Permanent Pages

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Interacting With Writers Block

We tend to become instantly polarized by writers block. A voice, or a feeling, or a blank page says to you "No, No. You have nothing to say." Or maybe, for some of you, it isn't that specific, it's just a hazy feeling-- some kind of feeling of being lost that you can't quite describe. The only thing you know for sure, is that you want to go and have a rummage around the fridge, rather than write the screenplay.

Some people identify it straight out as writers block, some people just think they're 'not ready' or 'the character and story haven't developed yet.' Call it what you want, I'm going to call it writers block.

Sometimes, you need to not write. This is probably true. But for the most part, your block is a great opportunity to learn something about your story, or at least, to interact with it differently. So I want to talk about a few different tools, or at least, a few different ways of interacting with it - that I think could help you. This is also closely related to inner-critic work that I have referred to a few times in the past.

1. Think About How Your Writers Block Is Part Of The Story You Are Telling.

If you're writing a screenplay about an aging boxer who is struggling to find the energy and motivation for that last fight, or if you're writing about a teenager who's not ready to take on his duty to save the world from terrorists --- whatever it might be, it is interesting to see how your inner conflict is something that your character is going through as well.

Your inner creative block is a natural thing for all humans. There are elements of it that are similar for your character. In fact, when you think about it - that's what films are about... characters who reach their limits, struggle with them, and then surpass them to save the world/get the girl/win the fight. So use your problem as part of the solution. What does your block tell you about your character?

Interestingly, a block often comes at the point when you have written a block for your character. For example, you may write twenty pages of a script with ease - and it's the best thing you've ever written. And then you make the girl dump your character, you blow up his house, and you make him lose his job. And then you're stumped, you've lost your flow.

What happens is that you identify with your character more than you realize, you begin to find yourself lost, like your character. But rather than think 'meh, I'm out of ideas.' You're not, your character is out of ideas. And if you really delve into that, then you are going to find really exciting ways to move on with your script.

To summarize -- we tend to become a part of the field we are writing about. If we are writing an inspiring story, we get inspired -- but when we write about the tough parts, we feel those tough parts too, we sink with it. The key is to have awareness around this, and to realize it's an opportunity if you identify it and delve into it.

2. Give Your Writers Block A Name.

It's really helpful to communicate with your writers block. You may feel a bit schizophrenic doing it, but it works. When you feel that voice in your head saying 'the idea isn't there yet' - you need to hold it accountable, you need to find out why. So, give your writers block a name. For this exercise, I'm calling mine Harry.

Ask Harry, 'what is your problem? why can't we write?'

And then go and stand on the other side of the room and assume the role of Harry. And give an answer. You may find that Harry gets all confused and doesn't have an excuse. You may find that Harry is really specific, like "I don't think the character of Leigh-Ann is developed enough, she makes no sense." And then you can go and stand on the other side of the room and say "Yes, I know, because you won't let me work on her, you keep making me stop writing!" -

Before you know it, this dialogue will really open up ideas from within you. Rather than seeing the block as a sign to stop - you get a lot more practical advice from it. You need to hold it accountable, find out what its problem is.

3. Realize That Harry Isn't Neccessarily Right.

Your inner-critic, Harry, has never written a script before. And if you go and win a Best Screenplay Oscar, he's going to be really jealous. He's going to find it hard to tell you you're talentless. So realize what Harry is - he's a jealous fool, he doesn't necessarily know what's right.

If you write a joke and you hear this mad annoying fool in your head say "No! No-one will get that joke!" then tell Harry to shut up. Since when did Harry become the authority? We don't need to take him so seriously. Say to your writers block, "Excuse me, but I'm trying to write here. I don't like how you're talking to me and, correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't see your name on the cover page - so stay out of it."

Write and write, and write. Don't let that voice chop you down. If you feel "Don't write, it's not good enough," then look at it differently. It's never going to be good enough if you don't write it at all. You need to tell Harry, "I'm not handing this to anyone, I just want to write it, get some pages done. I can always redraft later.." - You need to cut yourself a bit of slack like that.

To summarize--- your writers block, your inner critic, your Harry - he's not an expert screenwriter. He's probably never achieved anything, apart from stopping you from asking out Julie three years ago by making you think you're too ugly for her. Aside from that, his life achievements are pretty low. You're the one who has big dreams, you're the one you should listen too - the inner voice putting you down is just an annoying fool. And you don't need to take fools seriously.

4. Admit That If Your Script Sucks, The World Will Not Actually End.

That's it. It helps.

5. Get Over An Edge.

A great way to find inspiration is to get over an edge, a comfort-zone. This is something you can do right now, and all you need to do is do something that you don't believe is in keeping with who you are, something you don't see as part of your identity.

As writers, we get locked in by our belief systems, our views of the world -- and that is a big limitation. This transforms when you transform your views, your beliefs. And the good thing is, you get to have some fun.

If you are Vegetarian, maybe go eat one piece of meat. Yes, you may be disgusted with yourself and think you're going to hell - but what an experience!

Go on a date with someone you find very unattractive, read a book by a writer you hate, be kind if you're hateful, be hateful if you're too kind, dress in women's clothes, step over your comfort zone and tell someone important to you why they keep upsetting you, steal something..

Whatever it might be for you - the emotions and feelings are transformational. On the other side, you realize things about yourself that you never realized before - that maybe you like the taste of cigarettes, or that being a bit hateful makes you feel empowered, or that stealing is very exciting.

I'm sure you all have something personal to you. These edges come at the very edge of our personalities. If you're a guy who never asks girls for their numbers, go and do it, be different to who you normally are. If you're a woman who never speaks her mind for fear of what others think, go and speak your mind.

By doing something simple yet BIG (for you) --- you transform, you have a new angle on life. And then when you go home and sit in front of that blank page - suddenly, you have a lot more options.


  1. WONDERFUL. Seeing that I've never completely finished any work [other than a SHORT story] I need this. What I tend to do though is write my plays in non linear formats. Get a block, skip to somewhere else and then after just meld them together. I must say though this is a good post with good points especially #1.

  2. Good points raised.
    Sometimes Matilda (my blocks name) just doesn't like to help out because I don't give her the tagline.

    Great post!

  3. What a terrific read! Writer's block is something that is incredibily discouraging for me especially because i don't have much time to write. I am so busy that when I finally get a chance to sit down and write, I'll be thinking for an hour and my time will be up.

    I loved that way you paralleled the writer's conflicts with those of the character, that's a spot on analogy.

  4. 'I don't have much time to write' is a belief system that most writers have. I guess you should check how often that's true - are you saying you never spend time flicking around pointlessly on Facebook? You never spend an hour or two writing a blog? You never walk about the house of an evening when you're free wondering what to do?

    'I have no time to write' is just another destructive belief system, so get with it Danny! :)

  5. My inner-critic's name is Diana and I already dress in woman's clothes.