I’ve read hundreds of scripts by very competent writers, and very few have ever given me a single moment of surprise. Yet all the great scripts I’ve read are constantly surprising.

So what’s going wrong?

By coincidence, I was listening to Robert Harris (no relation) talking about his new novel The Fear Index – set in the world of finance and computers.

He was talking about the way finance computers exploit our fears. Essentially, when people are afraid they become predictable – the computers that buy and sell in the City and Wall Street like it when we’re predictable.

Unfortunately audiences don’t. In fact, it’s one of the quickest ways to ensure that an otherwise well-written script ends up in the bin.

What to do?

Look at your mind-set first. Are you approaching writing with a feeling of anxiety? Probably. I don’t know any writers who are calm and relaxed all the time, much as they might like to be.

Actors, too. But I’ve helped nervous actors turn those natural “performance” nerves into creative energy, even playfulness. Writers can do the same.

How often do you sit down at the computer in a spirit of play? Could you imagine doing it? What difference would it make to how you write?

Actors, like musicians, footballers, and other performers also know that the best way to free up and lose your inhibitions is (paradoxically) to train constantly at the skills of the craft.

It doesn’t surprise me that the most consistently surprising writers and directors are also those who have studied film most profoundly. Martin Scorsese, to name one of the greatest living directors, is more knowledgeable about the history of the movies than any film buff.

(And if you love film and haven’t seen Hugo, you absolutely must, in 3D if possible).

So – surprise everyone: be playful and study your craft 24/7. Get so good at your craft that you can dance with it, with freshness and spontaneity.