You’re in your house, apartment, or writing retreat with plenty of time to write, and what happens? You freeze.
You’re letting the worries the day job or of the outside world get to you.
You’re distracted by smartphones, streaming channels, and social media.
It’s the ultimate culmination of outside factors shutting your creative mind down. What do you do?
Here we present excerpts from ten of ScreenCraft’s best content covering writer’s block, kickstarting creativity, and staying productive when you need to most. We’ll then link to each content piece, offering you exactly what you need to guide you through this common — but curable — issue every writer will face throughout their writing career.
1. Writer’s Block is BS
It’s an all too familiar image for writers — cliche even. The frazzled hair. The defeated posture. The tired eyes. Sure signs of the writer’s greatest fear — Writer’s Block.
But what if we were to tell you that this fear is — for lack of a better term — bullshit? What if we were to tell you that writer’s block is nothing more than a term that over-generalizes the multiple struggles that writer’s face and must overcome while taking their stories from their own mind’s eye to the page?
To conquer a problem, you must understand every dynamic of it. You must be able to identify each and every facet of this thing that is poisoning your writing process. Generalizing it with a single term does no writer any favor in overcoming it.
We’re going to detail seven simple explanations of what writer’s block really is, and what solutions there are to stop each one.
It’s Not Writer’s Block, It’s… Laziness.
You are told day in and day out that you need to be writing every day. While that isn’t necessarily the case, you do need to be writing. Just calling yourself an author or screenwriter isn’t enough. You actually have to have the content. And you can’t have the content without what? Writing it.
But it takes effort to write. It takes effort to prepare. It takes effort to educate yourself in format, structure, and characterization. It takes effort to fail time and time again — until you slowly learn how to succeed based on what you learned from those failures.
You can’t do all of that if you’re lazy. You can’t do all of that if you choose to sleep, drink, eat, text, channel surf, or scroll on your phone endlessly. It’s not writer’s block. It’s laziness.
Solution: Ask yourself this: Is this really what I want to do? Even more, is this what I need to do? If you experience any sort of indifference to either of those questions and treat writing as merely a ticket to fame and fortune (holding back laughter) or just a way to pass the time, writing isn’t for you. There’s no doubt you’ll be lazy about it if that is the case. You need to truly want and need to write to get off of your lazy butt to do so…
2. How to Get Those Creative Juices Flowing
How can we defeat this zombification of our writing process that many call writer’s block? How can we jump-start our creativity and get those gems of ideas, concepts, and moments flowing in our scripts again?
Here we feature five habits that can get those creative juices flowing. The first is simple and effective.
Film is a visual medium. It always has been and always will be. Cinema started with no sound, yet still captured the awe of audiences worldwide. Even after Al Jolson’s iconic words “You ain’t heard nothing yet” in The Jazz Singer were spoken, films have always been centered on what we see on that big screen. Thus, it’s a necessity in the creative process of a screenwriter that they SEE before they write.
Allow me to explain…
Writing isn’t just about putting pen to paper or fingers to keys. In my own process, I generally see 75% of the film through my own mind’s eye before I type one single word. How? Pre-visualization. It’s a vital part of my process because how can I possibly tell a visual story without seeing it in my head first so that I can communicate those visuals within the constraints and freedoms of the screenwriting format?
All too often, screenwriters are told in books and seminars that the only way to get through writer’s block or the overall screenwriting process, in general, is to write, write, and write frantically until you come out of the other end of the tunnel with a first draft. The problem with that concept is that first draft is utterly horrible, inconsistent, and fragmented.
It makes the rewriting process damn near impossible, like wandering through an auto junkyard searching for all of the components to make a particular model of a specific brand of car.
You need to pre-visualize most of your script before you type one single word. To learn how…
3. Where Does Creativity Come From?
Screenwriters may ask themselves this from time to time, but it may be worth asking more often. If you know what creates creativity, you can create more of it.
Conventional wisdom has it that creative and emotional thought is based in the right hemisphere of the brain. Well, it just so happens that conventional wisdom is wrong.
Modern brain imaging shows that the division of labor is not so neat and tidy. Researchers now say that most tasks, including creative thought, are performed by “networks” of neurons that span both hemispheres.
The networks that most concern us are the imagination network, the executive attention network, and the salience network. Each one corresponds to a different area of the brain and a different step in the creative process…
4. How Can Science Spark Your Imagination?
What scientific steps can writers take to trigger their imagination and get their creative minds churning out those pivotal answers and ideas that their stories and characters need to thrive?
We’re going to share five simple, effective, and scientifically-proven ways to ignite that creative fire within you so that you can get up and go to work full of ideas, concepts, and answers to the problems you’ve been facing within your stories.
Focus on One Concept, Story, or Character Issue at a Time
Most writers feel the need to explore all aspects of their concepts, stories, plots, and characters as they write. No wonder so many writers burn out. No wonder the myth of Writer’s Block seems to haunt so many. While the mind is an amazing thing, it can only do so much at one time. When you focus on a single concept, story, or character element at one time, your brain won’t go into overload.
Let’s say you were the one that wrote the script to Jaws. While developing that iconic opening sequence, you shouldn’t have made the mistake of worrying about the big picture ramifications of the girl being attacked by an unknown predator from the ocean depths. You shouldn’t have been thinking about how this event is going to jump-start the story about a police chief, marine biologist, and old seafarer.
Instead, you should have been focusing on making that single sequence something engaging and terrifying. The rest will fall into place.
When you focus on a single question, problem, or challenge-at-hand, your brain has the immediate capacity to compute multiple scenarios and storytelling elements that can allow you to create the best possible moment within your story that you need to create…
5. Develop Better Writing Habits
How can you develop better writing habits that best fit your own schedule, philosophy, and writing process?
If your development process is random and your writing process is sporadic, you’re going to find it very difficult to be productive and successful. That’s where writer’s block sets in.
Here we offer simple ways that you can develop writing habits that work for you within the context of your schedule, your philosophy, and your writing process.
Assess Your Schedule
Not every writing habit applies to everyone.
Some writers have the freedom to write all day, every day. Others can find a few hours daily to work on their craft. But most are at the mercy of their schedule.
To build consistent writing habits, you need first to assess your schedule and find out when those habits can take hold.
Some of you may be students, which means that you have certain days free when classes and studying aren’t ruling your world. Others may have full-time jobs that take up much of your time during the week, and sometimes even on the weekends. And many are juggling not only a full-time job but a family life with a significant other and maybe even some kids — or you’re a full-time mom or dad, which is like working two full-time jobs.
First, forget the notion that you have to write every single day. And then take comfort in the fact that writing isn’t always about putting fingers to keys. As a screenwriter working within a visual medium, you should have upwards of 75% of your movie in your head before you type a single word.
That means that you open your writing time beyond sessions in front of the laptop or home computer. You can write in your head throughout the day and next.
But you have to create good writing habits within your schedule, and that starts with looking at your schedule and seeing the moments when you can visualize and when you can sit down to physically write.
Instead of breaking your schedule down to writing days, focus on developing time frames when you can schedule writing sessions. Some days may offer two different writing sessions. Sometimes you’ll only have two days out of the week to schedule writing sessions.
When you focus on finding writing sessions throughout your weekly schedule, it’s easier to create a habit of writing regularly without feeling the pressure of “having to write every single day.”
Assess your schedule. Work with what you have. And when you do sit down to actually write, go nuts. Most writers would choose one good two-hour writing session over seven days of staring at a blank computer screen and writing contrived movie scenes and dialogue. Your visualization throughout the week will pay off with a flurry of intense writing sessions…
6. The Writing Habits of Highly Effective Screenwriters
What are the best screenwriting habits that screenwriters should get into to be productive and successful in their screenwriting?
Whether you write novels, screenplays, or teleplays, the most vital element of becoming a productive and successful writer is developing great habits.
We’re going to share ten screenwriting habits that you should consider developing, based on years of screenwriting experience and varied success.
Watch Movies and TV Shows with a Writer’s Eye
As you hopefully know by now, watching movies and TV shows is an important habit that will make you a better cinematic screenwriter. All of the answers about effective screenwriting are just a movie theater or TV/Device screen away.
When you watch movies and episodes, you see the end result of all the work. If you’re watching a classic or contemporary acclaimed hit, you’re able to see what works. If you’re watching a critical or box-office dud, you’re able to see what doesn’t work.
But it’s not enough to just watch. You need to always watch with a writer’s eye — meaning that you need to pay specific attention to the story and characterization elements within every movie, episode, and series you watch. You need to have a keen eye for the structure, when particular story moments happen, how characters react to those story moments, the pacing, as well as the placement of twists, turns, reveals, and revelations.
You need to train yourself to get into the habit of remembering how scenes were arranged, where the story lingered too long and where it sped by too fast, how little dialogue was used, how too much dialogue affected the pacing, where cuts could have been made, where the story editing was perfect, etc.
Movies, series episodes, and series seasons are the best educational tool available to you…
7. Use Music to Inspire Imagination
Listening to music as you write can be a key to jump-starting your writing process — injecting emotion, tone, and atmosphere into each and every scene and moment into your screenplay. Music can give you the inspiration and drive that you need to go on that inspired writing sprint where — before you know it — you’ve suddenly written twenty amazing pages.
The greatest necessity that a screenwriter has is inspiration. Without inspiration, the writing process doesn’t exist — you’re caught staring at that blank screen with the blinking cursor waiting for you to write something. But you can’t wait for inspiration to come to you. You have to go find it.
Inspiration can come from many places. Before you write a single word, you should be jumping into the pool of whatever genre your script falls under. You should be watching movies with similar themes, backdrops, subject matter, and character types — even if those elements are found within different genres. You should be reading books and magazine articles that contain those elements as well.
But there’s one inspiring element that screenwriters often forget — music.
Music is a vital component of cinema. It can guide audiences into the intended emotion for each and every moment within a film. It can accentuate the emotions being felt by characters and the moments created within a story. It can give a sense of tone, pacing, and atmosphere…
8. Find Ways to Motivate Yourself to Keep Writing
Whether you’re working from home, or social distancing, it can be difficult to meet your writing goals when going stir-crazy in your home.
Never fear, there are ways it can be done! We’re going to share seven ways to stay motivated and stick to a writing schedule.
Create a Space
Anyone who’s worked remotely knows how difficult it can be to work and live in the same space. Add in a personal writing project of any kind, and it’s a recipe for restlessness.
The temptation to write on the couch or in bed can be overwhelming, but it’s a much better idea to create a workspace for yourself. Whether that be a spot at the dining room table, a dedicated writing desk, or a lap desk you only use when working on your screenplay, creating a space specifically for writing can be helpful in keeping yourself on track and establishing a productive mindset. When you’re there, you’re writing…
9. Learn How to Find Amazing Concepts
What can writers do to find those engaging story concepts for feature film scripts and television series pilots?
“Where did you get that idea from?”
That’s the most common question screenwriters face, as well as the most common question they ask successful screenwriters, producers, and directors while staring up at the big screen or television watching something magical unfold before their eyes.
If you’re looking for a spec script that will turn Hollywood heads in your direction, you need to find those fantastic story concepts and ideas.
But where do you go? Are these award-winning and box office-smashing screenwriters just conjuring these outstanding ideas out of nowhere? And if not, how are they finding these prospects?
We’re going to share seven places writers can go to find those fantastic story concepts for their screenplays.
At the Movies
This may seem counter-intuitive to most. You certainly don’t want to steal other people’s ideas or copy what has already been done successfully enough to warrant the movies you’re watching.
But that’s beside the point.
Watching movies injects story, character, and visual concepts into your creative mind. This isn’t about copying what other writers are doing. It’s about feeding your imagination to allow your brain to do most of the work for you.
For example, Deep Impact was a movie about a meteor that threatened Earth and its inhabitants. While that story has now been told time and time again, you can still watch this movie and seek out inspiration that leads you, the writer, to a whole different concept to explore.
During the end of the film, a piece of the original meteor has hit the ocean, causing an immense tsunami that eradicates much of the United States as we know it. Two characters desperately hold onto a baby as they climb a mountain, hoping to escape death as millions below them perish.
This visual offers a compelling concept to explore — sole survivors of a major flood must live and survive a newly formed world after the Earth’s oceans have risen.
If you delete the meteor factor of the Deep Impact version and insert a Global Warming event or whatever concept you create, there’s a compelling new idea to explore for a screenplay or television series. And that came from watching a movie.
So when you’re searching for that next great concept, watch as many movies as you can. Take a month or more to ingest all kinds of movies. You’ll find little moments, visuals, and concepts that the filmmakers never explored. You’ll find character types that can be placed in other scenarios and genres.
Every artist’s art informs the next. Every filmmaker’s films inform the next. Every writer’s stories and characters inform the next…
10. Use “What If…” Story Writing Prompts
Do you need some help conjuring compelling ideas? Sometimes reading simple story writing prompts is the easiest way to find them.
Most writers are often asked, “Where do you get your ideas from?” A majority of the time, writers find it difficult to answer that question.
We get our ideas from a plethora of sources — news headlines, novels, television shows, movies, our lives, our fears, our phobias, etc. They can come from a scene or moment in a film that wasn’t fully explored. They can come from a single visual that entices the creative mind — a seed that continues to grow and grow until the writer is forced to finally put it to paper or screen.
One of the best ways to find compelling and engaging story concepts is to come up with intriguing “What if…” questions. Some of the greatest cinematic stories have come from the answers to some of those questions.
What if a nuclear submarine was ordered to launch their nuclear arsenal onto the world? (Crimson Tide)
What if a little boy could see dead people when nobody else could? (The Sixth Sense)
What if the world we live in is actually a computer simulation? (The Matrix)
The answers to such questions that you conjure may inspire screenplays, novels, short stories, or even smaller moments that you can include in what stories you are already writing or what you will create in your upcoming projects.
You can use these seeds and apply them to any genre of your choosing. Here we offer 101 “What if…” story writing prompts to get those creative juices flowing.
Note: Because we’re all connected to the same pop culture, news headlines, and inspirations, any similarity to any past, present, or future screenplays, novels, short stories, television pilots, television series, plays, or any other creative works is purely coincidence. These story writing prompts were conceived on the fly without any research or Google search for inspiration.
1. What if the past and present timelines began to merge?
2. What if the Greek Gods truly did use to walk the earth?
3. What if your stepfather or stepmother is actually your future self?
4. What if the sun began to die?
5. What if the universe as we know it is actually someone’s imagination?
6. What if the Big Bang was actually nothing more than someone coming up with the idea of our solar system?
7. What if an alien invasion was actually meant to stop humans from destroying themselves?
8. What if a young boy or young girl could hear everyone’s inner thoughts?
9. What if a newly elected President came to power because they could hear everyone’s inner thoughts?
10. What if technology was a test given to us by aliens to see what we’d do with it?
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies