My long years as a script consultant have led me to a shocking realization that I never expected—writing blocks are life blocks.
It’s easy to see that our first script is usually autobiographical to some extent. Why? Of course, we write what we know, but I also believe we have something inside that needs to be expressed and dealt with. Once it’s out, it clears the creative pipes so more creativity can flow.
From wounded to healed
Not long ago a student accused me of being insensitive to abused persons because of an example I used in The Screenwriter’s Bible (7th edition).
The anecdote on page 207 of my book is not about abuse at all, but about a common problem I see in scripts that lack drama and which feature a passive protagonist. The example is about a client’s script where the central character complained about being abused by her husband for 90 pages but took no action. Finally, a neighbor rescued her (a deus ex machina ending). The first 90 pages of the script were autobiographical and my client (we’ll call her Jill) gave me written permission to tell her story. There wasn’t room in my book to relate everything, but I’d like to do so now.
In my script evaluation, I told Jill the main issue was the character was not volitional and took no action of her own to solve her problem. Thus, there was no real drama. Dramatic action is when a character takes willful action against opposition where the outcome is important. The outcome was important and there was definitely an opposition, but there was no willful action.
Jill was thrilled with the evaluation and dug into the revision. Most importantly the experience of writing the revision was liberating to her because she was telling her story, and she discovered that giving her character the “will to act” (rather than merely complain) was very therapeutic for her personally. In particular, it empowered Jill to change the deus ex machina ending in the script to an ending where the protagonist solved her own problem through dramatic action.
The result was Jill took similar action in her personal life, removed herself from the abuse, and began healing her deep wounds. She wrote to live.
From frustrated to fulfilled
Is it really true that resolving writing blocks can help you resolve life blocks?
Since blocks are usually grounded in fear, I asked another writer (we’ll call her Veronica) to free-write a mini-movie where she confronted and overcame her fear in a single movie scene. I sensed that she experienced some kind of catharsis, so I asked her about her experience. Veronica realized through her writing that her block was actually her mother who used to tell her as a child that she could not do anything right. I asked her what she told her mother in her mini-movie, and she said, “I didn’t tell her anything. I simply sent her away. I stopped listening.”
I said, “In reality, she’s already been gone for a long time, hasn’t she?” Veronica nodded, and I said, “But you’ve kept her alive in your head by telling yourself that you can’t write.”
Veronica realized that was true. When she would silently berate herself, she used her mother’s words. She put herself down just as her mother had done years before. She was picking at an old wound. Once Veronica fully comprehended that fact, she understood that she had the power to stop talking to herself like her mother used to talk to her.
I said, “What you need now is an encouraging voice in your head.” She knew that voice needed to be her own voice. She needed to replace the negative self-talk with positive self-talk. At last, Veronica was free to write her first script. She wrote to live.
From wanderer to warrior
As you continue on your hero’s journey as a writer, you might enter the innermost cave and experience death and rebirth. That’s what Jill and Veronica had done, and now they were healing the deep wounds of the past. And they were writing.
Although your blocks or fears may be very different from Jill and Veronica’s, and though they may not be so profound, you can still improve your personal and writing life by defeating common fears and blocks, such as fear you are wasting your time (writing is a worthwhile and healthy activity), fear that your work won’t be as good as you had hoped (the first draft won’t be), comparing yourself to Aaron Sorkin (you have your own place in the writing universe), striving for perfection (excellence is the goal, not perfection), or stirring up anxiety (relax and have fun—the writing goes better that way).
You the warrior, though wounded, should enter the forest at its darkest point. What is your darkest fear? That’s where you need to go. Enter at that point and go through your fear. When you do, a lot of confusion will dissipate and rays of sunlight will light your writing path. And you will discover that your wounds are healing and that resolving your writing blocks helps resolve your life blocks.
Keep writing, and write to live.