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By Eric Owusu · August 2, 2014
Writer’s block sucks. I can’t stand suffering from its symptoms. Frustration, anger, that terrible feeling I get in my stomach when I’m trying to thread a needle and it won’t go through. Writer’s block happens a lot with people who want to continue and finish a screenplay; I sometimes experience it when I’m coming up with a story idea to write in the first place. I read other pieces of non-fiction hoping to get an idea but I don’t get any original ones and I don’t want to accidentally steal any. So what do I do in such a situation? I go outside and do anything else.
Taking a break from being a writer and embracing being a regular person is a great way to get ideas and new experiences for a screenplay. It’s difficult and, if one writes as much as a professional writer does, counterintuitive to get up from the struggle. But living life is the best way to come up with original ideas that will actually help finish the task at hand: ducking writer’s block and finishing an inventive screenplay.
No one can have the exact same experiences that I do, even though many of us go to the same places and do the same things. My unique experience in a familiar place can resonate with a wide array of people, especially if I include my motivations and feelings while in that situation, when I take it back to my screenplay.
It’s a good break from feeling like I have to invent an entire world. When I draw from my own experiences, big and small, they spur ideas that send me in the right direction. A trip to the grocery store puts me in contact with other people who are living their lives just like I am. And existing in the same place as them reminds me of the fact that there is a plethora of interesting stories happening all around me.
If I see a cashier being helpful to a grumpy customer, a child misbehaving, a spouse arguing with their significant other, or a person untying their dog from the front of the store so that they and their pet can go home, I get to watch and draw upon different story generators – that’s how I refer to strangers in my head – as their stories take place in real time. I can mix their stories with my own or extrapolate my favorite scenes from theirs and come up with new ideas. Experiences like that are the gold mines of creative inspiration and I can’t mine any gold if I’m sitting in the office at the foot of the mountain. I have to be in the world to be able to draw from it, firsthand. And I wouldn’t be able to do that without untethering myself from my pen/pad/computer/dungeon of writer’s block woe.
A break from work is wonderful for the mind. The most productive workers aren’t the ones obsessively slaving away for sixteen hours a day for six months. They’re the ones who work hard when it’s time to work and relax when it’s time to do so. They feel refreshed and it also gives them time to be away from and miss their work. Screenwriting is enjoyable for me. But when I spend all day of every day doing it I zone out a little too much and become a machine; a machine that grows to hate its duty and fantasizes about lashing out against its owner. Unfortunately, that owner is me and I really don’t like revolting against myself so I step away from the work I love getting lost in, which gives me a chance to find it again.
Having a finished screenplay is beyond rewarding. So when I find myself not being able to finish one, the blockade frustrates me to no end. Instead of banging my head against a wall, I walk away and give myself some space from it. Even though it used to feel like I was bailing on the screenplay, I wasn’t. I was taking time for myself to find ways to make our standstill end. When I feel like I’ve exhausted all of my creativity I take a break. I find that the best way to get around writer’s block is to step away from it. It works almost every time. And for the times it doesn’t, at least I get to see real life happen around me and get something meaningful from doing what seems to be nothing. Life’s funny that way.