– By Ben Escobar –
One of the most interesting opportunities that writers are granted in the creative process of any story is the opportunity to play god. If you think about it, writing a story is the only time in our lives where any of us can have unlimited options, unlimited time, and nobody to tell us “no.” Within the confines of our story and creativity, literally anything and everything is at our disposal—yet for some reason, it pushes us into a wall. It tempts us to leave all of our work behind and cast a literal apocalypse upon the world we just created entirely ourselves. Yet, by the time we’ve looked back on our work that is now in flames, we choose to abandon the fire, rather than jumping inside to extinguish it and start again.
Ironically, it’s the abandonment to this fire that results in creative suicide—or simply put, writer’s block.
Thinking on the imperfection that comes alongside human nature, it would seem natural as to why, when given this “power of God”, we fail more than we wish to admit. Yet it seems so easy—how could anyone suddenly lose all their creative options when there is an unlimited amount at their disposal? There are a handful of initial explanations:
A) the writer has lost control of their story and didn’t prepare enough before writing,
B) the writer is too lazy to think critically on what they’ve written so far, and can’t decide on a satisfying conclusion to the story, or
C) The writer is being too critical on themselves and has lost hope in their own creativity.
Now, there are countless people with countless different solutions to every one of these scenarios and more, but none of those solutions will work for everybody. All we can do as writers is help each other out, spit balling ideas that may or may not serve as a solution to someone else. And although the classic “give yourself permission to write garbage” dictum may be enough for some, what about those people who are stuck literally at square one? They have a raging fire in their hearts to write something, but they don’t know what to write about.
Here’s where I can offer a little bit of advice. Going back to the importance of self-discovery as an artist, it is equally important to be observant both as a human being and as a writer. Doing so allows you to know people better than most, thus allowing you to anticipate audience reactions, emotions, and desires. But what so many writers fail to remember, is observing themselves. Ask yourself when you’re in a theater watching something great for the first time—Why do I love this? Why did that work so well for me? What did everyone else think of that?
Keeping track of your own emotions as closely as possible while experiencing cinema, is one of the greatest disciplines for any writer. You’ll find yourself writing what you love, what you want to see, and what people like you would enjoy. If it’s a directing style, an enticing writing technique, or just simply good storytelling, analyze it and understand why it works, then implement it yourself.
The next tedious, but extremely beneficial technique I’ve found helpful for myself, is being absurdly disciplined to write everything down. That means any random idea, no matter how big or small, should be enough to stop you from whatever else you’re doing, and write it down alongside all the other ideas. Whether it’s an idea that pertains to a story you’re still developing, a brand new idea for an entirely different story, or just a suggestion/option to consider for future stories, it doesn’t hurt to write it down. You can even do this in your Notes app on your phone, in a Google Doc dedicated to keeping track of ideas, or a section in your extremely beneficial Microsoft OneNote app, that you may not have realized, came with your laptop! I find OneNote to be the best of these, because it’s free for everyone (no expiration date, either) and can sync from your phone, tablet, desktop, etc. seamlessly. And at any time, no matter where I am, there is no reason why I can’t take the time to write down an idea before it’s gone forever.
Continuing that same thought, perhaps taking significantly more time in the development stage can prove to make writing the story much simpler. While some writers feel confident enough to immediately begin writing their script without any prior development, this, more often than not, can be a one-way ticket to a world of writer’s block. However, taking time with your development process—pointing out every story point, keeping track of every idea, option, and suggestion—can almost always eliminate any chances of writer’s block.
But aside from the many tips one can give about story development, the most important way to hone your creative skills and eliminate writers block is watching films and reading scripts. There is a reason they say cinema is a universal language—because the basic elements of a story, something that is familiar to every culture and race of the world—is what drives all forms of cinema. Being able to observe and analyze why a film works, regardless of the language it’s told in, or the culture it originated from, is an essential discipline that all filmmakers should be well-versed in. It is an observance of the trial and error of other artists, so that by learning from their examples, you can improve from their mistakes and perform from your own vision.
So, where does all this get us? There is obviously no definitive doctrine on how one’s creative process should work. In fact, it may be best for you not to hold yourself to another writer’s standards. The only advice I, or anyone else can give, is to find a process that works for you. Stop giving up or beating yourself up over your failure. Finding a comfortable creative process is sometimes just as hard as finding a story.
To quote Jordan Peele on his recent Oscars 2018 acceptance speech, “I stopped writing [Get Out] about 20 times, because I thought it was impossible, I thought it wasn’t going to work, I thought no one would ever make this movie, but I kept coming back to it, because I knew if someone let me make this movie, that people would hear it, and people would see it.”
We can see through the example of Peele, and so many other artists—some more successful than others—that they have all been in the same place as us. In channeling our creativity to make something great and disciplining ourselves to persevere ahead of the temptation of quitting, countless obstacles—greater than just writer’s block—are meaningless. It’s just another experience of trial and error, and the constant journey of self-discovery.
About the Author
Ben Escobar is a screenwriting and production student at JPCatholic (Class of 2018) who boasts an immense love for all things relating to the art of cinema. His favorite director is Richard Linklater and his favorite movie is Swiss Army Man.
To read more posts by Ben, click here.