My blog has moved!

You will be automatically redirected to the new address. If that does not occur, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Getting Unstuck

So you're working on your script and you're just - stuck. Not feeling the love. Suddenly feeling adrift. Suddenly doubting it, disliking it and sliding into an existential spiral of yuckness. Something just isn't working. This is not how it's supposed to be! I am the only writer who is stuck! I suck! Other writers do not go through this! Wrong, wrong and wrong again.

To power through the yuckness and self-pity of feeling stuck, you might ask these questions:


WHAT is the premise? What am I writing here? In one sentence. Spit it out. This is a thriller about a woman being stalked by a potato farmer. Let's practice the power of intentionality here - write the WHAT down on a Post-It and stick it onto your computer monitor.

WHAT turns me on about this story? What tickles me about it? What interests me here? Write it down. Don't judge what you write, just brain dump.

WHY would audiences enjoy seeing this movie? How does it help them escape, reflect or connect with their own humanity? Write it down. Again, brain dump.

HOW can I tell this story in a way that is uniquely compelling? How can I find a way into this story that is different from other stories like it? Do some brainstorming. Do you tell the story in reverse? Is the story set in a different era or location?

WHO is the main character? Do you need to push the pause button on the pages and do some character exercises and backstory writing? Do you really get the flaw of this character? Do you actually know how your character prefers his or her coffee? When they graduated? What they drive, what music they like, how they feel about their parents? How much do you know about this main character? The key to writing a compelling character rather than a marionette is backstory and character work.

In other words, revisit your mission statement for this script. Why did you want to write this story in the first place? What is making you feel suddenly stuck? Are you becoming mired in the details and have you lost track of the big picture? Is your main character really three-dimensional?

Look, there's no two ways about it - writing is painfully difficult at times. That's why most people are incapable of doing it. The brain of a writer must be lit up like a Lite Brite when we are brainstorming or writing. Imagine what that must look like. Take a moment and appreciate how hard this is. This writing thing isn't for sissies.

So be kind to yourself. Don't judge the process. If you need to take a break, take a break. But if you need to open a new Word document and just free-flow brain dump about this script, why you're writing it, who your main character is or why audiences will enjoy this story, do so. What you write won't wind up in the script, per se, but it will go into your creative larder as fuel. I do think that allowing yourself to just type your thoughts freestyle, without judging, can unleash ideas and inspiration that have been hidden.

That's the rub with writing, isn't it? You can't force it. But you can feed it. You can get in the mood for it and mainly - you can give in to the experience of it. Because it just isn't pretty.

It's like camping - you show up at the camp site all outfitted with fancy REI gear and all neatly prepared and two days later you're wearing three layers of filthy clothes with soot on your face and eating something off a stick that dropped in the dirt a minute ago. And you just don't give a damn. There's something totally exhilarating about just not giving a damn anymore.

Why just yesterday, a dear friend, after receiving a summons for a meeting at ICM this Friday, told me how she got to this point. She'd written several comedies, nothing was taking off, and she decided to not give a damn and just write a crazy post-apocalyptic script and damn the goddamn torpedoes. That's the headspace she was in. And forward about nine months: manager, agent, meetings at prestigious production companies. How's that for just letting go of control and not giving a damn?

Whatever it takes. Nobody is going to judge your process. And being stuck is quite decidedly part of the process. Writing is not neat, it is not pretty, it is not one size fits all. It's okay to have days when you absolutely hate your script. Pick that dirty marshmallow right back up, blow off the filth, ram that stick through it and roast it on the fire. The sweet center will still be there, no matter how you cook it.

If you enjoyed this post, follow me on Twitter or subscribe via RSS.


Trina0623 said...

Thanks for another fantastic post Julie.
I am usually pretty hard on myself, especially when I get stuck. So thanks for the reminder.
BTW... I have to tell you, I read several blogs and none of them are as entertaining as yours. They may be informative, but your writing style is just like eating that perfectly roasted marshmallow (without the dirt or burned part).

Julie Gray said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie Gray said...

Thank you, Trina, that was kind of you to say.

But - without the dirt or burnt part?! But I LIKE the burnt part! ;)


E.C. Henry said...

"It's like camping... two days later you're wearing 3 layers of filthy clothes with soot on your face and eating something off a stick that dropped in the dirt a minute ago..."

TOO FUNNY. Julie, I don't think you get enough credit for stuffing funny little nuggets in your posts. That bit about camping was HILARIOUS.

AND you're so right about the peril of getting stuck. It happens to everyone. One trick I use is to write A LOT of notes/thoughts. I have folders for every script I write. And a lot of extras that help me get a handle the story I'm working on. Prep work takes a lot of pressure off your writing. I NEVER go into a script without a good idea of what I'm about to write. Those who just grip and rip it, without any prep work are just setting themself up for problems.

Great writing happens over time. Its a commitment to a finished product that you dream in your heart.

Also, cc. light brights. The four year old inside me loves 'em. And anytime you wanna play with my peg, let me know, I'll let you put it anywhere on the board.

Great entertaining post. Cupcake to you? (Can we still say that? Or was that an '08 thang?)

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA