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?”
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!