Every writer has dozens of ideas or projects running at once and it is easy to take the ones that are to be published or produced and make them a priority. When was the last time you wrote something for yourself? Indulged in some fan fiction for your favorite crime show or typed some spontaneous poetry on your typewriter?
If you haven’t done it recently, I highly suggest you try it. There are many benefits to starting a personal project. Do you need to finish it all in one sitting? Absolutely not. If you keep something around, a simple online published casual project, you may find yourself reaping some sweet benefits.
Ever wanted to write that sci-fi mini-series about an old granny who was the fiercest space pirate in the galaxy? No, it may not be award-worthy and your writing style might be more serious drama, but that doesn’t mean it should be forgotten in the pages of your notebook. Write it up! Experiment with the comedy! If there’s a genre you love, but are afraid to write a story for, try it! That’s what personal project are all about.
Did you recently read a book and love the author’s writing style? Or watch a film with dialogue to die for? Try mimicking it with a short story or a small plot line that you had discarded years ago. You could even try using story dice or those card games for writers to keep it interesting without spending too much time agonizing over the details. This is for fun, so have fun! Learning is just the cherry on top.
2. Focused Improvement
Has something been bogging you down in your current project? Dialogue? Action? Show not tell description? Character consistency? Here’s your chance! Grab some ideas, find what you want to focus and improve on and do some exercises. If you want abs, you can’t just run marathons – you have to target those muscles. Write some short stories or even just a tossed together scene.
Do you need to write something completely new? Of course, not. If you’re really committed to this story and working on it, but you want to flesh out your characters more: write a new scene. Have them go through an entire mental dialogue so you can figure out who they are or what they want. Or you can have them meet other characters in the bar and work on their interactions. With the pressure of this needing to be “perfect” for the publisher or producer, it will be easier to focus on what needs improvement rather than the overall shine.
3. Take a Break
Have you just finished your third screenplay in two months? Have you been chasing one competition after the other? Take a break. Do something for you. Not only will this give you a moment to breathe, but it can also help you be refreshed when you inevitably jump back into the self-inflicted torture we all love called writing. You may find it difficult to write casually without a guide. Try those dice or card game linked above or even this Emergency Writer Pack with idea cards. Scroll through Pinterest or think back on memories you have that might make an interesting story.
The trick is to not worry. Don’t think too hard about the gears and fine print of the story – just on the simple things: characters, action, and having fun. Want to write a story about talking stones and their dull adventures on the canyon floor or an anthropological journal of a space explorer encountering new planets? Take this time to remember writing isn’t all about the paycheck and the audience. It’s about making people feel something and that includes you feeling something other than stress.
4. Keeps You Writing
We all know Newton’s First Law of Motion: an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by a force. If your motivation is fizzling for a certain project due to stress or anxiety, take a step back and take up your personal project. It’s easy to refuse to write something that makes your stomach tighten and panic and that could lead to bad habits of going long stretches of time without writing. Believe me. It’s happened to everyone.
In these moments, awareness of the situation is key. Pick up your personal project and focus all your frustration into it. Start small. Start easy. Don’t try to tackle a whole new project and call it a “personal project” when you really just want to jumpstart a new competition piece. Know that you need a break, but that falling prey to scrolling through social media won’t help. You need to keep writing and personal projects are great. Write a simple poem or create a restaurant and give it a personality. You can do it. The words need you.
Of course, this isn’t all the benefits of personal projects. It varies for a lot, but these were the biggest points for me. One of the final things you need to learn about personal projects is: you have to be ready to let them go. At any moment an idea might strike or that final puzzle piece falls into place for your main project and you’ll want to jump to it. Do it! You deserve to have that forward momentum and keep it.
However, if you’re a completionist like me, leaving a story unfinished might drive you insane. That’s okay. If you keep your personal projects small, this will be less of a problem, but sometimes I have to break them up into scenes or chapters so I know “well I finished that chapter, so it’s okay if I abandon it for a while”. You’re writing this for you. There should be no pressure. That’s the beauty of them.
As always, happy writing and enjoy this lovely fall weather before the cold!
Beverly Peders is a Screenwriting graduate from Drexel University. She loves all visual writing mediums and has experience in writing plays, comic books, screenplays, TV sitcoms, and video games. World building is her favorite and she obsesses over anthropology and linguistics. In her spare time, you may find her trying to get over her fear of heights at a rock wall or adopting yet another plant because she can’t afford an actual pet.