Sunday, January 13, 2013

Writer's Block, or the nonexistence thereof

On Twitter yesterday I was lamenting that I had no ideas for this blog, when @aljohnson310 suggested I talk about writer's block.

The thing is, I don't believe in the stuff. Never have. I know some people swear it's real, and I believe it's real for them, but I've never experienced it. I've been stuck for a while, days even, but never blocked.

This last script I wrote was a big challenge, full of sticky places. I stopped working on it during the summer and wrote a whole other script before going back to it, determined to finish. I finished, but Manager has called for a major rewrite, so I was stuck again for a few days while I whined, and then another few days while I tried to figure out what to do now.

But stuck is not blocked.

A lot of this, to me, is about faith. When someone gives me a note that sounds impossible I start to get really upset - panicky, even. And then after I let the fear in for ten whole seconds (Thanks, Dr. Jack!) I remember that I can do anything. I have rarely met a script problem I couldn't figure out how to fix, and I will fix this too. Then I get to work figuring out how to fix it.

So the cure to writer's block is to have an ego the size of Montana.

It starts with knowing I can fix it. I don't know how, but I know I can.  And once I know I can, I just think a lot until I do.

I think in bed as I fall asleep. I think in the shower - Beefcake laughs at me because he can hear me talking in the shower sometimes as I practice lines of dialogue out loud - I think on the elliptical, which mercifully makes time pass faster. I think while I'm walking dogs. I think while I'm cooking dinner. I think while I'm thinking.

The hardest part for me is trying to turn my brain around. At some point, I created a vision of what a scene's supposed to look like, and once it's there, it's tough to shake. But I start thinking of all the ways the theme can be played out more. How can I make the characters experience more conflict? What if the protagonist is a different person? What if the villain is a different person? What if their relationships are different? What if I change locations? What if someone starts shooting? What if, what if....

It becomes obvious which ideas are bad ones, but then suddenly you'll think of something and the light bulb will go off and wham! You're off to the races.

But the key, I think, is not to force it. Have fun with it. Remember when you were a kid and you used to run around the house with a finger gun, pretending to be an FBI agent and shooting your sister who was listening to criminal amounts of depressing music? It's like that. You didn't worry about whether your FBI backstory made any sense, or that overindulgence of The Cure isn't actually a crime - you just made shit up. When you get stuck, you have to be able to make shit up again with wild abandon, and then reign it in later after you've thrown out every idea you can think of until something sticks.

Or at least, that's how it works for me. My cure for writer's block: I know I can solve the problem, I think and think and think, and I open my mind to new possibilities.

I got 99 problems, but writer's block ain't one.


  1. How I solved my writer's block... ?

    The south of France. That's where I go whenever I have a little trouble. Sitting under one of those umbrellas on the Riviera, working on my laptop.

    But this time was different. A man standing on the beach. Wearing a trench coat. Staring at me.

    Relax, I say. It's just a man standing on the beach in a trench coat. Staring at you.

    Then he starts walking towards me. I try to ignore him. He's standing next to me now. I look up at him. He doesn't say a word. Reaches in his pocket. Plants something on the table next to me. And walks away...

    I watch him leave, disappearing into one of the hotels. Then look at the table. A block of wood.

    A simple block of wood... I pick it up. There's engraving on the bottom. WRITER'S BLOCK -- it says. A novelty item. Must be a thousand of them.

    I take it home. Set it on my desk. Six months go by. I haven't written a thing...

    Then... A knock at the door. Two men in suits. One flashes a badge. Where's the block, he asks.

    What block... ?

    The block. Yes, the block. If these men want it, I figure it must hold some value. Wait... What's with the badge? Who are these people?

    One of them steps forward now. Begins giving me that Twilight Zone thing: Mr. Malibo Jackk. A wordsmith. A connoisseur of the phrase. A man for whom the dictionary holds promise. A pathetic little man--

    Whoa Whoa Whoa. I'm six foot one, thank you.

    Bizzare, I think...

    It's been years now. I laugh whenever someone tells me there's no such thing as writer's block.

    And how about you? Having a little trouble with that script of yours... ? Come to the south of France. Sit under one of those unbrellas. Work away at your laptop.

    Yeah. I'll be there. Standing on the beach. The guy in the trench coat... staring at you.

  2. I'm gonna be honest, Malibu. I have no idea what you're trying to say.

  3. Thanks Emily

    Appreciate your honesty.

  4. I think 'writers block' is another name for a few things that are less socially acceptable to discuss.
    First, it's perfectionism. Facing a new scene, I can say 'this is the way to go', yet I know that that ain't it, not quite. So I wait and wait until THE IDEA hits me- usually while I'm driving or on the toilet- and then I'm ready. So it's also the laziness of avoiding re-writing...

    and then there's not wanting to cut off any possible future avenues.

    and sometimes, you just hate your characters. WHY CAN'T THEY DO THIS SHIT THEMSELVES?

  5. I haven't been at this writing thing very long so maybe I don't know what the f*** I'm talking about. It seems to me though that what I like to call "writers block" is simply procrastination. Calling it writers block makes me think I'm actually a legit writer though so I tend to go with that. I'm obviously not going to be able to write that next scene if I don't sit down and try and write it. I can think of 100 lame excuses why it's not going to work for me today and then the work week starts and I have to wait until next weekend to try again. It's stupid and I hate myself.


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