Overcoming Writer’s Block

Writer’s block is just part of the game when it comes to writing. It doesn’t matter what you write: screenplays, stage-plays, novels, short stories, poems, essays, etc. You will eventually get to a point when the ideas aren’t pushing forward to the front of your consciousness, and you are left with this helpless feeling: what the hell am I going to do!?

All of us experience writer’s block. Some of us experience is quickly and painlessly. Perhaps, you have a box filled with old ideas and anytime writer’s block attacks you just reference these ideas and let them jump-start your creativity. You still had writer’s block, but it only lasted for a brief amount of time. Others, myself included, will experience writer’s block for a much longer period of time. Days. Weeks. Longer, perhaps. It can be a particularly brutal time, especially if you know certain themes or events you’d like to talk about, but you just don’t know how to formulate these ideas into words, even though you’ve done it a million times before.

There are a few tricks you can try if you’ve come to that point where your creative mind keeps running into a wall. The first thing you can try is free-writing. Free-writing is when you take a piece of paper and a pencil/pen and, without thinking, just write. Pour out any and everything inside your head. Don’t edit. Don’t read it as you write. Just write. When you’re done, go for a walk, or watch a movie. After a little time has passed come back and read what you’ve written. Sometimes you’ll find a sentence or two that works and will help you break through that wall. I do warn you, however, most of what you’ve written will be horrible, and that’s okay. The idea is to find the little bits that aren’t bad, and there will be bits that are good, or at least point to what you are looking for.

Another trick you can do is what I referenced earlier about a box of ideas. Cut up a piece of paper into a bunch of small pieces and write random premises. They can be anything you like. Throw them in a box and the next time you have writer’s block simply reference the notes. Now, if you are currently in a writer’s block you can write out a random premise and write a page or two. What you write may be unusable, but at least you’ll be writing something.

Another thing you can do is stop thinking about the fact you have writer’s block and focus on something else. The problem with writer’s block is that it focuses our attention to the act of generating ideas and inspiration. Most of the time, however, inspiration and the generation of ideas comes naturally when we aren’t thinking about it. When we think about it we ruin our chances of letting it happen.

You will break through the wall, but it takes time, and it takes forgetting about it in order for it to happen. Once you break through, well, the ideas probably will pour out and you’ll have so many ideas for stories you want to tell that you won’t know what to do with the extras.

 

The Freedom of Art House Cinema

I’ve been known to enjoy art house films from time to time: experimental films that most people balk at and say are a waste of time. I believe quite the opposite, although I do have my limits. There are times when the experimental becomes too experimental, and the art house films because too artsy, but in general I enjoy them from time to time.

I remember taking a film production course in college that was entitled Advanced Video Production. The first day of class our professor told us how the course was going to have us tap into the side of our creative selves which in regular film, and regular art for that matter, we may not always be able to tap into. He explained how anything around us can be inspiration and potential art pieces.

This is where I think the art house cinema is a great thing to consume every once in a while. It allows freedom. Freedom of thought and freedom of action. The filmmakers had some crazy idea and then just went with it. Art house cinema does things no mainstream film would dare to do: consistently strange cuts, abstract montages, surreal color palettes, heightened sexuality or violence, long takes, extremely slow pacing, etc. If the director/writer has a reason for making the film then that heart will show through in the final cut.

It also gives young filmmakers and writers a reason to get a little crazy in their work. Not everything has to be a clear-cut narrative with a happy ending. We can get weird and abstract. We can get extremely semiotic with what is on the screen. We can experiment and see how far we can take something. If anything, it’ll help us reel it in when we do the more traditional narratives.

As with anything, however, it can be taken too far. I’ve seen many art house films that are atrocious and difficult to get through and at the end I’m wondering what the hell did I just watch? Sometimes I won’t even finish it. However, if you get through one and it leaves you thinking and not disgusted for having watched it, then maybe there was something in it that really touched you. Explore what that may be and you may just discover what your art may have been missing.

 

Dry Spells

Have you ever had a dry spell when it comes to your art? This could be filmmaking, painting, writing, etc. It has been quite a while since I’ve gotten behind the camera to make a film. Luckily, I will be getting behind the camera shortly to film a marketing video, but over the past year I haven’t done much in the way of actual filming. I have had many ideas. I’ve sketched out a few of them too, but one thing leads to another and I push it off. Instead, I’ve focused on other creative ventures outside of filmmaking. I think that this is common. Think writer’s block. How do you generate an idea good enough to warrant exploring it? It can be difficult. I haven’t posted a blog post in over a month; my schedule got busy and next thing I know it’s almost August.

This is a part of creativity; the dry spells are a part of the magic. There will be periods in our lives where the ideas won’t stop flowing. One idea after another. Eventually the well will run dry, but luckily there is water buried deep within the crust of the earth. It will push through again. I think that this is important to recognize. It can be easy to fall into a rut and think that you will never create again, but to think that way can be detrimental to your creativity.

I try to use these long dry spells to think of new ideas, and to experience life. By experiencing life we effectively create more memories to draw inspiration from. It can be a frustrating journey, but a rewarding one as well. Don’t get discouraged if you find no new ideas coming to the forefront. Think of it has a transitional period. You’ve left behind the previous chapter of your creative life and are now writing the next chapter. I know when I make my next film it will be at the right time. No need to rush it.

The Power of Silence

Have you ever seen a film where the characters just talk…too much? I know I have, and it can get on your nerves. It can be most annoying when characters just start saying the most obvious things. I think that this can be a challenge for many first time filmmakers and screenwriters. They try to tell the audience too much instead of simply just showing them.

I believe that there can be a healthy balance between exposition and silence. You don’t want too much of either because then the film becomes unbalanced. However, the exception to this rule could be if you’re making a silent film…you simple can’t talk in that scenario (unless you decide to use too many intertitles).

In any case, silence can be a very powerful aspect of a film. In a horror film, silence builds anxiety and can create a very tense feeling in the audience. They will be expecting some big scare (it is up to you if you want to scare them). In a drama film, silence can make the audience think a little bit more about a certain situation, or even about a character’s mindset. One film which comes to mind is Bela Tarr’s 2011 film “The Turin Horse”. There is very little dialogue in that nearly two and a half hour film, but it definitely keeps you engaged (although I will admit it is not for everyone).

Sometimes we worry that the audience won’t understand what we are trying to convey in a particular scene so we decide to explain it to them through the character’s speech, but I think we need to give our audiences more credit. I like to write my films with the thought that my audience is smart and will figure it out on their own. And if they don’t? That’s okay too. That is what art is all about; we don’t have to answer all the questions we raise.

The Art of Rejection

Getting rejected can be a rotten feeling. Getting told that the work you have done is bad. Getting told that you’re no good. Sometimes, they don’t say anything at all and their silence is what kills you. Now, the kind of rejection I am talking about is the kind of rejection that comes with being a filmmaker, or an artist in general. It is going to happen, but you can’t let it get you down. It comes with the territory.

Nobody ever got anywhere by being great all the time. The only way to learn in this industry is to fail. By failing we call attention to our weaknesses. Once we realize a weakness we are then able to make it better. In short: we learn from our mistakes (as cliché as that is to say). Of course it is going to suck when you get rejected, but you have to take it in stride. This can apply to any aspect of life, not just film or art. Take each rejection, each failure, and turn it around. It will be easy to point out every negative aspect of the rejection, but it is far harder, and more beneficial, to point out all the good that a rejection can have. Rejection is not 100% bad.

For example, you submit a film which you think is your best work to a film festival but they reject it. Instead of getting down on yourself try looking at your film in a different light. Maybe there is something you can change around in it. You could be just a few quick edits away from greatness, and that acceptance you are craving. Maybe there is something else glaringly wrong with it that you just didn’t know or see before. Sometimes it takes a rejection to help us see things more clearly.

Rejection never gets easier to swallow, but we can lessen the blow each time by being productive with the result we have been given. The first thing you can do is submit it somewhere else. Maybe that festival, or that publisher, or that agent, or that company wasn’t the right fit for you, but someone else will get what you are trying to say. This happens all the time. If you find that you just can’t get it accepted anywhere you could try changing it a little bit. Just be sure not to sacrifice your artistic vision. That is something that you should never give up. Rejection is an art form in itself. You can let it take a hold of you and crush you beneath its weight, or you can take control of it and bend it any which way you choose. The choice is yours.

On the Beach

Inspiration can strike you anywhere. Some people get inspired in their dreams; some people get inspired through things that they do, and some people get inspired by the places they visit. Nature is a great source of inspiration for many artists. It’s like a treasure trove just waiting to be unlocked. This week I took a walk on a beach and it got me thinking about all the stories that could be told from this location. You have the ocean, a great unknown, which could be the basis for many a story. Think of all the stories which could be told. You have the great depths of the oceans which are unexplored, you have boats, and you have the beach. I don’t find myself at the beach often (I don’t really like the beach if I’m being honest here), so I guess that would explain why I never really thought of the beach as a place to tell a story. I realize now, however, that every location on this planet can inspire some story to tell.

Film has the power to take an audience to a place they have never been before, and it has the power to show us a side of life we have never experienced. Every story, however, needs to start somewhere. It can be a fleeting thought which grabs your attention. That’s all you need. Just one thought. With that thought you can create worlds that don’t exist, or explore themes which create a fire within you. Run with it and don’t let it hinder your creative energy. If we give in and don’t explore a thought fully then we are only cheating ourselves. Explore the world and find your source of inspiration. It could be right around the corner.

The Backbone of Any Artist

An artist, in any form, must have the backbone to continue their work no matter what. What, however, constitutes the “backbone of an artist?” It is my opinion that the backbone is twofold. The first element of the artist’s backbone must be the knowledge they have of the medium. It is very important to have knowledge of what you are doing. Yes, a lot of artists have a natural talent that they were born with, but even they have to learn elements of their craft. Whether it is color hues or good plot structure, we must have knowledge. Sometimes it is natural knowledge. Sometimes we just know how to do something. Other times we must study hard to learn this knowledge.

I will speak from a filmmaker’s point of view. One of the most important aspects any filmmaker can do is to study film theory. A lot of young filmmakers sometimes want to skip this step and go right into making their first film. This isn’t necessarily a bad move, but it isn’t the best one either. Once a person has a grasp on at least one film theory, and has studied at least one or two films, then he or she can begin to make films that will exceed whatever they would’ve made cold turkey. Once we see how others have done something we will then have the tools to make our own pieces. We also have the ability, and the knowledge, to make something even better. Film Theory is crucial.

Other art forms are the same way. Study what has come before and you will surely succeed going forward. The second aspect of the backbone of an artist is the drive to persist. An artist without the drive to persist is like a car without wheels. It will never go anywhere. Don’t get stuck in the mud. I have seen people with immense talent squander it. The problem is that they don’t have the drive to continue on with their talent. They don’t have a passion for it. It’s a shame when someone has talent but fails to use it. However, if you simply don’t want to do something, no matter how good you may be at it, you won’t do it or, at the very least, do a poor job. You can have all the theory and history packed into your brain, but without the drive and the passion to do the work, then nothing will become of it.

However, once you have these two elements you will be golden. As the writer of The Filmmaker’s Reel, I will strive to provide the first part of this backbone. In upcoming posts I will be diving into film theory and film analysis. Hopefully this can be a starting point for some beginner filmmakers out there. As for the second part, well, that is a natural drive that you must find yourself. Nobody can teach you to have a passion for something. It is a part of you.