Last night in my Monday night group we found that the majority of the writers in the room were feeling stuck on their current project. It happens. You’re working on your first draft or a rewrite and you have decisions to make, storytelling choices that will impact not just what’s to follow but what you’ve already written. It can be paralyzing. So what can you do?
Here is a list of tips for moving forward, no matter what challenges you are having with your script.
REALLY UNDERSTAND YOUR “WHY?”
You’re writing a screenplay. That’s awesome but what are your intentions? If you don’t have a solid answer as to why you are doing this then you are going to be less inclined to follow through. Be sure about your reason for writing this project right now. If you are not sure or have an answer that feels weak, read this post I wrote a while ago about answering this very question for yourself.
LET GO OF BEING PERFECT
“The first draft of anything is shit.” – Ernest Hemingway
Every writer wants to be a genius. You’re no exception. You think every sentence, bit of dialogue, plot point and reveal should be brilliant, so good that your fellow writers will read your pages and think “this is amazing. I have no notes.” but the reality is that writing doesn’t work that way. It’s much more akin to creating a sculpture. Widdle away long enough and you will have something. It might be good. It might be great. Hell, it might suck balls. But you won’t know that until you’ve put in the work, which means making choices and seeing where they lead you. Give up being perfect. You aren’t. You won’t be.
READ A SCRIPT/WATCH A MOVIE (or two or three or a dozen)
Scott Meyers (GoIntoTheStory.com) has a mantra “Read Scripts. Watch Movies. Write Pages.” that too few writers follow. Next time you’re feeling stuck and like every choice you make in your script is wrong or boring, fire up the old Netflix and watch a movie or log onto your computer and find some scripts you haven’t read before and read them. I know the feeling, whenever you watch a movie or read a script, especially if you are enjoying yourself, it feels like you aren’t being productive. But watching movies and reading scripts are a vital part of your discipline as a screenwriter. If you are not watching a lot of movies and you are not reading a lot of scripts then you are not doing your job. It is that simple.
NOBODY IS GOING TO MAKE YOU DO IT
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” –Stephen King
In the sports world they are called “self-starters”, the greats who do work that nobody else does without anyone telling them to do it. Jerry Rice, perhaps the greatest wide receiver in the history of the NFL still runs a four mile trail that he credits with making him the player he was well into his 40s. Walter Payton used to do the same thing, running hills. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson – all known as “gym rats” were consumed with basketball and would work at parts of their game all the time to improve. I am sure the same principle applies to any endeavor – if you want to be great then you have to put in the work. For writers, that means showing up and making decisions, even when you might be wrong.
WATCH YOUR MOVIE
The greatest gift you have is your imagination. Use it. Sit back, relax and watch your movie in your head. See where you lose interest, what excites you and be aware of what questions arise. When you bump against something that makes you stop, spend time analyzing why. But don’t get too hung up on it or you will stop. It is more important that you navigate your way past these bumps in the road than it is to resolve the issues perfectly. Get to the end and solutions will be more apt to appear once you come back through the second, third or fourth time.
THERE IS NOTHING LIKE FINISHING
The process can be painful but the finish line is a great reward in and of itself. Get there. Writer John August says that if you know you ending you are more apt to finish your script. I agree. Spend a lot of time thinking about those last couple of scenes. You might be surprised at how much motivation you derive from just that.
ASK FOR HELP
If nobody had mentioned this problem last night then the rest of the group would not have known that almost every single person was dealing with the same issue. When you are stuck, blocked and unproductive ask for help. Reach out to your writing group, your online friends, your peers, whoever you can. Writing is a solitary endeavor but it doesn’t have to be. Today, three people came over to my house for a work session. We barely talked to one another but we occupied the same space and worked. When you reach out to people, you’ll often find that you are a solution to their problem as well. Help each other.
What do you focus on when you feel stuck. Tweet us, write us or comment with your thoughts.
Dane Reade is an admitted knucklehead, writer, producer, director, actor, storyteller and managing editor of The Tiny Protagonist. You can connect with him on twitter @TheUrbanHobo or via @TinyProtagonist