A producer who’s sold to all the majors, Barri Evins created Big Ideas to give aspiring screenwriters what it takes to break into the business by sharing methods she uses with professional writers. Sign up for Barri's newsletter and follow her on Twitter @BigBigIdeas.
There you are.
Sitting at the computer keyboard.
Whether you label it procrastination, writer's block, or lack of inspiration, the true cause of not writing is really only two things. A lack of clarity about your story: you don’t know where it’s headed because you don’t know what you want to say. Or it’s the crippling fear that your story will suck and no one will give a damn about what you want to say.
Yup, you either don’t know your story, or the thought of your precious story potentially being crap is paralyzing. Thus, not writing.
According to Pixar chief John Lasseter, “Andrew Stanton, who is one of my creative partners at Pixar, he coined this phrase, ‘Be wrong as fast as you can.’ Because it’s true. Because every time you take a step to the next phase, the first draft of the script is always not good. But it’s ok. Get there as fast as you go.”
Perhaps Mr. Stanton is a bit more diplomatic than I am, but we certainly are in agreement.
Here are some tough love tools to quickly move past "not writing" and hear the sweet music of keyboard keys clacking.
You Don’t Know Where You’re Going
You may have passion, you may have vision, but dollars to doughnuts, if you’re stuck, you don’t have an outline. How are you going to get to “Fade Out” if you don’t know where you’re headed?
When you have an outline, you know where your story is headed. A roadblock doesn’t leave you stumped. You can check if the plot point or character supports the central story. Or you can jump to another part in the story and come back to what stumped you earlier without losing your way.
A through outline is more than merely Three Acts or the basic plot points. My Big Ideas Seminar students learn to outline in a way that makes the entire story clear. They aren’t allowed to type “Fade In” until the outline is complete. That doesn’t mean dozens of pages elaborating on every detail. It means that you have a true grasp on the story that enables you to see the big picture.
Yes, the outline includes all the major plot points elucidated from Syd to Blake, but simplified into a universal language of storytelling. What makes this outline unique is the header.
In my electronic template, there’s a header that pops up at the top of every single page. Plot all you like, but the header keeps you focused on the major story elements that make a screenplay tick.
Completing the header ensures that you thoroughly understand your story including it’s message, meaning theme or what you hope to say. My header includes the title, the genre, three prototype films – one for story, one for theme, one for tone, the logline – the hero’s flaw, how the hero changes over the course of the story, the hero’s arc and the theme. When you can articulate all these essential elements of your story, you have a steadfast compass. Any story or structure decision can be made be checking to see if it fits with and supports the core of the story.
A great road map and no more "not writing" because of not knowing where you’re headed.
Writer’s Block – The Fake Ailment
I can hear writers in the background clamoring, “It’s not my fault I’m not writing! I have “Writer’s Block.”
It’s so nice to put a tidy label on something!
It’s not that I'm not writing because I don’t feel like working.
It’s not that I'm not writing because I don’t know where my story is going.
It’s not that I'm not writing because I can’t figure out a solution to this story problem.
It’s not that I'm not writing because I don’t feel inspired.
It’s not I'm not writing because that damn Muse is off hiding somewhere. Or singing to someone else.
It’s not that I'm not writing because I have sat at this damn keyboard so long that I am screaming inside to do anything else.
It’s that I’m ill!
I am not writing because I am suffering from Writer’s Block.
Tell me where it hurts.
Because this is hypochondria pure and simple. You are malingering. You are being neurotic. You are eaten up by anxiety.
But really, there is absolutely nothing seriously wrong with you. Other than not writing.
Professional writers do not get Writer’s Block. Are they better than you? Not necessarily, but they have a job, they know how to do it, and they have a deadline. They are too busy writing to even think about not writing.
Can you imagine going to your accountant with your neatly filed receipts only to have him tell you, “I just can’t work on your taxes right now; I have Accountant’s Block. I mean, I know April 15th is coming up fast, but I’m just going to spend the day on farting around on Facebook.”
Oh, I hear you. Your writer’s block is real.
Okay. Sure. If it makes you feel better to label it. But let’s take a look at what’s really going on.
Is your paralysis normal or are you suffering from Resistance Syndrome? R.S. slows productivity, saps energy, kills inspiration. Here’s Dr. Paige Turner’s Rx for procrastination, distraction, and the dangerous siren song of the Succubus.
Writer’s Block…a bah humbug excuse for not writing.
Don’t Just Face Your Fears, Embrace Them
You know what to do with your script, but you’re convinced you that you will never be as good as your writing idol, your best friend, fellow classmate, or the “you” that you envision while you are in the shower writing Oscar speeches in your head. All this writing in your head is keeping you not writing in real life.
Free yourself up from the fear of failing.
Go on and fail. Fail, fail, I beg you. How else will you grow and learn?
Did you jump on a two-wheeler bicycle for the very first time and pedal down the street without a wobble? Nope. You had someone to help hold you up. You struggled with the pedals. You wobbled. You fell. But if you got up and tried again, you found yourself riding that bike off into the distance, sailing into the unknown with the wind in your hair.
You tried. You struggled. You failed. But ultimately, you mastered a skill that lasts a lifetime.
Try. Struggle. Fail. Learn. Write material that is so bad, you don’t want to stick it in a drawer; you want set it on fire. (Don’t. You never know.)
Stop listening to that scary, judgmental voice in your head. Stick you fingers in your ears and yell at the top of your lungs, “Neaner, neaner, neaner! I can’t hear you!”
You will feel silly if you actually do this, right?
Which is exactly why you should.
Being childish is a great way to scare away your fears.
1) Embrace your fears with all your might.
2) Whip around and fling them as far away from you as possible.
3) Neaner, neaner, no more not writing.
As Stephen King, the master of horror and suspense says,” “The scariest moment is always just before you start.”
Now hurry up, f@#k up, and stop not writing!
- More articles by Barri Evins
- The Craft: Professional Screenwriters on Writer's Block
- Primetime: Really... Do I HAVE to Outline?
Download 16 Tips for Breaking Writer’s Block from Writing Coach, Jenna Avery