I Hate Your Writer’s Block Story

By Leroy James King · April 27, 2010

I just read Ched’s blog post from today. If you haven’t yet, check it out. He talks about truth being stranger than fiction; that there’s a ton of pre-existing stories out there to make films out of; that there’s a surplus of writers out there that want to tell their own boring-ass, self-indulgent stories; etc.

Now I’m not disagreeing with Ched – back when I was doing my coverage internship (way too recent in my memory bank for comfort) I think I read about… I don’t know, 20 scripts inside a month that were about writers being blocked, and how they tried to pull themselves out of their block. 20 scripts. Yeah…

Obviously writing didn’t really work for these poor, unfortunate blocked bastards. I get their intentions… but bleh. It’s like if a doctor were to tell you how many times they’ve been sued for malpractice while they’re diagnosing you.

The other overwrought script I encountered while balls deep in Coverage Land were the “I got dumped by the love of my life in college, then I turned into a man whore when I moved to Los Angeles” scripts. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of these scripts were hilarious to read, especially when you can only assume the weird, nerdy shit that the protagonist does is more than likely autobiographical of the screenwriter.

But seriously, within any given small, boutique Lit Agency, there’s probably about 300 scripts for those 2 genres:

1) The writer’s block script

2) The man whore, got dumped script

Granted, there have been a few movies within these genres that are actually good. Adaptation (yes, I’m a man whore for this movie), and in recent memory, Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

ATTENTION SCREENWRITERS: These movies were good. Stop trying to write them again. And again. And again…

So back to what Ched said – there’s a cornucopia of stories from history that are incredibly unique, weird, offbeat, and unheard of to write about. Yeah, totally. But I completely understand that many of us aspiring writers simply don’t have the time to research the hell out of some obscure subject matter about a cloud of gas hanging over a mining town in Pennsylvania. For the establshed Scorseses and Zaillians and Goldmans (you pick your favorite Goldman) in the world… you get PAID to do the research. So more power to them for finding those obscure moments in history that THEY can turn into cash cows.

What about the rest of us though? How can we take these stories and make them our own without having to hole up in a library, or interviewing a slew of experts?

I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m a huge advocate for taking real historical events and creating alternate histories. For instance, how about… the Cuban Missile Crisis. Instead of diving into the nitty gritty of every idiosyncratic historical detail… why not make up your own? Maybe Fidel Castro and J. Edgar Hoover made a bet, and Hoover lost, refused to pay – so Castro played a joke on him by threatening nuclear destruction. Maybe Hoover knew the whole time that it was a joke, but he knew he’d be screwed if he owned up to it. So he ran with it and let the American people think their lives were in grave, real danger.

This is a bullshit example – definitely not a very good one. But what I’m saying is that you should let yourself be inspired by other stories. Ones that aren’t just rooted in your own head or experience.  You can CHANGE history with a script too, or STEAL from history for your own story.

Remember – don’t necessarily write what you know. Write what you want to know. Ched gives the Pennsylvania mining town example. Yeah, that’s a great story. You don’t necessarily need to right about the specific event, but let it influence a new story for you.  Historical accuracy is overrated anyway.  Nobody really remembers history the way it actually happened in the first place.  There’s an amazing book called Tangled Memories you should check out.  It talks about how Vietnam War veterans who had had horrific experiences during the war (over time) began replacing their own memories with images and story lines from Vietnam War movies.  Just a thought.

To sum this all up, let me just say again…

Nobody cares that you have writer’s block, and nobody cares that you were dumped. Stop writing about these things. Please.  STEAL from history other than your own.