Jonathan Marty

It’s one of the most miserable, excruciating things to experience. Your concept is there and your latest script seemingly had all the momentum in the world behind it. But seems to be grinding to a screeching, mind-numbing halt.

In order to understand how to break through writer’s block, you need to understand what it really is.

First, make peace with it. Writer’s block is going to happen. On every single project you take on. And feel comforted that it happens to the most accomplished screenwriters in our business. As Aaron Sorkin says, it’s his “default position.” That’s where he starts every project - with absolutely no idea what to do or how to proceed.

Great writing takes time, research & contemplation. In fact, writing is pretty much the only profession where sitting completely motionless staring out the window can be considered work.

Below are some ideas, taken from the pros: 

1) Outline - A lot of pros argue about whether or not you need to outline a story before jumping into script mode. Regardless, young writers often tend to jump in too early. You don't need to know what every conversation will hold or even what thematics will emerge from your story. But you should have a good idea about your plot mechanics (your act breaks, midpoint & ending). And if it’s a single scene or a grouping of scenes that’s holding you back, don’t think that you can’t break those down into an outline too. What do you need to convey to the audience in these scenes? What do your characters need to do to drive the story forward? Bottom line: Taking a step back from script form can often help you see things more clearly.

2) Find a way forward - Problems in storytelling feel daunting and the creative process is very different from a typical desk job. But there are ways to make it more similar. Try to break down your story or daily goals into actionable tasks. Make a list of them. You’d be surprised how much accomplishment you’ll feel when you can actually cross something off.

3) Just get the general sentiment on the page - Great writing takes lots and lots of rewriting. And if there’s a problem in your scene or in your story, you can always mark it for later and move forward. I personally use Final Draft’s highlight function and mark everything that I know is subpar in yellow. Sometimes entire pages or scenes are highlighted. Whether it’s going to ultimately be funny, poignant, dramatic, or something in between, getting the general point down is helpful knowing that you’ll ultimately come back and work to perfect it.

4) Utilize the time when you’re most productive - It’s a common theme amongst writers that they’re most productive in the early morning hours or late nights. The notion is that there are less distractions and nobody’s awake. Let go of the idea that you need to be “in the zone” or in the perfect work environment to make progresss. Writing is always hard, whether you’ve got a free hour staring at a wall in your bedroom or an uninterrupted day at an ocean view office. Take it from Stephen King: “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

5) Reset - Try switching your writing spot. Doing this can trigger a "reset" button on your creative brain. 

Above all, have fun. It won't be worth it otherwise, and you'll end up quitting writing. So take your time, and take it easy on yourself. Before you know it, you'll definitely knock the block off. 

Categories: Writing Tips

About The Author

Jonathan Marty, who cut his teeth in in development for Anonymous Content & Laura Bickford Productions, is now writing for Warner Bros. Television.

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