We all hit it. We are rolling along with the full cooperation of whatever muse we’ve summoned, and suddenly all inspiration flees the scene. We try to plow through. We fail. We spend a lot of time staring at a blank screen. We spend more time checking the Internet and procrastinating on Instagram. Quickly, frustration sets in, followed by an alarming urge to bang the head against the desk. Writer’s block has come for a visit. It might be a quick visit. It might have brought all of its belongings and now is effectively squatting in your brain.
I’ve just gone through a particularly powerful block. It was related to one particular project (a feature screenplay), and I tabled the project for 7 months. When the breakthrough came it seemed like a miracle – but it wasn’t. It was part of a two-pronged, completely plotted, planned and executed process.
How do you do it?
Give yourself permission to be bad
I gave myself permission to write crap. I did this not because I had any intention of submitting crap, but because my constant judgment of what I wanted to do made it impossible to make any progress. You can always go back and edit. But nothing is more valuable than working to move the story forward. So, yes, you may hate the dialogue you are laying down, but do it anyway. You’ll be amazed how quickly you go from cringing to writing something you will want to keep once you get moving. Write first. Edit (and judge, if you must) later.
Change Your Context
I locked myself away for three days. I know that for financial and family reasons this is not always possible, but merely changing your context can do wonders. In my case, I left Los Angeles for Cambria, California on a Tuesday. I checked into a hotel that I had visited before – it was a place that was inexpensive, but I felt comfortable and safe there. I’ve also been to Cambria often enough that I didn’t feel the driving need to explore every minute of the day. I locked myself into that room and wrote.
In part inspired by the fact that I was paying to do this (and can’t afford to just blow a couple of hundred dollars), I forced myself to focus. I made notes. I talked to myself. I re-read it from start to finish. And I started to sketch out new scenes. I took a break for them to clean the room on Wednesday morning, and I took a drive. I saw some wild zebra (below). I took it as a sign that I was on the right track. I went back to the room, and didn’t get up again until I had to run out and grab dinner. Then it was back to writing. By Thursday morning I had a new draft. By Friday morning, I had edited the new draft, and I was ready to take myself (and my new focus) back to Los Angeles.
Can we all afford this approach every time we hit a block? Of course not. But when the block is profound, and progress is not being made, it might just be time to hit the road. Changing your context for even a short time, might make all the difference.