Ah, that iconic phrase, uttered when you are about to conquer your opponent! “Resistance is futile.” Brought into popular culture by Star Trek in both film and TV, its origins actually lie in the iconic series, Dr. Who; first uttered by the Master, through the voice of his mouthpiece, Chancellor Goth, for all you buffs.
The very act of writing: putting words together with the goal of communicating thoughts, images, ideas and feelings to an unknown reader is a fertile breeding ground for resistance.
You sit there with time carved out – devoted purely to writing – fingertips hovering above the keyboard…
And a dozen more words devoted to describing the black hole of a blank page facing you.
Your mind is vacant. You can’t focus. You can’t even vaguely recall what it feels like to be in that creative zone where the words just flow.
It happens to everyone. Even prolific and professional writers have days – or even weeks – when they can barely squeeze out a few words. A well-turned sentence would make them ecstatic.
For Pete’s sake, it took me an hour of wasting time to coax myself into writing the simple intro above! The pressure of writing about writing for writers is Sisyphean. It can be paralyzing; sending me desperately seeking distraction.
This is “Resistance” – that intense internal struggle that slows productivity to a crawl – saps our energy – kills any hope of inspiration.
We want to create, but we’ve got no juice.
We want to finish what we have begun, but reaching the end seems like that horror movie hallway – it just keeps stretching and stretching toward infinity. Suddenly, you’re Jimmy Stewart clinging to the edge of the roof; the ground a million miles away.
Like so many heroes trapped in a scary movie, you are experiencing the Vertigo Effect.
Perhaps the most incapacitating form Resistance takes is that of an insidious voice lurking inside our heads. Much like the Borg, who rarely speak, but send a collective audio message to their targets stating, “Resistance is futile,” this voice whispers our darkest fears; softly but ever so persistently. “Maybe this is no good. Maybe no one will like it. Maybe it’s boring. Maybe I have no talent. Maybe I have nothing to say.”
Face to face with the horrific beast named “Resistance,” we feel powerless. The Borg easily wipe out an entire Starfleet armada, but the crew of the Enterprise turns the Borg’s own tactics against them, and prevails in battling the most formidable of enemies.
Beyond fighting Resistance, you can make it work for you.
How do we slay the dragon that sprouts two heads for every one we slice off with our swords?
Get Out, Get Out, Get Out!
The first remedy is stepping outside your normal writing space and going somewhere else. Simple but effective. Do you need the comfort of your desk? Or is it actually a prison? Or an endless source of distraction?
A change of atmosphere can provoke a change in attitude. With ultra-portable technology at our disposal, you can literally write anywhere.
Experiment. You may think that you crave solitude but find you thrive in a noisy coffee shop with the background music of the baristas and chatter of other customers. Already writing at Starbucks? Head across the street to the nearest Coffee Bean or find a funky indie that suits you.
If you’re already writing in a crowd, seek solitude. The calming hush of the library.
Try the outdoors. Head for the beach, the mountains, a park.
There’s a ton of advice on the subject. Trust me, I’ve read it all. But the one piece that works for me is, “Stop trying.” Get out of bed. Do something else. Then come back.
Step away from the computer. Stop trying to write. Do something completely different.
Choose an activity that is the opposite of writing. Use your body, not your brain. Wash the dog. Paint a wall. Clean the kitchen. All clear tasks with an obvious and satisfying conclusion.
Enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done.
Now step back to the computer.
Admit You’re Afraid
Here’s the big one. Truth is: you are afraid. You are afraid of starting. You are afraid of finishing. You are afraid of failing. You are afraid of succeeding. You are afraid of being judged. You are afraid of being not as good as someone else. You are paralyzed by your own irrational fears.
Astonishingly, the cure is ridiculously simple. Admit it. Out loud. In the presence of someone who’s respect is significant to you.
I could not, could not, could not start writing my book until, on a rushed drive to the airport to catch a flight, with mere minutes left until he jumped out of the car curbside, I confessed to one of the writers I most admire, a shockingly prolific writer in many mediums, that I was afraid. Not easy words to squeak out.
Voila! The silver bullet. Having admitted the worst, I was suddenly cured.
I outlined the entire book in a few hours. Tweaked it a bit after feedback. Ripped apart the last section, and reworked it the next day. All accomplished in a weekend. Chapters soon followed.
The only way to vanquish the monster in the closet is to open the door. Then step inside.
Resistance Can Be Fueling
Hit a roadblock?
Who says that you have to come to a complete halt; just staring at the obstacle as it looms larger than life in front of you?
If you know where you’re headed…
jump to another part of the story and get your mojo back!
Procrastination That Pays
Procrastination is human nature. But it needn’t derail your process. Rather than frittering away your time and energy, put them to good use.
If you must procrastinate, watch prototype films, research story elements, or read scripts in your genre. These are far more productive channels for the overpowering urge to do anything other than actually writing.
Interval training in exercise is the big thing. Workout sessions designed to mix low to high-intensity exercise interspersed with rest periods. The benefits are burning more calories in a shorter period of time and improving performance in long distance running events. This method of training may be more effective at fat loss than training at a moderate intensity for the same amount of time.
Hmm… More accomplished in less time? Improved endurance for the long run? Sounds like taking a page from that book could benefit not just your body but your writing as well.
Plan short periods of intense work followed by rest. Set a timer. There’s one on your phone, but a kitchen timer works just as well. Write with complete focus for a reasonable period of time that works for you. It could be 47 minutes or two hours. Timer goes off. You get a break.
Set your timer for a brief period, five to ten minutes. Make it more than just “taking five,” turn it into a little treat for yourself. Stretch, take a walk, get some coffee, check email. If you’re feeling energetic and in the zone, use it to research or hone a sentence or line of dialogue. Then back to the intense writing time.
Work. Reward. Repeat.
An easy behavior modification technique you can use on yourself and get real results.
Plan a big reward to look forward to at the end of a major writing marathon. Double bacon cheeseburger. Double feature. Double dip. You deserve it.
Pre-Write Not Rewrite
So many writers resist the concept of outlining, but I believe that if you want to get to your destination, you must have a road map.
At the outset, a new screenplay is like a foreign land. If you want to navigate across the country, master the new language, see all the sights, and complete your trip before you run out of vacation time – you need a plan.
Please don’t offer up the timeworn argument that an outline stifles creativity. You must be free to run, wander and explore. Nonsense!
If you have a map, are driving along and spot a sign for a scenic overlook, you can pull over, have a picnic, and enjoy the view. And then you can get back onto the road and continue en route to your destination.
Even the pros outline, but if you manage to find one who admits that they don’t, they will inevitably tell you that they have planned the entire story in their heads, going over it again and again until it’s honed to perfection. Of course, they have a ton of experience in crafting stories. Don’t try this until you can say the same.
You have tons of outlining tools available to you from old-fashioned post-its and note cards to sophisticated programs and apps. Each screenwriting guru offers up their own paradigm. The bottom line is they are all saying the same thing, just using different terminology. Explore and find the one that works for you to ensure a successful journey.
I’ve always said that one of the advantages of attending a screenwriting program is that it gives you assignments that you must complete by a certain date. A former student of mine religiously entered contest after contest, small or large, to create deadlines to work toward.
As my students near the end of their mentorship period, most of them work harder and faster, turning in reworked outlines nearly every week. The idea of their mentorship coming to an end and the realization that the opportunity for free feedback and guidance will soon be gone makes them push themselves.
Deadlines aren’t deadly, they give you a defined goal to accomplish by a specific date.
Offer Yourself Up to Public Humiliation
Make a bold public statement about what you intend to accomplish by a certain date. Whether a Facebook post, an announcement to your writers’ group, or a proclamation to those you hold near and dear. Declare your intention, loud and clear. The fear of failing to live up to your stated goal, plus disappointing not only yourself, but others, provides extra motivation.
It also allows you to personalize your deadline. “I’ll have a completed first draft before we leave for vacation.” “By the end of the month, I will have a scene by scene outline of my next script.” “For my birthday, I’m unplugging for a week to focus on polishing my final draft.” Set the bar high, but be realistic as well, so in the end you can proudly broadcast your achievement.
Get Out of Your Own Way!
One of the best things about teaching is how much you learn as a teacher. I found myself on a late night mentoring phone call with a student who had come up with a Hooky Idea that was a great match for him. It expressed his personal thematic – the message he wanted to express to the audience based on his own life experience and what he believes is important in life – wrapped inside a delicious premise, terrific title and some solid comic set pieces. But somehow, he couldn’t stay focused on the heart of the story and the entire structure suffered. “I know you know this character, Rick,” I insisted. “You know what you want to say.” Yet, the outlines he turned in still wobbled and wandered. Wanting desperately for him to have this great chance at hitting one out of the park, I nearly shouted, “RICK – GET OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY!”
No sooner was our call over, than I realized that I needed to get out of my own way. It’s a bit like therapy. As a teacher, you formulate the thought, you say it out loud, you hear yourself, and then it goes back into your brain. And an “Ah-ha!” moment is born.
Stop So You Can Start
The minute I stop writing, close the computer and walk away, I get a great little idea for what to add to the piece. It’s just like when you’re struggling to remember a movie title or actor’s name. It’s on the tip of your tongue but no matter how hard you try, it just won’t come to mind. Once you stop trying, bam!
As soon as I stop actively working, ideas flow. Often I’m walking and I email them to myself. When I start writing again, I have inspiration waiting to get me off to a running start.
When you’re ready to stop working for the day, set yourself up to get off on the right foot when you begin again. It’s different for everyone. You might stop mid scene, or make a note about the purpose of the next scene where you’ll begin tomorrow.
Explore and discover what works for you. You’re leaving a trail of breadcrumbs to find your way back to the creative zone.
Writing a few words is better than no words.
Soon a halfway decent sentence will come into your mind. Get it on the page.
Rework that sentence until it shines. Tangible progress and a sense of satisfaction.
That little buzz will fuel you to write more. Write a little more and you just might find yourself sliding into the zone. And… you’re there.
In the Season Three finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Picard is captured by the Borg and “assimilated.” The Borg now possess all his knowledge of the Starfleet, enabling them to wipe out all resistance in their path. Picard has become part alien. Major cliffhanger.
But in the fourth season premier, the crew of the Enterprise recaptures Picard and uses his knowledge of the Borg to destroy the cube. Then they restore Picard’s humanity.
When you’re surrounded by Resistance, it feels as if you head is empty. You’re not even comfortable in your own skin. You barely recognize this version of yourself – it’s as if you have become an alien being.
But conquering Resistance and using it to fuel your work, will fill you up with creative ideas and make you feel like yourself again.
Learn how to tell if you have just a touch of writer’s block or if you’ve come down with a full-blown case of Resistance Syndrome. Click here to read Dr. Paige Turner’s home diagnostic tools.
- More articles by Barri Evins
- Improvising Screenplays: Writer’s Block: What to Do When You’re Stuck in Your Script
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