concern the same project, all the better. As for the scope of the tasks themselves? It is always better to be realistic, leaving room to surprise ourselves for the better, rather than always ending on a sour note, which will later fuel some unnecessary self-hatred. For example, if I know the number of pages I can reasonably write in one work block is 5, I'll aim for 3 or 4. I'll also plan for a schedule that allows me enough days to finish the draft at the most pessimistic writing pace, plus a day or two for rewrites. Some Tips I Constantly Try and Remember: 1. Avoid setting unrealistic, unattainable goals, such as writing a whole episode in one day. This will only lead to frustration, anxiety, and self-loathing – and ultimately to lower page count. 2. Don't spread yourself too thin: Especially in creative endeavors like writing, it's generally advisable to only juggle a few different projects in one workday. With screenwriting duties, as opposed to production duties, two different projects in one day should be the maximum. Remember that transitioning between projects also takes up mental energy and time. Set and Setting I’ve always liked the saying, "Don't sh*t where you eat." I'm not sure whether the writing, in this case, is the eating or the sh*tting, but I do know this: you should try to give it its own separate space. On high-concentration days, I can usually write at my home office. However, this took years of practice, plus a global pandemic. For most of the years prior, I would write in coffee shops. I'm not sure why—perhaps the inherent guilt in the proximity of others keeps me off my phone—but my productivity in coffee shops is significantly higher than at home. Even now, when my concentration is subpar, I’d take my headphones and go to a coffee shop to write. There, I’d often get a full day's work done in just a few hours. Here's my recipe for choosing a suitable coffee shop for work: not too small (to avoid feeling like a better-paying customer could use the spot); second-rate coffee (so I feel that they need me just like I need them); ensure they are laptop-friendly; try to order something for every hour of work, even if it's just a soda. Regarding shared workspaces, it's tricky. Personally, libraries give me The Shining vibes. However, I know others for whom it works. My favorite workspace, where I was most productive, closed a few years ago, and I have been looking for a replacement since. Occasionally, I'll try a new place, but until then, it seems I am destined for a life of bland coffee. Additional Tips: 1. Listen to yourself, and don't be afraid to experiment. Different places work for different people. For example, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, bless her, actually writes in bed. 2. Coffee shops where you always meet friends and acquaintances may be more attractive, but are far less effective. 3. For gamers - it's not recommended to have games on your work computer. Better to keep a separate gaming computer or console. If this is not possible, and your only gaming option is your laptop, try not to play games at your work desk (i.e., where you eat). External Aids Now, for the easy part – a list! Who doesn't love lists? Mean and bitter people, that's who. So here's one with a few external aids to improve concentration: Music: Sadly, music with lyrics affects my concentration more negatively than positively. Instrumental music, however, especially with headphones on, helps drive away that incessant voice in the back of my that’s looking to do other stuff. The effect on productivity is pretty amazing. Classical music works and instrumental movie soundtracks are both solid options. Recently, lo-fi beats have been my go-to. You can find the original for free on YouTube or Spotify (pro tip – if you’re using Spotify, go into the playlist, click "More options," and select "Exclude from your taste profile." Just trust me on that…). Preventing Distractions: A writer’s worst enemies are the phone and the web browser. And I don’t mean just reaching the end of Instagram Stories (yes, there is one, apparently). To avoid work, I’ve found myself developing downright bizarre habits, such as compulsively checking currency rates (true & recent story). Therefore, preventive measures are crucial. For laptops, I've found the Cold Turkey Blocker quite effective. It allows blocking specific websites and programs with various "locks." My favorite is the one requiring you to type a long, random sequence of characters to unlock. The paid version also allows block scheduling (not a sponsored link – this is just what I use myself). For your phone, I personally find the iPhone's focus features not drastic enough. Surprisingly, it doesn’t take me long to break the 4-digit code that I myself picked. The best solution I’ve found so far is the Forest app. It allows planting a virtual tree for a predetermined time, during which access to pre-defined apps is restricted. If you try to open those apps, your tree will die and forever taint your digital forest. The app offers different tree species, and you can even plant real trees using points earned through virtual tree planting. The Reward System: During tough times, especially when facing a task I don't want to do, I resort to a system of rewards via entertainment. I’d choose a casual-viewing series or a compelling video game and set a rule: for every hour of work or every certain number of pages, I will earn between fifteen and thirty minutes of watching or gaming. Not ideal for the long term, but it’s better than staring at a blank screen. The Power Nap: Ah, the post-lunch power nap. Since turning 30, it has become an inseparable part of my day. Besides being a delightful activity in itself, the extra boost in concentration it provides in relation to the time invested (20 to 30 minutes is ideal) makes it highly cost-effective. There are many days when I'm actually more efficient after a power nap than in the morning, achieving a surprising amount of writing. Also, if the morning didn’t go well, a nap is a great way to reset the day and give it another go. Other People: As is well known, the best thing about other people is the mortifying guilt they induce. When working on a joint project, it's always easier to sit down for a writing session when you've already set a time, and any delay will be met with distaste. For non-joint projects, consider creating small writing groups and mutual deadlines. It may not always work, but at least you’ll have someone to complain with. Mental Approach I've made the mistakes listed above an unfathomable number of times. I intend to make some of them again this very week. And even on days when I do everything "right," there will still be cases where nothing comes out. Therefore, it's important to practice kindness toward ourselves, both to maintain sanity over time and for practical reasons—to give the rest of the day another chance, which might be more fruitful. There's always another block of time, always another day. This is a marathon, not a sprint. And always remember, even Aaron Sorkin can't write most days. So, these are the tools I use. But undoubtedly, there are many more. Feel free to share your own in the comments. And since I plan to continue with this blog, go ahead and message me which topics you'd like to see in future posts. In the meantime, may you experience more Writing Blocks and fewer writing blocks.
- Who gives a sh*t about stories right now?
I will never be able to write again. Or at least, that's what I've been telling myself countless times a day in recent weeks. How can one create stories at a time when stories feel so small, so insignificant? Who cares about things like TV series right now? How can one even think about writing fiction when reality is so unbearable, scary, all-encompassing? Perhaps I should state the obvious – this is not how I thought I'd start this blog. This blog has been living in my head for a long time as something I was looking forward to. A way of escaping routine, an opportunity to explore the creative process that I love so much and to share it with others. I never imagined that the first post would emerge from such palpable fear. But that's how it turned out. The intellectual exploration of questions about the craft of writing will have to wait for another day. Right now, I need to answer a much more immediate question – how can one write at a time like this? For me, the question is not just a philosophical one; it's a very pragmatic one. As someone who earns a living as a fiction screenwriter, my rent and emotional eating both depend on how, when, and even if I can return to doing what I do (and, at times, love doing). In fact, as I write these words, behind the document where I’m typing hides another document. One that contains the latest draft of an episode I’m currently rewriting. And the headline reads - Last Update: October 6th, 2023—the day before the world changed. I haven’t as much as looked at the document in two weeks. It should also be noted that, although this post was written during an exceptionally challenging time – two weeks into perhaps the most terrible war my country has experienced and at the peak of existential dread (or at least, I hope it is) – the question of how can one write on any given day is no stranger to me. It actually pops up quite frequently. For me and many others in Israel, the entire past year has been chock-full of days like this. It’s been a year of unending emotional overload. It seems like in this past year, a day hasn’t gone by where I haven't pondered changing my line of work (for comparison, that's about twice as often as usual). For months, there hasn’t been a single "Help Wanted" sign that hasn’t caught my attention, that hasn’t had me momentarily stop and ponder what life would look like if I just took up that job at the juice stand. So how can one write at a time like this? Maybe the question that needs to be answered first is: Are stories important right now? My answer to myself (and to be fair, it hasn't produced a single written word yet, but one can hope) – is yes. Of course. Wait, no? No, it’s Yes. Maybe. Yes. Wait, but why? Well, here are my thoughts, at this current moment, on why stories are important right now: 1. Stories help us make sense of the world. If you live in the world, you might recognize the feeling of reality constantly bombarding you with an unrelenting sequence of potentially traumatic events, making it hard to breathe, making you feel a complete loss of control, confusion, and meaninglessness. Sound familiar? Congrats, you live in the world. It’s a good thing we have stories – a device whose sole purpose is to create causality between seemingly unrelated events, to have them make sense, and to imbue them with a sense of meaning. That's what the news does, to a large extent – but in that case, it not only gives reality new meanings but also reminds us how awful it can be and how vast our neighbor’s missile arsenal is. Not great. Fictional stories, on the other hand, can provide us with a sense of meaning without directly addressing the reality we're currently living in. For example, in the past week, I found myself constantly revisiting a specific scene from "The Lord of the Rings" movies. The scene doesn't deal with the current war around me, but it does provide me with tools that help me understand my own reality. That's a lot to get from a fictional story. Not to mention that a big part of my dietary philosophy was inspired by Hobbits. 2. Stories help us feel less alone. Living where I live, this is a particularly difficult time. Not to say – a spontaneously-crying-inducing time. Not to say – I recently cried while cutting carrots. Stories, however – as Charlie Kaufman beautifully put it in this 2011 lecture – have the unique power of helping us feel less alone. Even the most rational explanation of why Everything Is Going to be Fine, as logical as it may be, will never compare with the effect of a brief emotional connection with a character we feel we truly understand, simply because we're going through the same experience right now. 3. Stories are a practice of empathy. For me, this is perhaps the most important answer. One of the things I find most lacking during this time, and in such times, and in all times – is empathy. The simple desire and willingness to understand the other. And I mean empathy towards everyone - whether they are the people closest to us, who dare to expect things from us even now; the ones we bicker with on social networks; the "world" that somehow never understands us; and, yes, even those who live across from our borders. Ultimately, if we were all exposed to a well-made drama series that told us the life story of any person we fear, the conflict with them would probably look very different. If they, in turn, were also watching a series about our own lives, until we both knew and understood each other, despite all the flaws and difficulties, like we know and understand characters in a beloved series – in that case, there would probably be much less conflict in the world. The very understanding of the other does not allow for genuine hatred. And here’s the good news - stories are an extremely effective conduit of empathy. As screenwriters, we constantly have to immerse ourselves in the minds of characters completely different from us, to try and understand them and act as they would. When we watch, read, or hear stories, we do the same – we dive into the lives of others and get a glimpse into worlds we would never otherwise have access to. I wouldn't go as far as saying that the key to world peace is in our hands, but at the very least, perhaps the key to shorter squabbling in the comment sections. So yes, the world needs stories, even now. But it is not always easy. Because that same empathy that is required for writing can also be considered a luxury. For me, at least, it isn't easy to be empathetic when I do not feel personal security or when I do not have sufficient energy. I can only imagine the difficulty when it comes to an immediate life-threatening situation for my loved ones or myself. The amount of empathy writing requires can be the privilege of those not currently in distress. So what do you do if you understand that stories are essential right now, that writing is essential right now, but it's just not working? My current solution is to promise myself several assurances. I withhold the right to ignore them entirely if necessary. Here they are: I will make an effort to practice empathy towards myself, as well. It starts with recognizing that I won't always be able to write. That applies not only to difficult periods but to everyday life. There are days – and during times like these, more than one or two – when writing is simply impossible. In fact, on any given day, it's possible that I won't be able to muster the empathy and focus required for writing, and that's okay. The mental conditions essential for writing can be fragile, and beating myself up about it won't help. It certainly won't help me meet my deadline. If I did try to write, and nothing came out, I would try to be a generous producer to myself, express understanding, and let this writing day go. Ideally, I will invest the time in improving my mental state as an investment for the future. This could include meditation, volunteer work, or anything else that might help. If at all possible, I would also prepare the ground for the next day when I try to write again – for example, through research or by watching other works that may inspire me. If I really feel adventurous, I might try to set up a framework, a foundation for the next time I can write. Anything that would help me start: Tentative decisions for a rewrite. Chapter headings. The first sentence. Something. Anything that would make tomorrow's blank page just a little less blindingly white. In short, I promise myself to try to create every day that I find it possible to do so. Or at least to try and allow myself the best, most lenient, and compassionate conditions for creation. And then, to wait for it. Not to push it too hard, but not to give up on it completely. Simply to leave the door open for it. Because in the end, through this door, stories will come – and right now, of all times, they will be more necessary than ever.
- DISMISSED S2 Wins 8 Israeli TV Academy Awards
Crumbling democracy aside, here's something that gave us a much-needed, much-appreciated boost: Unbelievably, season 2 of "Dismissed" was again the lead winner of the Israeli TV Academy Awards with 8 awards (out of 16 nominations), including Best Dramedy or Comedy Series and Best Writing in a Comedy Series, both for the second consecutive time 😍
- DISMISSED To Air on Netflix Israel
In a first-of-its-kind deal with Netflix, public broadcaster KAN is making 7 select shows available on Netflix, for viewing in Israel only. These include seasons 1&2 of Dismissed, which will be available starting April 2023. https://www.timesofisrael.com/netflix-israel-to-air-kan-11-shows-including-checkout-dismissed-cramel/
- DISMISSED S2 With 16 Israeli Academy Nominations
Nominations have been announced for the 2022 Israeli TV Academy Awards, and season 2 of our show Dismissed ("HaMefakedet") has managed to match the achievement of season 1, with 16 nominations! These include nominations for Best Comedy or Dramedy Series & Best Writing in a Comedy Series. The awards ceremony will take place March 28th, 2023.
- Speaker on "Write Club"
Recently had the chance to participate in "Write Club", a monthly event bringing writers to verbally defend a word chosen for them - one of a pair of opposing words. I got to defend the word "Rebel", which feels especially timely considering the political atmosphere in Israel right now. Awkward delivery follows (Hebrew): FB: https://fb.watch/ic-aqtb96N/ IG: https://www.instagram.com/p/CnwG9cULTBY/ Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=De-1ww3V8Fw
- DISMISSED Renewed for 3rd Season
Following the finale of the highly-acclaimed second season, which aired earlier this week, we are now finally allowed to announce that Dismissed ("HaMefakedet") has been renewed for another season, to air in 2024! Our gratitude goes to the amazing fans of the show for their unbelievable enthusiasm, and to our amazing broadcaster KAN11 for their continued support and trust.
- DISMISSED S2 Premieres on KAN11
Season 2 of Dismissed ("HaMefakedet") premiered this Wednesday, and we're thrilled to report that both audience and critical reception has been absolutely mind-blowing. Couldn't be more excited to finally share this bigger, better, weirder season with everyone! Dismissed airs on KAN11, KAN digital and on Youtube (in Israel only at this point), Sundays and Wednesdays at 9:15 PM. Episode 2 is coming this Sunday. Here are some of the heartwarming reviews: Haaretz - Dismissed Returns and It Is Still a Rare Delight Maariv - It Only Just Started and I Can Already Say: The Second Season of Dismissed is Even Better TimeOut - Relevant. Touching. Funny. Dismissed Dismantles the IDF Myth
- BLOOD, MILK & HONEY @ SCRIPTED ISRAEL SUMMIT
Got the opportunity to take part in the first Sam Spiegel Film School TV Series Lab, which will take us along with the Scripted Israel Summit to LA this September. Our project - an anthology series titled "Blood, Milk & Honey" - was created together with my amazing co-parent Rani Avidan and with the support of our ever-wonderful Black Sheep Film Productions family. All this under the guidance of the brilliant Noah Stollman and alongside a group of immensely talented creators & producers. The series lab & Scripted Israel summit are a shared initiative of Sam Spiegel Film and Television School, The Israeli TV & Film Producers Association, Netflix, ViacomCBS, Ananey Studios, and the Consulates General of Israel in NY & LA.
- DISMISSED Wins 10 TV Academy Awards
Our series Dismissed (HaMefakedet) has won 10 awards at the 2021 Israeli TV Academy Awards, including Best Dramedy Series, Best Director and Best Screenplay!
- 16 Israeli Academy Award Nominations for DISMISSED
Dismissed ("HaMefakedet") has been honored with 16 (!) nominations in this year's Israeli TV Academy Awards, the most for any one series. This includes nominations for Best Writing in a Comedy Series, and Best Dramedy Series. Ceremony will take place on March 24th, 2022.
- DEAD END Wins at Discover.film Awards
Proud of our relentless web series Dead End, which has just won Best Foreign Language Animation at the London-based Discover.film awards.