5 Steps to Overcome Writer’s Block With Your Screenplay
Writer's block is real. Don't let that stop you from making your best work.
It’s safe to say that we’ve all had writer’s block from time to time. In fact, it feels like when I’m not writing, I’m googling “cure for writer’s block” or “how to get rid of writer’s block?” We all know the best kind of screenplay is a finished one. But finishing is an uphill climb.
I’m going to take you through the five steps I often use to overcome writer’s block. Consider this some writer’s block rehab for your soul.
Let’s do this!
What is Writer’s Block?
To diagnose the problem, we have to first get the definition. For me, writer’s block occurs when I’m sitting in front of the page and I have the inability to move the story forward. I often confuse writer’s block with procrastination, but they aren’t the same. Sometimes procrastination can lead to writer’s block, or be a symptom of it, but they’re not interchangeable.
When I’m blocked, I can’t think of any idea that matters to the story. I also start freaking out if I have a deadline. That’s why it’s become so important to me to cure my writer’s block.
What Causes Writer’s Block?
There are three main factors when it comes to writer’s block. Fear, lack of preparation, and doubt.
A lot of writer’s fear what’s going on the page. We put too much of an emphasis on getting things perfect, that we don’t take joy in the craft anymore. That can plug up our creative juices. I find that a great treatment or outline also helps me overcome a ton of writer’s block. If I feel prepared when I sit down to write, then the ideas flow. Still, there’s nothing like some good ole’ self doubt to ruin the process.
The idea of imposter syndrome is real. Since Hollywood seems so intangible to people, a lot of times I feel myself asking if I really belong. If I should even be putting these hours into what’s going on the page. Ultimately, I know I have to quiet those demons by putting my best work on the page. That’s why overcoming writer’s block is so important.
So let’s learn how!
One way I’ve learned how to get rid of writer’s block is to just open something new. Some of the best screenplays I’ve written are a result of not being able to move forward on another idea.
1. Start Something New
If you’re like me, actually finding time to work on your own ideas can be scarce. That makes overcoming writer’s block even more important. One way I’ve learned how to get rid of writer’s block is to just open something new. Some of the best screenplays I’ve written are a result of not being able to move forward on another idea.
I like to open that new doc and just noodle. Come up with characters, situations, and see where they take me. This free writing helps me get the clutter out of my head and experiment without consequences. I’ll even open old ideas and embark on rewriting them too, anything to help me flex my muscle and get into my rhythm.
But what if this is your first screenplay? Or you’re too burnt out from looking at a screen?
2. Get Outside
I mean “get outside” in two different ways. First, get outside your own head. A lot of times I put way too much pressure on an individual project. I make the spec in front of me the only way I can kick down a door. I think it’s my ticket to meeting Spielberg and a general meeting with Kathleen Kennedy. That’s a pretty foolish way to approach writing, and the cause of a lot of writer’s block.
Instead of creating these insane obstacles, think about why you wanted to pursue this idea in particular? What do you have to say to the world? Why should they listen?
Secondarily, you should actually GET OUTSIDE. Take a walk, ride a bike, do your laundry, etc. Sometimes the best way to get rid of writer’s block is just to live. Your brain will take care of latent thoughts, and lots of times, I’ll be at the laundromat and discover my story is actually a western, or the second act needs another set piece, or that I should kill off a ton of characters and start over.
Creativity is draining. Rest your body and your mind. The ideas will flow.
There’s no screenwriting law that says you have to work in order.
3. Push Forward
Let’s say you’re stuck on page 25 and have no idea what scene should lead into the next act. Instead of trying to tackle that all at once, jump ahead. Write what you think will be the last few pages of the story. Write the meat of the third act. There’s no screenwriting law that says you have to work in order.
I was recently so stuck in this big feature. I was juggling multiple viewpoints, action scenes, and character motivations, and I was so freaking lost. And I was under a deadline. And I had writer’s block.
To get rid of my writer’s block, I decided to write the movie in reverse. I started with the final scene, which was a tag on the end of the movie. I wrote that first and made it my goal to get to those pages. I then backed up and started at what I thought was the beginning of the third act. Since it opened with a set piece, I knew that was more technical writing and could be done regardless of context.
As I worked backward, my mind freed up. After a few days, I was back moving forward. Instead of losing pages and days, I gained scenes I knew had to be there and worked out the filler as time went on.
I think most writers would agree that putting something on the paper every day matters to your development.
Writer’s block can make that goal scary, but you can get rid of it if you’re willing to write around the hurdles.
When I NEED to write, I try to find a coffee shop without wifi and I really dig in. I turn off my phone, shut off my internet, and I get rid of writer’s block by just working.
I’m telling you to procrastinate and I know you’re out there screaming BS, but listen to me for a beat. Procrastination can be productive. When I procrastinate writing, I often find myself concentrating all my knowledge on the mundane. I’ll fold clothes, give my dog a bath, or binge-watch Friends again. These tasks wind up helping me relax and sometimes help me gain a new perspective or idea.
Like when I was binging New Girl and got an idea about crazy people you meet on dates and cranked out a pilot that’s now in development, or the time I decided I would make a six-layer cake instead of finishing a web series and wound up being able to use a story of dropping the dozen eggs I purchased in a pitch the next day.
The best writer’s glean what they can from their own lives. Certainly, you shouldn’t let procrastination takeover, but sometimes it’s better to lean in and reap the benefits than to fight it and wear yourself out. Plus, imagine surprising your roommates or family with a six-layer cake.
Some of my biggest issues are writing in close proximity to my bed, always searching for the best music on iTunes or answering text messages.
5. Eliminate Distractions
We live in the 21st century, surrounded by technology. My phone buzzes about tweets. My iTunes has access to every song and my TV is always calling my name. When I NEED to write, I try to find a coffee shop without wifi and I really dig in. I turn off my phone, shut off my internet, and I get rid of writer’s block by just working.
One of my friends even has a writing login on his laptop with parental restrictions keeping him off the internet and Messenger. It’s kind of genius. Only you know what triggers your worst distractions. Some of my biggest issues are writing in close proximity to my bed, always searching for the best music on iTunes or answering text messages. I even will use my dog as the ultimate distraction at times.
Consider booking yourself a writer’s retreat. Get away to a cabin or cheap motel. Be comfortable being alone and getting the writer’s block rehab you need.
Summing up How To Get Rid Of Writer’s Block
As a professional writer, writer’s block comes with all aspects of the job. Whether it’s live TV, screenwriting, or copywriting, I’m always confronting and overcoming writer’s block. The key is diagnosing what works for you and creating a routine. When writer’s block rears its ugly head, I know how to combat it and, hopefully, now so do you.
If you have an inspiring way you overcome writer’s block, leave it in the comments below! I can’t wait to see what works for you.