Ah, writer’s block—the dreaded, famous nemesis of screenwriters who have an excellent script idea brewing in the back of their mind, but just can’t seem to get the words down.
If you’re suffering from a bout of writer’s block, first recognize that you’re not alone. It can afflict year-one screenwriting school students with just as much frequency and severity as a seasoned professional, but for the most part it can thankfully be cured and overcome with a little perspective. Let’s begin with…
A Hard Truth
If we’re being honest with ourselves, ‘writer’s block’ is just a dressed-up name for ‘procrastination.’ An electrician never gets ‘electrician’s block,’ a surgeon never gets ‘surgeon’s block,’ and a plumber never gets ‘plumber’s block’… well, that may be a term in plumbing but it’s not what we’re talking about.
As much as anyone, screenwriters have a job to do and writer’s block isn’t a great excuse for not getting it done. That said, whatever we choose to call it, it’s still a real phenomenon and one in which there are some methods with which to circumvent it. Presenting:
6 Surefire Methods for Beating Writer’s Block
1. Find the Trigger
In the vast majority of cases, there’ll be a specific mindset (or set of circumstances leading to it) that tend to trigger periods of inactivity. It could be crippling self-doubt, an innate drive for complete perfection, something as serious as overuse of substances…or just plain tedium.
The ‘block trigger’ will be (hugely) different for every screenwriter and it can be tricky to identify exactly what it is, but in doing so, you’ll almost always discover the key to overcoming it.
2. Working Publicly
One common trigger when it comes to screenwriting freeze is the knowledge that you’ve got a long process ahead of you to create a finished body of work, then all of a sudden it’ll get judged publicly in one fell swoop. That can be so daunting that it’s difficult to get going in the first place.
Consider releasing scenes or even individual pages for critique as you’re going—getting outside of your own vacuum can be liberating, and the feedback gained will help shape your direction and momentum as you progress. If worried about the potential for copyright theft, show it to your inner circle of personal friends instead of into the public sphere.
3. Define Your Processes
Feeding back into point one, just as you should identify circumstances that hamstring your mood, discover a setting and way of proceeding that tends to get you moving forward…then repeat, and tailor as you go.
4. One Simple Question…
As you find your mind wandering—in this day and age, usually manifested by opening a new tab and loading up YouTube—ask yourself one simple question: “Is this worth it?” (followed closely by “Will I regret this at the end of what’s supposed to be a writing session?”) In almost every occasion, you’ll find yourself answering in the negative and getting back to what’s really important.
5. Some Pages Are Not Equal
Don’t beat yourself up if you manage to nail six pages one day, then struggle to come up with one the next. Some scenes or dialogue will require a lot more finesse and time than others, so it may not be a case that you had ‘writer’s block’ on the one-page day and failed to produce; it’s all progress either way, and progress should be congratulated.
Writer’s block is most prevalent when the page is blank. After all, there’s over a million words in the English language, so which to begin with? This is the very first line of your magnum opus. It best be epic!
True enough—it should be a great opening line… but you can always work on that later.
Invariably, the best trick for getting over initial screenwriting block is to simply start. Go all stream-of-consciousness style if you have to; you’ll find yourself revving up to full speed in no time, and can always go back and refine the bit that got you there.
After all, there’s no great writing. There’s only great rewriting.
Now go get to it, and show that writer’s block who’s boss.