Thursday, April 28, 2011

What to do when you can't write

One of the questions I often get asked, almost as much as "so, who's in your movie?" is this: "What happens when you get writer's block?"

My usual answer is "I don't have the luxury of writer's block."

In other words, a professional writer like myself doesn't worry about that, we just keep going. And I believe this with all my heart and soul. 

Except yesterday - Wednesday.

I woke up angry, had coffee angry, watched the local and international news as I read the LA Times and listened to Bill Handel on KFI yelling at people who don't believe Obama is a U.S. citizen. 

While multi-tasking like that sounds impossible, especially for an aging baby boomer, I really can do that. It comes from working in TV news where you are editing one story while listening to another. Also working in episodic TV, where you are often working on several different scripts at the same time.

You don't get all the words, just the key words that give you all you really need. A radio news director once told me all anyone needs to tell a story is 15 seconds, all the rest is adjectives. Try it. It works.

But, back to my anger. After I did all of the above, and it was barely 8am, I blurted out a bad word. You can take your pick, they all mean the same.

I can't start my Christmas script.

I can't figure out what it's about. I know it's about a girl juvenile delinquent who has to stay with a woman for Christmas week-end rather than go to jail. Neither wants to be with the other.

This was a script I should have finished two months ago. What stopped me from writing it was basically the same thing as now; I didn't have the damn story. So instead I focused on Ghostkeeper 2 as well as dealing with the re-release of Ghostkeeper 1.

I finished that  2 weeks ago and since then managed to outline a very thin plot on two pages. Then I found a bunch of Christmas moves, mostly old ones from the 1980's and mostly TV movies mixed in with some 40's movies. This would give me inspiration or as my director friend calls it a "homage" to the original.

It's also a great way to stall.

Last week I watched 3 Christmas movies. They gave me some ideas but not enough. This week I watched 3 more, one was so depressing I couldn't take it and fast-forwarded it.

I sat there like a little boy, sullen, waiting for someone to even dare say a word. Of course, nobody else was there, so that didn't account to much. I realized what was wrong.

I had Writer's Block.

And admitting it made me even angrier. There is nothing so frustrating as not being able to put a story together and, in my case, under pressure. Two companies are interested in my new Christmas script based on The Town That Christmas Forgot, which ran last Christmas on Hallmark.

Except my new script hasn't even started.

I know this; a writer needs an inspirational beginning, you know "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times", or "Call me Ishmael". One of the best lines I wrote to start a script was "The first time I met her she was dead." I really liked that one.

But nothing for my hot new Christmas script.

But I know that it will pass, and that something will suddenly light up in my mind, something from long ago or maybe from the day before yesterday. Because that's how a writer's mind works. I hope.

So I wrote off the day, giving it to cleaning the kitchen, that always makes me feel better, and going for a bike ride, and trying to avoid any serious thinking about story and plot. And making sure to avoid contact with anyone who might even suggest that "it'll come to you."

GDSOB as my dad used to say, two separate words squeezed into one that my brother and I still use in emails and when we're in the same town.

But today is a new day and I already added 2 projects to the big whiteboard, a novelization of Emperor of Mars which I wrote a few years ago and another novelization of another screenplay that could make a good book.

Oh yes, and the Christmas script. I will begin that right after I finish this blog. Maybe vacuum first, then write.



  1. Tip from a stranger. You might be running into trouble on funding Ghostkeeper 2 because your plot is about a bunch of adults. You need sexy teens to sell a movie like that. (Which you had in the first one.)

    Just a thought. I may be way wrong.

  2. You're correct about the young people but the original had all adults, youngest was 32. I realized I had to intro younger people while reading the various comments on imdb, both good and bad, and after going to a screening where 95% of the audience was about 19-23, I added two new characters, age 21-ish who would be the lead actors who carry the story and the action while the older ones are more supporting actors.

    One's an Australian girl and the other is a mix of Native Indian and French Canadian, "Metis" as they're called in Canada.