Even the most famous screenwriters struggle to get words on the page.
Sure, we’d like to say that “writer’s block” isn’t a real thing, but the fact is, there are times when you get stuck. You just need a spark or trigger to get you moving again. But just waiting for a spark doesn’t really cut it, so what can you do to get those creative juices flowing again?
We’re providing you with tried-and-true methods, a few you might not have considered before, and the tactics used by some of your favorite professional screenwriters.
Focus on Not Writing
Ideas always seem to flow best when you’re NOT focusing on them. Like when you’re trying to fall asleep and you just keep reaching over for that notebook on the bedside table. Similarly, when you’re driving, you can have a breakthrough. Driving a car requires focus but you’ve done enough times that it’s somewhat second nature. Peter Farrelly has often talked about how he brainstorms in the car, a habit that actually helped him become a writer in the first place. Here’s what he said in an interview in Creative Screenwriting.
“I would take long drives up in Maine, New Hampshire, western Massachusetts, by myself. Things would be running through my head, things that had happened to me in my teenage years, and I started writing them down. I found myself really liking the process of writing. I couldn’t wait to get out of work to write— I’d sneak away from work to write. It was just a journal, I didn’t know where I was going with it. And then I woke up one day and realized, ‘Wait a second, this is what I like! I like writing!'”
Driving, a walk, knitting… do something active that isn’t looking at a screen so that your mind has room to wander.
Fall in Love With Your Idea All Over Again
Back before you started writing the project you’re stuck on, something about the idea jazzed you. It was exciting enough that you spent weeks pondering the idea, researching, and exploring. Maybe you made a visual guide or Pinterest board to generate inspiration.
J.J. Abrams uses a “living conversation” document that he adds to throughout the life of a project, including all the tidbits thought (and dropped) along the way. When you’re stuck, remind yourself why you fell in love with the idea and look through whatever documents you have to bring you back to that place. Then wander down the paths not taken in your writing. Maybe you left behind something that you need.
Shadow Force scribe, Leon Chills, advocates for free writing. Simply start typing anything. Chills started the practice after reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, which teaches the practice “morning pages”. Chills makes time for free writing his morning pages early in the morning, focusing on whatever project he’s working on at the moment.
Many people struggle to find motivation and it’s this need for motivation that is blocking them. The problem is motivation doesn’t actually come first in the process, but instead, it grows with each step. So when you distract yourself to look at your phone, you might be killing the motivation you were gaining as you were typing before you stopped. If you sit down and start typing, anything, just don’t stop. The more you do it the easier it will be and you can stumble into something.
Have a Routine
Even if the first few days it feels like you’re simply staring at a blank page, you’ll let your mind learn that this is the only option for a set time, each and every day. The more you do it, the easier it will become.
Screenwriters and podcast hosts Meg LeFauve and Lorien McKenna often remind listeners of The Screenwriting Life podcast that they need to pull back on their writing.
When you’re stuck, it is often that your mind is stuck in the minutiae and you’re overthinking the little things, forgetting the bigger picture. When you’re caught in the weeds like this, it’s great to pull back and look at the full scope of the project. The structure, tone, genre, audience… the main trailer you saw in your head when you were ideating.
The Bad Draft
LeFauve and McKenna, as well as Simon Kinberg, are also advocates for the “bad draft” or “vomit draft.”
“When I get really stuck, I just say to myself ‘write the worst possible version of that scene,’” says Kinberg.
Kinberg spends a great deal of time researching and building an outline, often using research to procrastinate from the script. When he hits a block as he’s writing a script, he needs to take the pressure off his mind and just get the words on the page, following the outline he already did without question.
Like every other technique shows, the reason for writer’s block isn’t a lack of ideas but too much pressure on the writer’s mind to be perfect and have all the answers. No one expects this though! That’s all you and you are brilliant. But no one is brilliant 100% of the time on the first try.
And it happens to every writer at some point, so don’t be hard on yourself when it does! Have faith that you can solve this problem or find a path you haven’t seen. You’ve done it before, you’ll do it again.
Did you break through your writer’s block and finish that feature script? Enter it into Launch Pad’s Feature Film Screenwriting Competition! Late Deadline: June 25th