Does ‘Writer’s Block’ Really Exist?

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The horror. Home Alone, 1990 Photo courtesy: 20th Century Fox

The horror. Home Alone, 1990 Photo courtesy: 20th Century Fox

5 Places To Find Inspiration

Anyone who has ever faced a blank page knows writing can be scary. You can get stuck in the beginning, or you can be writing along and get stuck in the middle. You can even lose faith that you’ll finish a particular project. Yes, writer’s block absolutely exists — and it’s awful.

Many of us have a romantic vision of writing, in which we’re locked in a stone tower at night during a thunderstorm while our quills scrawl furiously over one page after another as words effortlessly flow out of us. But the truth is that writing is often slow, deliberate, painstaking work. We put one word after another.

There’s no way around: if you’re a writer, you’ll probably face writer’s block at some point, and you’ll be forced to find a way work through it. So let’s think about some places to find inspiration if/when you get stuck. As author Isabel Allende once said: “Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too.”

Will my heart go on? Yes, yes it will. Titanic, 1997 Photo courtesy: Paramount Pictures

Will my heart go on? Yes, yes it will. Titanic, 1997 Photo courtesy: Paramount Pictures

No 1 – Raid the annals of history

Most people believe creativity is the most important element in storytelling. We spend hours trying to come up with something fresh and twisty with a surprise ending. But some of the highest grossing films of all time, like Titanic, were based on historical events. History is treasure trove of captivating stories and characters — all just waiting for you to discover them and make them new.

Spotlight, 2015 Photo courtesy: Open Road Films

Spotlight, 2015 Photo courtesy: Open Road Films

No 2 – Rip from the headlines

You’ve heard that facts are sometimes stranger than fiction, right? If you’re looking for fresh ground, the news is the perfect place to look. Every day there is abundant trove of sordid tales just waiting to be shaped into narrative. In the case of Spotlight, those ‘true’ stories can also win you some serious accolades. So: read the news and keep your eyes peeled for anything that would make for a good movie.

"I'm gonna have to science the sh%$ out of this." The Martian, 2015 Photo courtesy: 20th century Fox

“I’m gonna have to science the sh%$ out of this.” The Martian, 2015 Photo courtesy: 20th century Fox

No 3 – Blend, blend, blend

Arthur Koestler’s “The Act of Creation” argues that true originality comes from “bisociation,” which is basically blending two things to produce something new. A movie like The Martian seamlessly blends the genres of science fiction and humor. The result was an award-winning box office hit. Here’s an exercise: if you’re stuck, try yoking together two unexpected genres, themes, or storylines. Let your mind free associate and see what happens. You might just be able to blend up a new project.

So. Scary. The Witch, 2016 Photo courtesy: A24

So. Scary. The Witch, 2016 Photo courtesy: A24

No 4 – Offer new twists on legends, myths and folktales

One of the greatest things about legends, myths, and folktales is that anyone and everyone can use them as a creative springboard. A movie like The Witch, for instance, takes tales about witches to a whole new level — and it’s awesome. That’s exactly what you want to do: take creative license with familiar material and turn it into box office gold.

That one time with the hair... Something About Mary, 1998 Photo courtesy: 20th Century Fox

That one time with the hair… Something About Mary, 1998 Photo courtesy: 20th Century Fox

No 5 – Dig deep

If you’re a writer, chances are you have a few crazy skeletons in your closet. I’m not saying all writers are weird, but a good number of them are. (Don’t deny it!) So: draw on your personal experiences. The more painful, the better. Bare your soul. Give us a taste of your personal flavor. As F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote: “You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner… You have only your emotions to sell.”

In the end, your most potent inspiration is always going to be your most personal thoughts and experiences. You do you.

author-avatar

Jennie Evenson is the author of “Shakespeare for Screenwriters” (Michael Wiese, 2013) and the forthcoming “Storytelling Secrets of the Masters.” As a writer in LA, Evenson worked as a consultant for Netflix and developed ideas at production houses from DreamWorks to Focus Features. You can follow her on Twitter: @JM_Evenson

20 Replies to "Does 'Writer's Block' Really Exist?"

  • comment-avatar
    Linton Robinson June 15, 2016 (5:56 pm)

    Of course it exists. But these are not remedies. These are solutions for “have no ideas”. Not “sitting there freaking out because words won’t come into your head”:

    • comment-avatar
      Kathy Ayers June 15, 2016 (6:39 pm)

      If words are food and you’re starving to death, these guideposts help aim you towards the refrigerator. Terrific suggestions.

      • comment-avatar
        ll June 20, 2016 (3:18 pm)

        If words were food and you’re starving to death, you’d probably need a dictionary or thesaurus, not a refrigerator. But I don’t think a writer’s problem is finding words; it’s finding the right words, and putting them together to make something uniquely new.

    • comment-avatar
      William Sommerwerck July 5, 2016 (12:13 pm)

      Linton Robinson is correct. “Writer’s block” occurs when you run out of ideas. Editing what you’ve written will often improve it, but I’ve never had a case where simply working on what I already had gave me new ideas.

      I’d put aside a story because I didn’t like the way the second act was going, and didn’t feel the central conflict really “worked” (it seemed “contrived”, present only to drive the story in a mechanical way). Then, the other night in bed, the answer “just came”. I saw how a slight shift in the story’s focus/emphasis would resolve these problems.

      Annie Proulx says you should read a lot, because “it gives you ideas”. I had a period Western with a blah ending, the characters (more or less) “riding off into the sunset”. Reading a LIFE book on cowboy history, I learned about cowboy kangaroo courts, in which a victim was tried and “convicted” over nothing. BINGO! I saw that subjecting the hero to such a trial (in which he’s ultimately stripped and beaten) resolved the story’s dramatic conflicts in a satisfying way.

      The only “rational” way around writer’s block (that I know of) is to ask yourself questions about who the characters are, what they want, why one choice of action might be better than another, etc, etc, etc.

      It’s good to work every day. But a lot of writing depends on inspiration, and you can’t force that.

  • comment-avatar
    Harriet Bigus Koppel June 15, 2016 (6:32 pm)

    Marvelous …thanks

  • comment-avatar
    Harriet Bigus Koppel June 15, 2016 (6:32 pm)

    Marvelous …thanks

  • comment-avatar
    Harriet Bigus Koppel June 15, 2016 (6:33 pm)

    Sorry, I have to get to work!……..thanks…Harriet Bigus Koppel

  • comment-avatar
    Harriet Bigus Koppel June 15, 2016 (6:33 pm)

    Sorry, I have to get to work!……..thanks…Harriet Bigus Koppel

  • comment-avatar
    Harriet Bigus Koppel June 15, 2016 (6:35 pm)

    Instead of “I’m blocked.” I hear “I won’t do it. I’m no good and don’t deserve it.” and waste hours connecting with my pain, and blocked sexuality….

    To work, to work, as Chekov’s Nina in the “Seagull ” says….to work.

  • comment-avatar
    Harriet Bigus Koppel June 15, 2016 (6:35 pm)

    Instead of “I’m blocked.” I hear “I won’t do it. I’m no good and don’t deserve it.” and waste hours connecting with my pain, and blocked sexuality….

    To work, to work, as Chekov’s Nina in the “Seagull ” says….to work.

  • comment-avatar
    Romeodawg June 15, 2016 (8:05 pm)

    My biggest take-away as a writer on the Ellen Show is that writer’s block ISN’T real — it’s simply a lie we tell ourselves to justify not writing. Whether it’s because we don’t like what we’re writing, or we’re resisting what we really want to write about, or we’re afraid of what others will think about what we’re writing, or we’re just lazy. Writer’s block is a luxury that you simply don’t have time for when an audience is filing into a studio and the cameras are starting up and your famous/beloved/demanding boss expects you to write something for the teleprompter in a matter of minutes. You write because you HAVE to write — not because you feel like writing at that moment, or you’re suddenly inspired, or you thought of a funny joke. When I realized that writer’s block was no longer available to me, it disappeared as an excuse, and it completely changed writing for me.

  • comment-avatar
    Paul Horne June 15, 2016 (8:07 pm)

    My biggest take-away as a writer on the Ellen Show is that writer’s block ISN’T real — it’s simply a lie we tell ourselves to justify not writing. Whether it’s because we don’t like what we’re writing, or we’re resisting what we really want to write about, or we’re afraid of what others will think about what we’re writing, or we’re just lazy. Writer’s block is a luxury that you simply don’t have time for when an audience is filing into a studio and the cameras are starting up and your famous/beloved/demanding boss expects you to write something for the teleprompter in a matter of minutes. You write because you HAVE to write — not because you feel like writing at that moment, or you’re suddenly inspired, or you thought of a funny joke. When I realized that writer’s block was no longer available to me, it disappeared as an excuse, and it completely changed writing for me.

  • comment-avatar
    mgrogie June 15, 2016 (9:22 pm)

    There is no such thing as writers block. Writers block is what we call that phenomenon when we no longer like the words we’re creating just as writer’s flow is what we call it when we do like it or are in the so-called “zone.” They are both figments of the writer’s imagination. What we call blocks and flows are really just our perceptions. Perceptions are not 100% trustworthy. Sometimes the work you think is your worst turns out to be what everyone else thinks is your best and vice versa. Trust me, there are going to be lots of times when you won’t like the words that are coming out of you. But writer’s block is just a lazy excuse to stop writing. People think they need inspiration? Baloney! As Edison said, “Creativity if 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.” It is when you feel the most numb, the most uninspired, that you need to work the hardest. Just keep pounding those keys. You’re going to hate it but eventually the flow will come back. But if you use these unpleasant times as an excuse to stop writing, it may be months or years before you get back to it. Real writers write. Real writers know that there’s no such thing as writers block.

    • comment-avatar
      Counselorchick June 16, 2016 (8:10 am)

      This is precisely what I had hoped for from this piece. Instead, it’s the usual list of vague, obscure, yet seemingly helpful, suggestions. Thank you for setting the record straight.

    • comment-avatar
      Lyn Barlotta June 20, 2016 (4:45 pm)

      So if I was betrayed and abandoned by so-called friends, and my therapist alike (because I called him out for getting romantically involved with someone in my support group) had a life-threatening illness and spent six weeks in the hospital recovering, lost my most accomplished painting at the gallery I show my work, due to a “misdelivery,” nearly ended up homeless on account of a horrific moving experience and my cat I had for 17 yrs died all within a year’s time that couldn’t have caused a writer’s block? I have always been a prolific artist and continue to fight and bust through this horrendous block of hell. Wish you were right. And this article is helpful for getting new ideas, so I use whatever is available as an aide.

  • comment-avatar
    Lyle F. Padilla June 15, 2016 (11:47 pm)

    I agree with Linton Robinson’s comment, “Of course it exists. But these are not remedies. These are solutions for “have no ideas”. Not “sitting there freaking out because words won’t come into your head”:”

    God knows I have at least as much writer’s block as the next person. My best way around it is to not write in chronological/linear order when that happens, but skip ahead to the next exciting part. If you’re bored writing it, the readers/viewers are definitely going to be at least as bored reading/watching it!

    • comment-avatar
      Lyn Barlotta June 20, 2016 (5:26 pm)

      Hardships can fuel the creative process; songs are a good example. Someone who’s got it easy and just doesn’t feel like writing needs to push themselves to do what they must. Someone who has been challenged by life to their wits’ end has to push harder. Against a block that has landed square in their path. Ignoring it and not trying everything such as doing new things, going into therapy if that helps trying new ways to help their creative process such as doing anything no matter how “bad” the work seems to be, taking a class. Anything to get things moving, no matter how long it takes. If you sit there and tell me I’m lazy, I have to laugh. I’d be lazy if I didn’t keep trying to bust up the creative block into zillions of pieces somehow. It does come down to working. Getting there is the problem.

  • comment-avatar
    william sowles June 16, 2016 (4:36 am)

    For me, as a screenwriter, a blank 1st page is heaven. Because I get to do my thing.

  • comment-avatar
    Nimfa June 17, 2016 (3:37 am)

    Of course, but is not really blocking. There are reasons why the part of your brain that is related with the writing is blocked, and those reasons might be different for different writers. When you feel the blankness overtaking your brain, find out why. Might be emotional, might be that you are not being able to approach the story from the right angle and maybe you should leave it alone for a while and it would be a moment it will come to you. Search. Do something to put your writing skill at use.

  • comment-avatar
    Lyn Barlotta June 20, 2016 (4:26 pm)

    Is the highest grossing movie the best movie, or is that a rather gross concept?

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