One View on Writer's Block...

A fellow writer posted the following on one of the screenwriting boards. I liked what I read (mainly cuz I wholeheartedly agree with every word of it), so I asked for permission to post here on my blog. Here it is...

"There's no such thing as writer's block. That was invented by people in California who couldn't write." - Terry Pratchett

I don't believe in writer's block. Most of the “serious” writers I've known don't, either. I agree with the one who says, “It's an indulgence of amateurs. When you've got a contract with a deadline, you either turn in a manuscript or return your advance. You may find writing difficult and your results unsatisfying, but you do it anyway, because that’s what professional writers do: they write.” However…

I do believe in the realization that if your current work is of poor quality it should be abandoned. (Don’t delete it—the idea may be worthwhile even if the execution isn’t.)

I believe in inadequate preparation.

I believe in inadequate organization, too.

I believe in writing yourself into a corner so tight that you either need to start over or abandon it.

I believe in lost enthusiasm for a particular work.

I believe in lack of focus, in not knowing what your story’s really about and why these characters should tell it.

I believe in increasing boredom with an entire genre that’s become too familiar.

I believe in well-crafted characters you don’t want to spend time with. (And if you don’t, nobody else will, either.)

I believe in stories that require a daunting amount of preliminary research before you can write. (“Sure, that’s it—a police procedural following a serial killer who’s targeting milliners in 1910 Belgium!”)

I believe in shyness and lack of confidence that makes seeking expert advice or background hideously difficult or impossible.

I believe in not knowing how to start, or where to start, or even if you should start.

I believe in finding the need to learn basic writing mechanics and screenplay format so boring or off-putting that you’d rather procrastinate than spend the time it takes (which isn’t much for format).

I believe in concluding that your whole concept is stupid, immature, derivative, impractical, embarrassing, too personal, legally actionable, or any of a host of other fatal flaws.

I believe in realizing that you're not as good as other people—the ones who ought to know, like teachers and fellow writers—think you are.

I believe in realizing that you're not as good as you think you are—or ought to be.

I believe in that “what’s-the-use” attitude after you learn that your first several screenplays are probably going to be pretty bad regardless of the blood, sweat, and tears you give them.

I believe in the inability of young writers to write characters well beyond their own age and, regardless of research, situations well beyond their experiences—and I believe in the incredible frustration of being young and bursting with ideas that you shouldn’t tackle yet.

Now, any of those can stop you dead in your tracks and keep you stopped. The question then becomes: How can you get started again?

Give yourself permission to write utter crap. Lousy ideas, poor grammar and spelling, stilted dialogue…Write it anyway. Nobody has to see it. Written things can be revised or rewritten to improve them. The blank pages of the “blocked” remain blank.

Change your writing environment. Try something radically different. If you write on your computer in a quiet room, try a spiral notebook in a park or coffee house, or ruled paper on your grandmother’s dining room table. (Not recommended: your blood on walls.)

Perform writing exercises. Writing something different may free you.

Move physically. Play a sport, go for a walk or run, swing on a playground, whatever you like, but get your blood pumping. When it's racing through your body, the brain gets plenty of oxygen—and ideas.

Give yourself blocks of unstructured time when you’re not likely to be sleepy. Find a quiet place, think about your current writing project, and let your mind wander. Rein it back to the subject as needed. This can be combined with physical movement—a long walk may be an idea wellspring!

Play What If…? with what you see. What if the kid cutting your sandwich suddenly plunged that knife into the woman at the cash register? What if he merely put caustic chemicals in the mayonnaise? What if the sandwich and kid are fine, but you choked, right here at your table? What if you gave half your sandwich to that lady over there who looks poor? What if she thanked you for it by giving you something valuable (that she didn't think was worth more than the sandwich)? What if you sold it and couldn’t find her to give her any of the money? What if she found you and demanded all of it? What if...

Write daily, every day, no exceptions, for a set amount of time. If you can't write, you must remain in your writing environment for the set amount of time anyway. Your choices are a) write, and b) don’t write. No games, no internet, no texting, no TV.

Stimulate your mind with new experiences. If you're a movie fan, see a play or watch a street performance. Hear live music rather than CDs, or listen to something in a genre you know nothing about. Eavesdrop on or observe people unlike most of the ones you know. People-watch (and invent lives for passers-by). Attend a sporting event (any kind, at any level) where you don't know anyone and watch the crowd rather than the players.

Upon waking, jot down the surrealistic snippets of whatever dreams you remember. They don't mean anything, in my opinion, but the odds are good that they're packed with drama.

Just do it. You don't want to be a self-indulgent amateur, right?

© 2011 by Maryn Blackburn

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