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-   -   writer's block - solution? (https://www.dvinfo.net/forum/techniques-independent-production/52046-writers-block-solution.html)

Brendan Sundry September 30th, 2005 09:30 PM

writer's block - solution?
Im not really a writer, but i ate it when people tell me, i should maybe geta writer to pen me a script for me to direct. I believe i can write, i have stories in me everyone does.

Im looking to make a short, but i have no ideas.
THen when i do gain an idea, i get really exited, write it down and then im over it in 20 mins.

This concerns me as it seems very flakey, which i dont believe i am.

I just want to make a great short film, which gets recognised and asked to be made into a feature. - which i then shoot, and edit myself on HD.

Is that so hard to ask!

- Rodriguez you lucky bastard.

Keith Loh October 1st, 2005 01:16 AM

I am currently taking a business writing course and actually it seems to be the most theory I've ever had on the act of writing. The first few classes seem like the science of writing. anyway, the reason why I bring this up is because the last class the teacher told us her method of dealing with productivity. *I am paraphrasing.

First, a bit of an attitude shift.
1) Writing is communication.
2) This means that you are always writing to someone.
3) This means that everything you do when you are writing is focused on serving an audience. What you write, the style you write, and the very fact that you have to deliver means that you must follow through. That audience is waiting for you to finish your writing.
4) In other forms of communication, such as talking to someone face to face, you would never leave someone hanging if you are interrupted. If you are having a meeting and have to leave. You wouldn't go back to the meeting and then abruptly cancel it. Instead you would pick up where you left off. It has to be the same with writing.
5) If you never finish your writing, then you will never have communicated anything.

In previous classes the teacher stressed that the main problem with poor writing and at the same time generation is that the writer mixes analysis with creativity. She said that in brain cognition actually the two acts use different parts of the brain and when they come into conflict, the writer slows and stops. So plodding writers are those who agonize over every word, over punctuation, over spelling or even page formatting before they have drafted even once.

Instead, she advocates separating the tasks of creative generation with analysis (editing. correction, formatting). So when you do have ideas fresh in your head you should just barf them all out as fast as you can. Write down everything. Make notes. Anything that comes into your head that pertains to your purpose of writing.

She is a big fan of free writing to get the writer going to start a task. Free writing is just sitting down at the keyboard and just spilling one's thoughts on the subject for 10-15 minutes straight. No editing, no looking back or stopping to fix grammar or sentences.

I'm interested in applying this to my own screenwriting. I believe you can do this if at first all you are doing is the treatment or a series of beats. It would be difficult to do this if you are writing a script from scene to scene without first drafting a treatment or summary. This is because screen formatting will get in the way.

I hope this spurs some thoughts on your own writing method because it has made me think about adopting some of this in mine.

Brendan Sundry October 1st, 2005 02:38 AM


I really appreciate you putting this stuff down, i will try the free writing exercise. And will also try to change my attitude by recognizing that i am trying to communicate something from my heart.



Michael Gibbons October 1st, 2005 08:39 AM

I've written a couple of novels, many shorts and a bunch of screenplays, and I use a method pretty much identicle to what Keith has described. Another method that I've been experimentig with lately is outlining. A detailed outline, which can be written without thinking about style and such, can give you a really solid foundation to work with, especially when you aren't feeling creative.

Mathieu Ghekiere October 1st, 2005 09:14 AM

Hi Brendan,

I can only give you my opinion, if it's useful for you or not, that's your choice.
My way of writing is very intu´tive.
(first of all, I consider myself a director - sorry for the heavy word but I just want to make my point - who writes his own screenplays, so I'm not talking from the point of view of a writer, but more of a director)
I write down loose ideas, of dialogs, sentences, events, many times also images (from a director's point of view, not a writer's).
But I want to write things that matter to me, and I am already thinking in images and filmscenes often, and not in plot and character.

I think what I want to tell you is: write down all loose ideas. If you are angry, frustrated, many times that can be a good source to write. Just write what you feel. From there on you can work to story, and so on. Then it becomes a more narrative story, but it's still has an emotional core, that maybe no one ever will know, exept for you. You know how it all started.

And my other opinion (advice?):
don't force yourself too much. If it's not the right time to write, then you'll often write nothing good.
(If you have seen Memento, I think it's like where he says: you can't force memory, the more you put pressure on it, the harder it gets)
Don't write just to write. If you feel the need to, write.
I know last year, I had some ideas, and desperitaly wanted to begin writing. And it's good to start writing, just to start. But in the end I just dumped it.
It was frustrating, and then, at moments that you ain't really busy with writing, it can happen that you think: ow, damn, why don't I write that down?? That's the key!

So that would be my advice for you.
Also note that although I consider narrative a bit important, I rather concentrate on characters and images and feeling. Because I think a good plot doesn't necessarily make a good movie. It can make a good book.
But film ain't solely plot. It's also images, music, sound,...
Just wanted to let you know, that you know from which point of view this advice is.
Good luck!

Keith Loh October 1st, 2005 11:32 AM

I should point out that what my business writing teacher said applied mostly to businessd writing where there was a set purpose to the piece of writing and that it might not be entirely applicable to creative writing (she acknowledged that). However, I am interested in seeing if her thoughts on generation will bear fruit. Writing for business requires that you produce something at a different time - deadlines whereas creative writing may not have a deadline.

That said, I believe you have to be disciplined as a writer and treat it as a vocation if they want to be serious. Her thoughts on writing to an audience also apply to creative writing. If you are not writing to your drawer (i.e. just for yourself) then you should always think about the audience you are trying to reach. In screenwriting always be thinking about how your work is going to play on the screen (even though we know a film runs through several versions and often many writers before it does end up on the screen). So think about how long your 'audience' will have to wait if you never finish.

Keith Loh October 1st, 2005 11:36 AM

I did bring up outlining to my teacher and according to her theory, outlining is bringing analysis into the act of writing and may interfere with generation. Rather, outlining is a task you do separately not necessarily to improve generation.

I do a form of outlining. I write out beats. But when I am actually writing the story, i.e. the treatment, I tend to start and not stop until I really reach a break point. So I see writing a treatment and outlining different. With outlining a screenplay, like marking out the 3 act points, midpoints, etc., that tends to make me really analyze structure, even though you are also thinking about the story. I could analyze someone else's screenplay, for example, and not really think of how I would actually generate.

By generate, the teacher means actually getting words and ideas down on paper. I believe this is the issue we are talking about. Starting the motor, so to speak. Priming it and getting it going.

Marco Leavitt October 1st, 2005 08:21 PM

For me writing is something I have to force myself to do. If you wait until you're in the mood or you're feeling creative you'll never finish anything. I think outlines are very important too. I used to never do an outline because I thought it was more important to let the story follow its own direction, but the story always seemed to wander off somewhere that didn't really add up to anything. The more outlines I do the more useful they're becoming. The two biggest things that keep me from writing are the television and the Internet. You have to know when to turn them off.

Heath McKnight October 2nd, 2005 12:39 PM

Sometimes it's forcing yourself to get into a rhythm, which is tough for me since half of my writing is creative and I write creatively when I feel like it. I'm not a disciplined creative writer. When I'm writing other stuff, like for hire, or even spec (like a magazine article), it's easier. But not much.

My advice would be to start writing some one-line ideas and titles if you have them. Then find the best one, and if you want to do a short, start fleshing out an ending, beginning and a middle. Know your ending first! 9 times out of 10, if one doesn't have an ending, the script will fall apart.

Flesh out some characters, events, etc. And get the ball rolling on page one. If you are writing a good 8 page script (my advice for a short), you need to grab your audience from the get-go. Throwing out the first reel is very true, trust me.

If you have your ideas and you get writer's block just writing it (or conceiving it), try listening to music. I write to music ALL the time, using Radiohead, Air (except 10,000 Hz Legend), sometimes even Soundgarden. If I need total concentration, I'll go for Kinda Blue by Miles Davis or flip on iTunes' radio to classical with no singing. Nice.


Keith Loh October 2nd, 2005 01:35 PM

Yea I zone out when I go to the library with a laptop. I choose some electronica or some music without understandable vocals. That blocks out everything and I can concentrate.

I remember getting into raging arguments with my parents over playing music while studying. They were convinced that I needed absolute quiet and the sound of only pages turning to study when actually music blocked everything ELSE out including them fighting about crap.

Michael Wisniewski October 2nd, 2005 02:59 PM

My suggestion is to study improvisation technique. Like Keith noted, the idea generation stage is where writer's block occurs, and it's where improv becomes invaluable. Improv techniques let you take a single idea and play with it to generate hundreds of ideas that you can then structure/outline into a coherent story. And if you structure/outline yourself into a dead end, you can use the improv techniques to help you get back out.

It's an invaluable set of skills to have, not only for writing, but for all aspects of filmmaking.

If you're not up for taking classes, at least get a copy of Keith Johnstone's Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by what this book can do for your writing, directing, and filmmaking in general.

Marco Leavitt October 2nd, 2005 03:04 PM

Music works for me sometimes. Other times it breaks my concentration if I start focusing on the lyrics. Sometimes I'll put a single album on repeat, turn the volume way up, and let it play over and over until it just becomes gray noise in the background. This is not a particularly popular technique with girlfriends. It also works best when combined with alcohol, which is something I'm trying to eliminate from my writing routine so I don't do it that much anymore.

Heath McKnight October 2nd, 2005 03:24 PM

Don't drink and write--I had nothing but gibberish when I was drinking a couple of beers a few years back.


Sam Druckerman October 20th, 2005 06:36 AM

Here's a great writing tip
Brendan, I have written a few three act plays, 25 + short film scripts and I am currently working on a feature script.

The best writing lessons I've had came from studying theater arts... acting, directing. Much better than any writing courses I've had.

I have to say working in the theater really taught me about story structure, character development and dialogue.

I also learned how to talk to and direct actors. So, my advice to you would be, if possible, to get into an acting class.

Learning how to break down plays for theme and character development will give you the tools you need to write your screenplays. Just remember that in a screenplay actions speak louder than words..... Better to show it than to say it.

You could also meet a lot of actors to be in your short films.

I know that it's a lot to take on..... but I wanted to share my experience with you.

So here's a great writing tip for you and you don't have to study at the actors studio to do it ........

If you feel blocked or don't have an idea..... go to the library and grab a few art books off the shelf. Sit down with a pencil and paper and start looking at the pages of art, the images are really interesting and tell a story. Let the art stimulate your imagination.

Example, you see a painting of a circus scene. Trapeze artist, jugglers, animal acts, etc. One of the clowns draws you in...
Maybe he has a happy clown face painted on but you can tell he's really sad. Why?

This is where the fun starts. And writing should always be fun. Let your imagination run away with the idea....

Maybe he's sad because he's broke, or sick, or lonely, or etc. Let's say he's sad because he's a lousy clown. Now that's the start of a character you can write.....

You know the character needs to change.... How? (More fun, see?)

Maybe he needs a new career, or maybe he decides to rob a bank so he won't have to work anymore, or maybe he needs the money from the bank to open a retail store.

Let's say he has to learn to be a better clown or he'll lose his job. Ahh! That's Motivation, here's more....

Let's say that not only does he want to be a better clown, the woman he secretly loves is the circus owners daughter. So he Really wants to keep his job to be near her, and win her love by becoming the best clown ever! How's he going to learn to be a better clown? (more fun!)

Maybe he asks the other clowns for help, or maybe he goes to clown collage.

Lets say he tries both those ideas and they don't work. So in desperation he uses all his savings to send for the most famous clown in the world, 'Rusty Gags' to coach him. What happens when Rusty comes? (more fun)

Maybe Rusty is a fake, or maybe he's a washed up drunk. Let's say he just doesn't speak english. That could lead to some funny misunderstandings!

Maybe Rusty only speaks French and the only person in the circus who can speak French is the owners daughter. She agrees to translate and now our clown is getting to spend a lot of time with his secret love.

Okay, I think I made my point, if you feel stuck half way through just keep turning pages and let the art stimulate your imagination.

Try it. It really works.

Hope this helps and
Good Luck


Heath McKnight October 20th, 2005 07:13 AM

Another cool thing I've learned is to have professional actors do readings with you. That can help inspire you to write more and write better.

When my collaborator on my first film did a re-write on my next film, it inspired me to do more revisions. I just wish he could write faster, but then again, I don't have kids.


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