How To Flush Writer’s Block Down Your Mental Drain

Emmy-winning writer Jeffrey Scott reveals three easy ways to handle writer’s block.

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What is writer’s block?

I’ll let Gonzo explain—from the Romancing the Weirdo* episode I wrote for Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies...

                                  GONZO
                   Chapter three. -- As Philip Samuel
                   Marlowe Spade and the luscious gorgeous...
                   I mean...uh...plain old pig, continued to
                   travel though the jungle they...uh...kept
                   traveling...and then after that they...
                   uh...traveled some more...at which point
                   they did...some...more traveling...uh... 
                                  PIGGY
                   What's wrong with this dumb story?  It's
                   going no place! 
                                  GONZO
                   Well, uh...  
                          (spots something ahead)
                   Oh no!  Not that! 
                                  PIGGY
                   What is it? 

                                  GONZO
                   WRITER'S BLOCK!! 
                                  PIGGY
                   What in the world is writer’s block? 
                                  GONZO
                   It's when a writer runs out of ideas and
                   all he can think of is playing with blocks.  
                   Oh, and this is a big one, too.   
                                  PIGGY
                   Oh!  We'll never get past it.  We'll be
                   stuck in this stupid story forever. 

And that’s exactly what many writers feel when they run into the dreaded block—that they’ll be stuck forever.  And therein lies the trap. 

There is no precise definition of what writer’s block is.  Gonzo’s is probably as good as any.  It could be you’re tired.  Or maybe you just don’t feel so much like writing.  Or it could be you think you’ve run out of ideas.  Or maybe a particular story problem has you stumped.  Perhaps you partied too hard the night before. 

But most likely, it’s just the terror of staring at a blank page or screen and thinking that the next words that come out of your cranial matter have got to be Oscar quality. 

Whatever it is, it’s really not that hard to handle. 

Over the years I have found three effective ways to get past whatever is blocking my creativity. 

#1 JUST START WRITING

If you’ve got what I call “blank page syndrome”, that variety of writer’s block that comes when you start your script or scene and don’t know what to do next, I have a two-word prescription: just write. 

But wait, you say, how can I start writing if I have writer’s block?  I didn’t say write something good, I said just write.  Start writing anything.  Pick an idea out of thin air, give your characters some dialog and start the ball rolling.  If it’s good, you’re on your way. 

Guess what happens when it’s bad.  You’ll quickly spot this fact and think of something better.  If not...just keep writing.  Any writing is better than a blank screen or page.  By just writing you take the stuck flow of indecision and turn it into a creative outflow.  You can adjust or improve a flow.  You can’t do nothin’ with nothin’.

When I'm having difficulty writing I often just write a scene as fast as I can, just getting out the first dialog and action I can think of.  Once the scene is done, no matter the quality of the writing, it’s much easier to put on your editor’s hat and fix it up.  You may throw it away, but that’s okay.  It’s better than just sitting there in panic.  Nine out of ten times by just starting to write anything, without any mental restrictions like “this better be good” or “everything I’m writing is crap”, you’ll find the groove and get past the block.

Think of it this way—when you create you’re pulling all sorts of ideas from your mind: relating them, evaluating them, discarding some, holding onto others.  If you do this for a while you’re mental RAM can get jammed with ideas and you can feel stuck.  It’s like a clogged drain.  And you can solve it the same way.  A plunger forcefully shoves water past the clog and voila!  It’s gone.  So too can more ideas push the jammed ideas or writer’s block out of your mind and flush it away.  The block is, after all, just a thought.  So more thought can dissolve it.

Think of it as mental Drano®.

#2 CHANGE THE MEDIUM

When I get mentally jammed from staring at my computer screen for hours, and lose that wonderful effortlessness that is felt when writing is going well, I change from my computer to paper and pen.  I’ll start writing longhand, jotting down notes, scene ideas, dialog ideas, whatever comes up.  I’ll circle things and make arrows to indicate something comes before something else.  I’ll cross out stuff, underline other stuff, put boxes around important ideas.  It can turn into quite a hodgepodge. 

And then you know what happens?  I get jammed on the paper and can’t wait to get back to my computer where it suddenly feels like there is much more space and it’s much easier to spread out and rearrange my thoughts. 

Back and forth, computer to paper to computer.  Works like a charm. 

#3 CHANGE YOUR SPACE

This one is my favorite.  I often do it even before I sense any kind of block.

When I need to solve a story, structure or character problem, and I’m feeling blocked or dry from staring at my monitor, I take a walk or a shower, or I sit on the grass under a tree.  Invariably, by the time I get home (or dried off) I’ve solved my story problem and can’t wait to get back to my office and start writing again. 

I think the main reason this is so effective is that the new space you go into isn’t a reminder of your problem or block.  It’s fresh, quiet, relaxing space. 

One of the above three methods should clear up whatever is blocking you.  If not, I have one last solution that I find to be very effective.  I just pack it up, get a good night’s rest, and come back at it with a fresh outlook in the morning.

And when all else fails...I play with my blocks.

Jeff

*If you’d like to see the actual scene from Romancing the Weirdo you can view at YouTube here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bY8horf6KRE&NR=1

©Jeffrey Scott, All Rights Reserved

 

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