Writing Tips

Need a creativity boost? Check out our tips below!

Maybe you’re not quite sure about the setting, or the dialogue, or the tone etc. Or — maybe you just need a fast and simple strategy to get a fast creativity boost.

It’s a strategy that I once used off and on for years, but began using it ALL the time after (former) writing partners Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman revealed that they use the same tactics to create their blockbuster screenplays. There’s three easy steps:

  1. First, download Spotify or any other streaming music service with a ton of tracks.
  2. Then — create a playlist and create a SCORE for whatever you’re writing.
  3. Listen to your score while writing.

Seriously, it works. If you’re writing a piece of short fiction, find a song or two that embodies the mood you want to convey. Same thing goes if you’re creating a piece of marketing collateral. If you’re writing something a bit more long-form–like a novel or screenplay–carefully craft your score. Choose a number of motifs, songs that you’ll listen to when writing certain kinds of scenes. For example, when writing my latest screenplay, Junkyard Gods, any “touching, yet melancholy” scene between the two leads, I’d listen to “Dejenme Llorar,” by Carla Morrison. For the REALLY deep scenes between the protagonist and her father, I’d listen to “Xibalba,” by Kronos Quarter (from the score for The Fountain). For action sequences, I’d use something like… “What Are You Going to Do When You’re Not Saving the World,” from Man of Steel. And finally, for really tense action sequences, I’d play “No Time for Caution,” (arguably the best song) from the Interstellar soundtrack. Most of the time, I’d put the song on repeat until I finished the scene, then moved on to the next song. Very rarely do I write without having a song playing.

Have fun and take your time when creating your scores. The more effort you put into it, the better the creative boost — and the better the end product!

Did this strategy work for you? Sound off in the comments and share on social media!

Single best cure for writer's block

As a storyteller, I simply want to get my thoughts and ideas out into the world, and while I know writing isn’t supposed to be easy, there’s nothing more discouraging than staring at a blank screen and believing I had nothing of importance to say. Because that’s what writer’s block is, isn’t it? At the core, writer’s block occurs when you believe you have nothing to say on the subject you’re writing about, and your mind (and ego) freezes, unable to generate new story ideas. Think about it, the characters in a fictional narrative are the living thoughts of the writer–various fragments of his or her psyche–fighting to resolve not only their own inner struggles, but also their creator’s. A narrative is a thought-experiment, or an equation, working its way toward a solution. That’s why we write–to solve existential ideas and hopefully illuminate a path for others. Writer’s block occurs when suddenly (and usually unexpectedly), you realize that you ain’t got the answers.

But here’s the thing: No one has the answers.

Absolutes only exist in mathematics. When it comes to philosophy and life, there’s no one “right” answer. So, what’s the single best strategy to cure writer’s block? Distill your narrative down to a simple question (that you want answered for yourself) and use your characters and narrative to answer it. In other words, set up a thought-experiment and attempt to solve it.

For example: I struggled to finish my screenplay (and soon novel), Junkyard Gods, because I lacked that core question. I had a great concept, interesting assortment of characters, and snappy dialogue–and yet I agonized over the third act, rewriting it over and over and over until I began to hate my own art. I couldn’t finish it because I didn’t know the ending. And I didn’t know the ending because the ending is the answer to the core question. So, I ran from it, ignored it. Did everything I could to avoid opening Final Draft.

Then, it hit me. I originally started writing this particular story to help deal with a rather painful personal loss. And that was the story’s core question: “How should people deal with loss?”

Cure writer's block with this single strategy...I rewrote most of the script, making sure that every character in the script had experienced some kind of loss. I increased the dramatic tension by having them all cope with the pain of their personal tragedies in vastly different, conflicting ways. And then, I simply inhabited the minds of my characters (easy enough since they pretty much all represented me) and let the story run free.

What was the answer to the question? People should deal with loss the best way they know how, the way that keeps them sane. There’s no manual to dealing with pain.

By incorporating that theme into every element of the screenplay–the characters, the conversations, the settings, the prose–I was able to easily finish it, and I’m extremely proud of the finished product. If you take the same approach, knowing the question you want to answer before writing the story, you’ll never run into any major issues. Everything simply falls into place. And if you’re experiencing writer’s block now, give the strategy a try. I promise you’ll be pleased too.

Did this strategy work for you? Fail? Sound off in the comments and share on social media!


We sat down with the Cleveland -born icon, 66, to chat about his extraordinary career, his thoughts on the evolving digital world, and surprising details about a historical epic that landed his writing in Playboy and will soon be broadcast as an FX miniseries.


First, tell us how you got your literary start.
“I was born in Ohio to a truck driver and a housewife. I played every sport and read every book I could get my hands on and knew at the age of seven that I wanted to be a writer. In 1971, I hitch-hiked to San Francisco to join the “Beat” poets, but I was 10 years too late, so instead I founded the Santa Cruz Poetry Festival, the nation’s largest literary event, with Ken Kesey and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Ten years later, I went to UCLA film school and promptly sold five screenplays. I published a highly acclaimed San Francisco noir mystery, “Bohemian Heart” in 1993, and in 2004, my opus, “1906: A Novel” became a best seller and sold to Hollywood after a bidding war between Dreamworks and Warner Brothers. Since then, I’ve written the screenplays for all my books.”

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There are many strategies to revise your poems. Determining the best strategy to based on your own aesthetic. You may focus on tidying blind spots. You may focus on making your strengths more evident. What this article offers is useful to any writer. Take a look, and sound off in the comments!

Strategy #1: Give texture to your verbs.

It’s as simple as that. You want your language to evoke a real experience or surreal feeling. It’s difficult to do that when the actions in your poem are flat or generic. Compare “he walks in flower fields” to “she saunters in flower fields.” This doesn’t mean visit a thesaurus. Saunter gives character to the person’s stride. It creates a mood or an expectation. You can even use that mood or expectation to create conflict. Imagine “she saunters in flower fields with a machine gun.” The mood of her walk is at odds with her action. It gives a sense of character and suggests a history.

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Irony is a bit slippery for many writers. Though the definition of irony is quite simple, true understanding of it does not seem to come easy. Irony is simply an incongruity between the literal and implied meaning (sorry Alanis: NOT the difference between expectations and reality).

Dramatic irony occurs when the audience has knowledge that the characters do not, putting them one step ahead in the plot. It can also occur when the audience has a different understanding of events than the characters do. Dramatic irony can deepen the themes of a story, move the plot forward, or provide important characterization. You can also use it to create tension.

Some famous examples of dramatic irony include:

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Note: This article was originally written for marketing professionals and entrepreneurs. Given the fact that the market has changed, and being an independent author means marketing yourself as a brand (and business), the information easily translates to the literature — and screenwriting — worlds.

Calling on the wisdom of those who experienced adversity before is almost always a wise decision, even if you disagree with what they have to say. The point is to analyze their knowledge to discover how you can incorporate (or eliminate) those ideas from your life, and ultimately, make better business decisions.

For your consideration, here are four mentally stimulating movie quotes with lessons that apply your personal and business life:

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As storytellers, we learn best from other storytellers. They can guide us on how to construct compelling narratives, create interesting characters and write dialogue that pops off the page. If you are serious about being a storyteller, there are some books that you absolutely should read to better understand and implement your craft.

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Create unique characters using these techniques

Many neophyte writers struggle with giving their characters each an individual voice simply because the writer is unable to venture beyond of their own personality to explore their characters. If your story suffers from trite, unoriginal characters, there are two easy strategies to fix the problem. Using these methods, only a minimal amount of research is needed to create unique characters, each with a distinctive voice.

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I’m more of the “maintaining artistic integrity” type, meaning that historicity means less to me than style and the final theme conveyed by the story. My colleague, however, sees my viewpoint as “misleading.” She believes that audiences expect a truthful story when watching any kind of movie with real-life historical roots — even if it’s obviously historical fiction. Personally, I believe that’s a fault of modern society, that we’d pretty much accept a film’s depiction of a historical event without question, and the artist should have the creative license to do what he or she pleases. Oliver Stone is notorious for changing the facts of historical events for dramatic effect, as seen in Nixon, Stone’s 1995 account of Richard Nixon’s personal and political life.

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David Lynch’s Blue Velvet is a tantalizing, yet disturbing analysis of primal human desire, ultimately concluding that all people, in some form or fashion, consciously or subconsciously enjoys afflicting and receiving pain as a method of self-growth through destruction. The protagonist, Jeffrey Beaumont, is first depicted an unwitting participant in this cycle. He’s thrust into the mystery after finding a severed ear in an empty parking lot. He takes the ear to a detective, just as any “normal” person would do.

At this point, the story should end – Jeffrey’s completed his role as a responsible citizen, but his curiosity gets the best of him and he ends up breaking into the home of Dorothy Vallens, a dubious woman implicated in the case of the severed ear. Jeffrey’s just taken his first step into the world of masochism. Despite the fact that curiosity is a deeply ingrained function of the human psyche, Jeffrey knew this situation couldn’t end well. Despite the dangers, Jeffrey willingly engaged in this dangerous behavior, thus inflicting the mental pain of worry upon himself. Outside of the obvious, is there a big difference between Jeffrey’s behavior and the self-mortification of the flesh that some religious priests willingly undergo? At the core, both actions are the same.

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