Scriptnotes Episode 120: “Stop Getting High”

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Craig: I think twenty-somethings just get way higher than we ever did. They just –

John: That may be true.

Craig: They just get high all the time. Our generation obviously got high and still gets high. And drinks. And drank and still drinks. But weed in and of itself, when we were in our twenties you could get arrested, you know? [laughs] Like I had to hide it. You really can’t now. There’s not a — and I actually like that. I believe that marijuana should be legalized.

However, I also believe that if you want to be — and this is what I told this person — stop getting high. If you want to write a screenplay, stop it. You want to get high Friday night through Sunday afternoon? Go for it. But this is a job that to me at least requires an enormous amount of sobriety. Even the famous writers who were notoriously drunk –

There was an interesting article recently. A lot of them found that they were most productive when they were writing through hangovers. It was in the aftermath of the drinking and the abuse. But, it’s romantic to think that you can get high and write the best stuff of your life.

I don’t think it works at all.

John: Well, in a general sense let’s talk about writers and drugs, because I think it’s actually a fascinating topic. The writers who get high because getting high reduces their inhibitions and makes the words flow or whatever, that was never me, and it’s not the experience I’ve noticed from any of my writer colleagues who sort of of my cohort. So, it’s entirely possible that this next generation that’s rising up to replace us, they are tremendously successful at writing while high and I’m just completely missing it. That same way that like I kind of didn’t understand why anyone would have a manager, then Justin Marks explaining why writers have managers.

So, it’s entirely possible that I’m wrong. But I kind of don’t think I’m wrong. Because my experience of being around people who get high a lot is that either you can do two things. You can use it as a crutch. Basically like, well, I can’t write because I’m not high, and I’m always high when I write. That’s tremendously challenging when you’re in any situation where you can’t get high. Where you’re actually in a room working on something and that becomes your thing. It’s like having this weird thing where you can only write when the sun is streaming through the window one certain way and any other way it won’t work. That’s bad. That’s not going to be useful to you.

The other thing I would say is that most of the people I know who get high a lot, their ambition just sort of dissipates a bit. And without ambition, I don’t think you’re going to be able to generate the quantity and quality of work it’s going to take to really make a screenwriting career.

Craig: I agree. I think that it’s important for me to point out that my experience of my cohorts is exactly the same as yours. I don’t know one single successful writer who has maintained a career who continues to abuse drugs or alcohol. I know some that have, and gotten over it, but I don’t know any that continue to do it as a matter of practice and can still function through it. I also think that the problem with writing while you’re high is that you’re not writing. The whole point of getting high is to alter your consciousness, which is fun.

It’s totally fun. Drinking is fun. And getting high is fun. I get it. But it’s about expanding your consciousness, and letting go of who you are for awhile, and when you come back from it, perhaps you can come back with something that you’ve learned about yourself. But then you’re not writing. There’s a you and it’s the sober you. I don’t know how else to put it.

John: I would agree with you. Writing is really hard. And so I think some of the instinct behind using something like pot or people who are using Provigil or Ritalin or other sort of stimulant things, helps them sort of focus in on what they’re doing, it’s an attempt to make something that’s inherently hard feel easier. But in making it feel easier, it’s unlikely that you’re going to find great success in that solution.

If you’re on one of these, if you take Ritalin or whatever, you may pile through more pages. The odds that they’re going to be awesome pages are very, very small.

Craig: Yeah. Yeah.

John: And I would also say the same with pot. You may write a few good sentences, but it’s unlikely you’re going to get the work done that needs to get done.

Craig: No, screenwriting is rigorous. It requires enormous attention. To me, writing while altered is right up there with directing while altered. Or driving. And I’m taking away even the aspect of how dangerous that would be for other people, yourself physically. I mean to say your just not very good at it.

It’s something that requires focus, and attention, and intention, and thought. And the whole point of getting high is to make some of that stuff go away. You know, beyond caffeine and, you know, cigarette, you know, if you feel like hurting your lungs.

But, yeah, just no. Don’t. I think culturally speaking I was a little taken aback, not in a judgmental way, but more in a, huh, I think this is probably going on more than you and I realize.

John: I would agree.

Craig: So, advice here is stop. I don’t think it’s going to help you.

John: Yeah. And so I want to phrase it as this is not a moral judgment about sort of whatever substances you want to consume. Just in my experience looking at sort of historical record of people I know who have succeeded and got stuff done, none of the people I know who have succeeded and really gotten a lot of stuff done have been using stuff frequently to do it.

Craig: Totally.

John: Beyond the exact examples that you list, which are caffeine, which is getting you up and getting your focused through that next bit. And some people do smoke. But not that many people smoke now. Even Craig Mazin doesn’t smoke now.

Craig: Yeah, it’s an occasional, you know. The guy that needs to smoke a cigar every day while you’re writing. Great. Worked for Mark Twain. And really caffeine and nicotine or sort of two peas in a pod. But, you know, totally agree with you. This is not judgmental. I believe all drugs should be legal. I’m very libertarian about that. And I don’t care what you do when you you’re not writing. But, I do want you to be writing, not high or drunk you.

John: Yeah. That’s very important. And I will also say that I’m not discounting the fact that some people have special challenges and their brains are not working right, and so this is really talking about an otherwise healthy person who is trying to write a screenplay.

If you are a person who is sort of not overall healthy in life and needs some other antidepressant or whatever else, go do that and take care of yourself first. So, that’s not like a blanket statement against all drugs or any medication that could help a person.

But specifically taking something in order to get yourself to start writing is not my advice to you.

Craig: Agreed.

Full transcript available here:

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