Friday, June 29, 2012

Crumple Writer's Block

"This IS my mother's laptop."
UCLA screenwriting program head and personal acquaintance Richard Walter says, "All writers hate to write; all writers love having written."

In his worthy-of-your-dollars recent book, Essentials of Screenwriting, Walter relates an anecdote about speaking to various writers during a strike, and how one of them, when confronted with a blank page, would look out a window and promise himself to start writing only after an unreasonable number of cars with Nebraska plates drove past.

What I think Walter means is that writing forces us to confront self-doubt, and that's never fun. I have yet to meet a writer who isn't plagued by such. Is this a good line? Could it be better? If I change it, will it lose its charm? How do I know when I'm done with a scene? Will it resonate with the audience?

Children's author Avi (Crispin: The Cross of Lead, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, The Secret School) wrote over 50 drafts of the first chapter of Crispin. That first chapter is a mere two pages long.

I wrote three specs last year and have completed two and a half first drafts so far this year. It wasn't easy. A student in an intermediate film production class I teach asked me how I battle writer's block. To be sure, it's a great question. However, I believe that I have an answer for it:

Don't set an ambitious writing goal.

Pushing yourself or forcing inspiration will make you resent the process. Bad writing and frustration comes out of resentment. Instead, start small. Don't say, "I'm going to write 15 pages today!" Instead, make your goal, "I'm going to write one line of dialogue."

That's it. Your goal is to merely write one thing. Anything. However concise or imperfect. Progress is progress, after all. If you make that your goal and hit it, then I promise you two things:

1. It won't satisfy you.
2. You'll want to write another line. Then another. Then another.

As writers, we have enough stacked against us. Don't set yourself up for a situation in which you fall short. Set yourself up for a situation in which you'll succeed in spades. On the day you make something simple your goal, you will blow yourself away at how productive you can be. By the time you've sailed through 10 pages, you'll suddenly recall that your initial goal was to write only one line.

You'll love having done that.

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