My Best Method for Dealing With the Dreaded W. B.
To tell the truth, when I am already deep in the middle of a project “Writer’s Block” isn’t a tripwire for me. Getting my inner writer to shut the hell up is more my personal challenge at that stage.
But I do have a super tough time at the very, very beginning of every new original screenplay when I’m in that “so okay, big mouth, what you gonna write next?” mode. Horror of horrors. This one can keep me sleepless and suffering for months.
Committing to the core idea that I will ultimately invest years of my working life in – now there’s a decision to freeze the larynx.
My answer? Take up residence in a very large research library, and every day cruise through the stacks pulling down random volumes, not even looking at the titles, non-fiction and fiction books alike. Then for weeks, until closing time, read scores of books and magazine articles until pow – at last a juicy idea ricochets and hits something. An association is made. A connection of ideas snaps into place. Fiction fodder. And once I’ve netted that first mix of story thoughts, I can usually run with them.
But the process of finding a story cocktail can get grueling. I eventually know I’ve stumbled onto something when the knot of anxiety in my chest begins to loosen – and my family starts smiling at me again.
Always a good sign.
My Favorite Writing Prompt
As a professor, as soon as I walk into the first class meeting of every writing course I teach, I write upon the whiteboard in very large script “Write Badly With Pride.”
Of course, all the students have a good laugh. Then I smile enigmatically until everyone settles down – and I point out that I’m deadly serious.
This is a critical concept. This is the one major issue that will always separate real writers from people who wish they were real writers. If you cannot allow yourself to write badly, and I mean to the very depths of the most bone-chillingly bad prose or
dialogue you can crank out, you will never write well. Never.
And this fear of writing badly – in it’s most devastating form – is called Writer’s Block.
Don’t forget that good writing always comes into focus as the end result of lots and lots of bad writing. Only when you have a scratch draft of an awkward, unsubtle stumbling mess of words can you even begin to search for that splendid creation lurking somewhere within them. Many new writers fool themselves into believing that all the wonderful stories they long to create will somehow descend from the heavens, pass through there fingers and pour out onto paper in one fevered gush of inspired genius.
Learn to enjoy gushing out the bad stuff. Then you can really get to work.
The Most Valuable Advice I Received as a Young Writer
I can’t recall where I first heard it. I had so many wonderful, insightful mentors along the way. Maybe it came from the extraordinary playwright Robert E. Lee who co-wrote “Inherit the Wind” and other classics with his writing partner Jerome Lawrence. But it is this:
“Do not write what you know. Never write what you know.
Write the unusual in terms of what you know.”
As writers we have been urged all our lives to write what we know… and so the
world rapidly fills with screenplays and novels that tell stories about struggling writers and angst-ridden students who don’t know what they want to be when they grow up.
(That is unless you are J. D. Salinger. Then, no yawn.)
When we literally write what we know, write about our personal everyday lives, it makes us slaves to the mundane. Laid out as stories most of our personal lives are, well, dull as dirt.
Give your audiences and readers tales of brave heroes and heroines who start out
in an ordinary world but are soon forced to leave it and set forth on a grand journey – physical or emotional or both – a journey filled with risk. Pressing ever onward toward a hugely important goal while struggling against seemingly insurmountable opposition.
And fill those tales with the human truths and insights about life that you personally have come to understand.
Splash onto every page your personal wisdom and passion, yes! But unless you have lived through a truly extraordinary series of events, spare your readers a literal autobiography.
My deepest good wishes to all writers everywhere.