How do you kill writer’s block in the face when screenwriting?
6. Phantom Thread: Finding your muse
How do you kill writer’s block in its face? With a big-ass stick! Still not dead? Don’t worry.
Come with me
and you’ll be
in a wooooorld of pure imagination.
Take a look
and you’ll see
into your imagination.
—Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, “Pure Imagination”
Sometimes the most pain-in-the-ass part of writing, ironically, is knowing what to write. You know you want to write, you love having written, but it’s so hard making a start! We feel you – we sympathize.
No matter how respected you become as a screenwriter, you’ll always have to cross that initial hurdle of deciding what you’re actually going to write next. Luckily for you, we were put on this earth for one almighty purpose: to get your writer ass famous! (Note: this article does not contain information on how to make it as a butt double.)
If you’re struggling for ideas, you need to delve deep into great stories. The relentless story wizard Stephen King famously said that if you want to be a great writer, you need to read a lot and write a lot. Granted, he was a novelist and screenwriters by default have to watch films and TV, but the statement still holds true.
Writing is writing, and books are the best resource to help you find your muse. Put the remote down – no TV, no movie theater, no internet: books. Yes, you heard us: books. Why would you pick up such an ancient waste of paper? Because with books, you have to think.
Books stimulate your imagination
Granted, with TV & film you have to think a bit or else you wouldn’t have a clue what’s going on – but reading books requires pure, unadulterated concentration. If you‘re watching TV, you’re being shown everything – easy peasy (sometimes even lemon squeezy). That’s why we choose to melt in front of a screen after work instead of picking up a book – books require more brain work.
It’s a cliché for a reason that reading a book requires more imagination. Unlike TV, you have to form mental pictures of characters’ appearances and the setting based on descriptions provided by the author. Books are a lot more work in general – first world problems, right?
Why are we jabbering about books? Because books force you to imagine – therefore your brain is being more creative by default. Your imaginative juices are flowing. Your linguistic juices are flowing from the prose. And more than anything, your storytelling impulses stir.
Books can increasingly be forgotten about these days, but as long as you always have one on the go, writer’s block will never stick around long – officially killed in the face. You’re welcome.
Books are for more than research
If you’ve been reading loads of books and enjoying the hell out of them, but an original idea hasn’t quite come to you yet, we have a little method to get your story juices flowing. One word: adaptation. Break the story down into its most exciting beats and figure out how you could tell that story in as few pages as possible.
Because we like you so much, we thought we’d give you one more tip to find inspiration. This one’s easy, and probably the most relaxing way to get ideas: think of all the music that really makes you feel something: the music that slows you down and makes you think about things differently, the music that makes you feel those emotions you can barely explain.
That feeling is a part of you and can make you see things in a different light, even becoming the inspiration for an idea. That feeling you feel deep down is something you want to make an audience feel too. It is the currency screenwriters & songwriters have at their disposal after years of honing their craft. Get in touch with those feelings next time you’re stuck.
The tricks here come into use when you’re developing your idea. Adaptation is great practice for when you’re writing your short film because condensing a detailed story hundreds of pages long is what you have to do in essence when writing a structured short film. Condense, condense, condense.
If you can condense a novel into a short film script, it will give you the tools to write an original short film with riveting story beats from start to finish. Listening to music that inspires is a tactic you can use to pick yourself back up and relight that fire in your belly. When you feel as though your writing isn’t going too well and you want to stick your head into a tub of Ben & Jerry’s, put the down the spoon and fire up your fave playlist!
If you want to be a writer, you need to be a reader
Not a big reader? If you want to be a writer, you need to become one. It doesn’t really matter what type of book you read; we just need to get your creative juices flowing. Try the Blinkist app to read abridged books on the move.
Decompress from time to time
Do you ever feel claustrophobic living your day-to-day life? Are you a city-dweller, or just busy as hell? Make some time for you and you’ll be a better writer. You can’t sit in front of your computer all day, everyday.
Here are some tips to get out of your head and clear those cobwebs:
- Go for a walk in nature – enjoy your free time.
- Take a weekend vacation, or unplug all your devices and enjoy a weekend staycation at home.
- Start meditating.
- Pro tip: whenever you get stuck with your screenplay, just do a little exercise.
We recommend the following apps: Calm, Buddhify, Headspace, The Mindfulness App.
Get out into the world
- Take yourself out for a coffee or drink.
- Open up your favorite news app – we like News 360 & Feedly.
- Read over the headlines of the day. For inspiration, save anything related to the subject of your screenplay.
- Revisit the headlines anytime you’re stuck with your screenplay.
- Inspiration will soon strike!
Still stuck? Listening to music is scientifically proven to make people more creative, so blast out some sick tunes to help you get your groove back.
[email protected] is a music app that uses data science to provide you with inspirational music. There are various musical sounds to listen to while you work, each tailored to different types of brains. Dig in!
First thing I do in the morning
Morning Pages are a stream-of-consciousness exercise you write first thing in the morning just as you wake up.
- Keep a notebook on your bedside table.
- First thing every morning for 5 days, write the first things that come into your head.
- Consult your Morning Pages any time you get stuck in your writing. Most could be garbage – but some can contain the gems of absolute genius.
Compare your working movie title with Paul Thomas Anderson’s:
- Hard Eight
- Boogie Nights
- Punch-Drunk Love
- There Will Be Blood
- The Master
- Phantom Thread
Is the name you’ve chosen as powerful? Why do you think his movie names work?