Why Screenwriters Should Imitate Odysseus

Do you remember the bit in the Odyssey where Odysseus lashes himself to the mast? He knew that the Sirens (two seductive bird women) could lure sailors with their enchanting music and songs to shipwreck on the rocky coast of the island where they lived.

He instructed his men to stuff their ears with wax so they couldn’t hear the enticing sounds, and to tie him to the mast so he could hear them but not steer his ship toward them.

When he heard them, he ordered his men to untie him but they refused.

You’re Odysseus. You’re on a journey–writing your screenplay.

The Sirens are…new ideas. Beautiful, fresh, uncorrupted, seductive new ideas. They sing, ”We are better! We are more beautiful! We promise more! You’ll enjoy writing us…not like that hard work you’re stuck in at the moment! Leave that old idea, push it overboard, steer over here!”

Tie yourself to the mast!

By all means listen, even take notes (if your hands aren’t tied…) but don’t go there. Not now. Those Sirens will age quickly. They’ll turn into the same (temporarily) unbeautiful hags you’re struggling with (sometimes they’re called Act II).

If you stay on course, a miraculous thing will happen. You’ll write and rewrite. Then you’ll rewrite some more. And pretty soon, that thing you’re working on will start to look a lot more attractive.

And it won’t crash on the rocks.

(Jurgen Wolff’s screenwriting blog is at www.ScreenwritingSuccess.com, where you can sign up for his free monthly Brainstorm creativity e-bulletin. His most recent books are Your Creative Writing Masterclass and Your Writing Coach, both published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon and other booksellers.)



Jurgen Wolff is a writer, teacher, and creativity consultant. In the United States, he wrote for sitcoms including Benson and Family Ties. He wrote the feature film, The Real Howard Spitz, starring Kelsey Grammer and directed by Vadim Jean. He was a script doctor on the hit film, Mannequin and others starring Michael Caine, Walter Matthau, and Eddie Murphy. For Germany, he co-created the comedy series, Lukas, which ran for 65 episodes, and an original comedy series called Krista. He also wrote nine episodes of the series, Relic Hunter. He wrote two TV movies for the Olsen Twins, and several the German TV movies including, On Top of the Volcano, starring Maria Schrader and Sebastian Koch (2007). His play, Killing Mother, was produced at the Gorky Theatre in Berlin, and he’s also had plays produced in New York, Los Angeles, and London.

As a writing and creativity teacher, his courses include Beyond Brainstorming, Create Your Future, The Creative Breakthrough Workshop and the ground-breaking Script Coach Series developed exclusively for Raindance. He has presented his courses at the University of Southern California, the University of Barcelona, the Skyros Institute, many films schools, and groups and organisations including The Academy for Chief Executives, Egmont, Grundy-UFA, and Columbia-Tri-Star. For eight years he was a visiting lecturer for the Pilots Program in Sitges.

His books include Your Writing Coach and Your Creative Writing Masterclass (Nicholas Brealey Publishing), Creativity Now (Pearson), Do Something Different (Virgin Business Books), Successful Scriptwriting (Writers Digest Press), Top Secrets: Screenwriting (Lone Eagle Press), and Successful Sitcom Writing (St. Martin’s Press).

He has written for many publications including the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Broadcast Magazine, and he is the editor of Brainstorm, the creativity ebulletin.