Alligator Tales: Hell. I Just Hit a Freaking Wall!

Harnessing your creativity can be both deliciously mysterious and overwhelmingly frustrating. It often will NOT run on rails.

Whether you react to a blockage by cursing and kicking a hole in the landlord’s wall or retreating to a dark cupboard with a pint of Dreyer’s best frozen sugar bomb, remember …

Have faith that ideas are going to come to you.

I often run into an apparent dead-end. Especially if I am writing a new piece without all my elements and structure figured out. One technique I have learned is to commit the problem to my subconscious and move on to another area. Even quit and take a break altogether. The phrase “sleep on it” is more than just folk wisdom – it works!

No time to sleep, you have to deliver?

Who says we have to write in a straight line?

In World War II, the U.S. forces chose a unique strategy to fight the Japanese who had control of hundreds of Pacific islands, thus creating a set of threatening stepping stones towards America. Instead of bogging down, fighting a linear battle along the chain, the American forces chose a creative solution: a route across the Pacific that skipped any islands they didn’t feel like fighting! They leap-frogged problems, attacking where it suited them and coming back for cleanup when they were good and ready.

Whenever I hit an empty hole in my writing, I try to think of it as just an undiscovered area. Not that it is the end. I do not use myself up in a frontal assault, but change direction, grab a cup of tea, or take a walk and let my brain hop around and give me ideas and solutions in an uncritical, patchwork quilt approach. Ideas from other parts of a story can ricochet around and solve several issues at once.

This patchwork approach works for me because I don’t write a script into a blank page – I don’t have the courage to face that evil thing! Instead, I collect banks of ideas around my central theme, plot and characters and then crudely organize them intuitively as pages of notes, half formed dialogue, et cetera, string out in the rough path of the story. I do all this long before importing my work into Final Draft to format and finesse my script. I work very crudely in a text-only program, like an artist doing a pencil sketch before committing to oils. I get to play, and replay, while doing as little heavy lifting as possible.

I can think of many of my scripts, including Moll Flanders and Houdini, where I had my ending first and then figured out how to get to it.

I share this because it works for me; but my rule is ignore everything that I say that doesn’t fit your creative method. We are each unique and your process is sacred to me.

Writing when you are NOT experiencing that rare and blissful state of being in flow, is “problem solving.” We have to face the unknown and invent our way to the end. In the ’60s there was a shrink called Maxwell Maltz who came up with a view of the human mind in a book he called Psycho-Cybernetics. He viewed us as highly evolved problem-solving animals with brains designed to discover and explore. But many of us hesitated to jump into our problems and stay on the outside, too nervous to trust our skills.

I have unwritten scripts thanks to that fear. But Maltz is right: If you stare at a chess board and try to figure how to play the game before it happened, it is overwhelming. But, what if you played the game already knowing most of the moves and the outcome? And you got to choose all of those? That is writing. You control the game!

You get to make all the choices. So, by sketching out the game, I work from an overview.

But I am really, really blocked!!!

Yep, been there. Chat to a trusted writer friend (what we at Trilogy call “a story midwife”). Conversation seems to use different parts of your brain and a good exchange of ideas can open up new insights and constructive work-arounds.

And finally, I have the most amazing solution –

Write a piece of crap!

People in every form of creative life face our problem: trying to be perfect before they have even got half-started. This article by a computer coder is remarkable for its insights that may seem amazingly similar to our own writer’s struggles. Read this blog by James Bender and realize you are not alone.

So, write a piece of crap. Getting anything out is good. We are often way too critical of our first steps. It’s like yelling at a baby for crawling before she discovers walking. Don’t do that to yourself. It’s way easier to edit and improve a rough first draft than it is to face a blank page. Trust your brain. If you let it fix your work, the way it comes, naturally, you will be amazed what comes out of you.

4 thoughts on “Alligator Tales: Hell. I Just Hit a Freaking Wall!

  1. Theresa

    Love the advice: write a piece crap! I tell this to writer friends who are stuck and I follow it myself. You can’t improve what’s not there. It’s a supreme act of hubris for any writer to assume what gets written first is anywhere close to the best.

  2. Dennis

    This is the greatest maneuver around the brick wall. I’m glad a successful entity has given the secret to some of us standing on the sidelines. Put me in coach, I know I can do it but the first game is the toughest.

  3. Ian

    Great article. I’m glad this came out now. I’m writing my first pilot and have faced a brick wall but like you mentioned, my subconscious figured it out one day. It literally came out of nowhere. It’s really strange how our brain works. I like your advice for just writing something to get it out there. I am often too critical of my first drafts. I need to let go of that.

  4. Pingback: Hitting a Wall in Your Writing: How to Break Through | LA Screenwriter