How to beat writer’s block

AUTHOR’S NOTE ADDED 9/5/13 – This is one of the first blogs I wrote.  I didn’t really know what I was doing, and it embarrasses me.  I rewrote the article here, but I thought I would leave the old draft up for posterity.

I don’t want to write this blog.  I actually never feel like writing.  I am a goddamn Rhodes scholar at not writing.  It’s my particular genius.  It’s a kinship I share with the bulk, if not the rest, of humanity.

And yet write we must.

People often come to me with the old complaint, “I don’t have time to write.”  What this boils down to is that in their perfect world they’ll have (X) number of hours to write, and if that becomes untenable they say, “Whelp, I don’t have three uninterrupted hours with which to commit my acts of genius writing, better stall until tomorrow.”  And then tomorrow comes, and so on, and even if those three hours do show up, the weight of all the subsequent procrastination raises the expectation until all the joy and life get crushed out of the writing time.

Writing isn’t about reorienting your entire life.  Writing is about making use of the time you do have (see my other post about maximizing time).  So when you’re stressed, overworked, and tired, you can always rely on these two strategies.

1.  Use a timer.

Set it for the time available.  If you have fifteen minutes, shut off the internet and spend that fifteen minutes in a pure, focused burst where you work solely on the project at hand.  For super extra-credit, keep track of all the focused bursts you’ve done so far, so you can say, “I’ve spend an hour on my screenplay, 90 minutes on my spec pilot.”

Using a timer focuses the mind, allowing it to be more productive in a brief stint than it will be in an entire, wasted weekend.

2. Write support material.

Currently, I’m attempting a rewrite of a comedy spec that I’ve spent a year on, with limited success.  I need to write an outline, but given that the story is an enigmatic clusterfuck, there’s a good deal of psychological resistance when it comes to approaching it.

The best way around this resistance is to break the confusion into smaller units of thought. I may not know how to crack the story, but I can assign myself a 500 word essay on what the character’s arc is, and 750 words on where the external threat comes from.

Write these essays (you remember essays from high school, I’m sure) and file them in your trusted system as support material.  By slowing filling in the under structure of the story, it frees your mind to work on the bigger problems, and ups the chances of your subconscious mind providing the A-ha moment needed to advance the story forward.

So even if you have no idea what to write, you can do either of those two things or both at once.  There’s never an excuse not to write.  Waiting for inspiration is for amateurs.

Published by Matt Lazarus

WGA screenwriter offering in-depth writing instruction, notes, critique, and assistance.

One thought on “How to beat writer’s block

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: