15 In-Depth Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block for Screenwriters
Now more than ever is a time for creativity. But it’s easier said than done to get started on your next screenplay, first screenplay or even screenplay outline. Writer’s block is a curse that haunts screenwriters just as much as any other kind of writer.
Sometimes you just hit a road block. Sometimes you can’t even get started in the first place. Whatever the specific snag, writer’s block can feel like running uphill and not getting any further to the top.
It can be an incredibly frustrating feeling. Moreover, it can torture you. You’ve come so far, to find you can’t go any further. Or you have all the will and want in the world to get started on an idea but you just can’t light the spark.
Writer’s block can often feel like that thing that will stop you from getting closer to your writing dreams. Will it be the thing that holds your career back? These are the pressures that writer’s block can bring on the mind.
So let’s look at some ways we can get the creatives juices flowing. These aren’t just productivity hacks. They are ways to reach a higher ground. Not only will you get your productivity going, you will better your screenplay overall.
These are 15 ways to beat writer’s block away and get to the top of that hill, whatever it might be:
1. Watch Films/TV That Inspire You Rather Than Just Inform You
What are those films/TV shows that really light up your imagination? Do you ever find yourself drawn back to a film or specific series episode but can’t quite put your finger on why?
It might be tempting to constantly resort to binging the latest docu-series. But make sure you’re not getting complacent with your viewing habits.
Are you watching films/series that get your creative juices flowing? Of course, it’s important to have a balance of both. But make sure that you’re giving yourself a healthy diet of stories that relax and entertain you and stories that inspire and provoke you.
It’s worth sitting down to analyse why you love your favourite film or TV show.
- What are the themes? Why might they speak to you?
- What is the style? Why might that speak to you?
- Who are the main characters? What is it about them that you like or relate to?
By getting to the root of why you like something you will help kickstart your own creativity.
- What are the themes you want to talk about?
- What is the style that most reflects you?
- Who are the kinds of characters you want to represent?
2. Free-Writing Loglines
Don’t overthink it at this stage. Just put pen to paper (or more likely fingers to keyboards). A great way to get writing is to just go with the flow.
However, writing loglines is a way of keeping that flow relatively focused and ordered.
- A logline is a concise and striking summary of your screenplay in one or two sentences.
- It describes the main purpose of your story and makes perfectly clear what the goal of the protagonist is and the stakes of reaching that goal are.
So brainstorm some ideas with these rules in mind. What is the setting, protagonist, goal and stakes?
These don’t have to be perfect at this stage. But by getting ideas down on the page you will have well and truly kickstarted the creative process.
Furthermore, you’ll be able to see what sticks and what doesn’t. You might have a page full of ideas that leave you feeling cold. Or there might be a diamond in the rough there, that idea that you feel you can expand on and start developing.
3. Organise your Time into Functional and Leisure Hours
Does the pressure of deadlines and workload frustrate you into the dark hole of procrastination? Studies have shown that dreading forthcoming deadlines and criticism can interfere with your creative process.
- Sometimes separating realistic chunks of work hours from leisure can help in clearing the mental traffic that has been blocking the way of your ideas.
- Try reviewing your current schedule to create one more productive but comfortable. Having a well manageable schedule can be as uplifting as tidying up a really messy room.
The process of organising your time can be a great way of finding your inspiration. By clearing your time and your mind, you might just stumble upon the thoughts and worries that have been distracting you.
The discoveries you make while sorting your own time could be insightful for your next character.
Often, monstrous characters speak to the audience the most despite having an army of workaday characters. Incorporating the basic human experiences in the most inhuman characters can be a powerful way of communicating to the audience.
So take a pragmatic approach to get rid of the obstructions before you. This may help you climb back into your creative process or pave way for a new perspective. All you need to do is give yourself the liberty to explore either of the two outcomes.
4. Immerse in Research but Find the Characters
Is there a particular subject you want to explore? A certain historical time period that fascinates you?
The motivation of research is a great way of surrounding yourself with inspiration. So you love Roman history? You could delve into countless books on the time period, countless movies, countless pieces of art and academic research.
The opportunity to fully immerse in this world is definitely there. By making it come to life in your imagination you might be more likely to come across the story you want to tell.
What’s important, however, is to always look for who the protagonist in this world and story will be?
- Having a clear and detailed picture of a time period or subject is a great asset.
- But it will mean nothing unless there is a convincing and captivating character leading the audience through this time period or subject.
Try and think of these two aspects as separate elements that need to be brought together.
- Develop the idea of who you want your character to be and what their main motivation will be.
- Then plunge them into the world/subject matter you want.
Sometimes a protagonist will scream out from a particular subject matter or time period (a famous character or someone at the forefront of a subject, for example). Sometimes you’ll have to work hard to find that all-important guide for your story.
5. Be the Audience You Wish To Please
Sometimes being too focused on the initial goal or the current process of writing entails exhaustion of ideas. This means that it is time to trade places as a consumer from the manufacturer.
Do you ever find yourself in a rut after exhausting a list of endless ideas? This can be due to the restriction of imagination to a single individual or idiosyncrasy, entailing loss of momentum in the creative process.
Audience is indeed king, and can be very fruitful when you feel that your creative process is in a bind.
- What is the target audience for this story? Who are you narrating this story to?
- How do you want this audience to respond to your work? What kind of an impact are you aiming for?
Taking the opposite seat often gives an enlightening viewpoint to your work which might have been lost in the momentum of the writing process. Try to explore what is expected from your work. This could lead to a faithful delivery to your audience or the right time for a hefty plot twist.
To this end, the knowledge and expectations of the audience can be helpful tools to successfully sail your creative boat in the wind. You might be in the right direction already or enter a whole new direction.
But catering to your audience is key to ingenuity in the creative process.
6. Goal Directed Writing
Creative processes are guided by a sense of purpose. Think about what you want to communicate through your work and set that as your main goal.
- Setting goals for a writing process can be the light at the end of the tunnel, leading the way when one might face obstruction in the creative process.
- Sometimes it is the established aim of a project that will inspire you to have faith in the overall process. A process that might lag while working.
Furthermore, setting milestones and a goal can help you strive for success while facing challenges creatively. Try to designate targets for each day while working towards your main goal, and allow enough flexibility in these goals.
Facing the stress of dealing with a writing block makes fulfilling a writing target for just one day sound enticing. What is more important in such a time than making steady progress everyday?
You can try to combine fairly complex goals but make sure to not be afraid to alter the plans as you go.
Creative work is subjective and can be moulded into as many forms as possible. Hence the attitude towards it should be free of restrictions as well. Try pairing a positive attitude with some freshly set attainable goals. You might be able to segue right back into your creative space.
7. Delve into the Music that Speaks to You
Have you ever wallowed in self pity while listening to a particular sad song? Blasted a party anthem when in a good mood? Or just like playing soft music while working?
The different emotions that we experience are conveniently associated to and organised into music playlists now.
John Carney summed this up perfectly in the screenplay Begin Again:
“You can tell a lot about a person by what’s on their playlist”.
The music you listen to can help you gain some insight into your own creative process. Or you could find inspiration for your characters and their world, while listening to music that is meaningful to you.
Music has been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety and improve productivity. The stories communicated by music inspire many people. Try and find out what intrigues you in a song for making it into your playlist and the themes the playlist represents.
So think of the songs that define your current state of mind. You can blast an upbeat song to lift your stressed and tired spirits. Or you could play a happy melody to help you carry on the momentum and find your zone.
8. Unclutter Your Head by Practicing Mindfulness
Do you find the persistent traffic in your head overwhelming whilst experiencing a creative difficulty? Miss the time when you would be brimming with ideas with a clear target?
Screenwriting, as much as any other form of writing, requires powerful imagination. This can be quite taxing when you’re constantly looking for something extraordinary.
But how can there be a smooth journey towards your goal with so many bumps in the road?
Mindfulness is one of the most discussed techniques for ‘clearing out’ your head.
- But it actually entails attending to all of those fleeting thoughts to identify and focus on those that you find important.
- Try to practice mindfulness a few minutes whenever you find too many obstructions blocking your creative process.
Studies have proven the positive impact of mindfulness on creativity as it can enhance problem solving abilities. So give yourself a minute to observe what is within you to have a better perspective of what is around.
This approach may help you create a world and characters with a rich background.
So respect your clamouring thoughts and hear them out. You may find them helpful for visualising during an otherwise blurry creative process.
9. Embrace Your Fantasies
We have all have fantasies in some form or another. You might be an NBA superstar. You might be living in another country. Or you’re pursuing a different career or living in a different time period.
Our fantasises can be healthy forms of therapy, as long as we don’t let them dictate our real life. And often these fantasies come from a place we don’t quite understand.
But what better way to explore them than to write them out as stories. In this sense, everyone is a potential storyteller. Everyone is telling themselves stories all the time.
- Let your fantasies play out in the form of a story.
- This might lead to avenues you haven’t considered or fully got to grips with.
- But in letting them play out you’re seeking to get to the root of your fantasies.
You’re looking at the characters involved, the themes and the subtext beneath it all. In doing this you might unlock a fruitful area of interest – a storyline, a setting, a character, a relationship.
You can change the main character (from yourself) and you can change the setting. But in letting fiction string out your fantasy, you’re changing the process of telling yourself a story, to telling others.
And in the process, you’re unlocking something meaningful to you, whether you fully understand it and where it comes from or not.
10. Catch Up with the Past
Are you spending too much time thinking about the same things? Do you find yourself sitting all alone, sulking about the difficulties you’re facing while writing? Or are you experiencing compulsive thoughts about the deadlines?
A writer’s block can also be caused by draining all of your mental power on monotonous aspects of your life. So it can be refreshing to get your mind off the things that currently don’t excite you and get it on to things that do.
It has been found that nostalgia has positive effects on productivity and is a tried and tested method to stimulate creativity. Try to reflect on your goals, achievements, failures and dilemmas from then and now.
You might end up revisiting different times of your life and find something new on the way.
Were there any old rituals and practices that helped you overcome creative barriers before? Do you recall the good and bad experiences of you or your friends? Try learning from your old mistakes, again.
Sometimes reminding yourself of the tricks that helped you hone your current creative and personal skills by revisiting the good old days (or bad old days) can be helpful for both your work and relationships.
So try to not be an empty can of brain juice and explore new (or very old) environments when in a rut.
11. See the World Around You
Feel a heartbeat away from exploding? Need a break but too mentally occupied to truly take one? Get out and get some air. Take all of your frustrated energy out of your writing space and your head.
Sometimes exercising or just running errands outdoors can help stabilise your mind and centre yourself.
Focusing on doing something physically taxing can help in putting things in perspective emotionally.
- Exercising is known to increase amounts of dopamine in the body which helps in boosting creativity.
- Or maybe just a good old mix of the fresh air and nature will uplift your spirits. You don’t have to be running and sweating to enjoy the outside world.
Use small breaks from work to change the scenery. Sometimes writer’s block can be like staring at the same wall and losing perspective. So change the wall.
Furthermore, you’ll be able look around for inspirations for the world belonging to your characters. Or meet some people to ventilate different creative approaches and perspectives.
Make sure your focus isn’t too tunnel visioned. Embrace the world around you.
12. Take a Trip Back to the Basics of Screenwriting
Sometimes it is necessary to look at the beginner’s recipe for your own signature dish to identify the elements that make it flavourful.
Take help. Read and research more about the basic techniques and elements of writing creatively. Try and break down the difficulties you are facing into the simplest forms.
- Break down your screenplay or idea into a beat sheet.
- Get down to the basics of story structure and see if your project is meeting them.
- Simplify your characters and what their goals are.
Explore the various aspects of your art and make sure that you are not missing out the obvious.
Furthermore, you can find out if what seems unique to you right now represents your proficiency, and not a part of the obvious. Or if your work so far meets your goals of technical and creative writing standards as compared with what is instilled by lessons.
Much like a musician trying to find their sound again, walk the paths of a wide-eyed newbie- ready to try new things.
13. Don’t Go it Alone
The easiest way to write believable and convincing characters is by communicating with people and discovering new aspects about them. But what could be more helpful than interacting with other writers?
- Talk with other writers you know and discover new rituals and techniques of work from people who are possibly going through similar situations at work.
- You can also interact with other writer’s through social media or writing groups.
Communication is a great way to observe, inspire and reimagine. You might run into your new writing partner, or even better, the inspiration for your protagonist.
You can learn something new about different styles and genres in writing and their ideal usage. Or find comfort in more writers dealing with similar creative barriers and learn new ways of overcoming a writer’s block.
14. Rekindle Your Creativity, But Not by Writing
Have you ever been so inspired to spill your vision right onto paper but just can’t find the right words? No words reflect your ideas as well as how they seem in your head?
Sometimes drafting an extraordinary idea creatively is far more painful than birthing it. So why don’t you use your inspiration towards engaging in different activities requiring creativity.
Try painting, dancing, cook a new recipe or reorganise your closet. You don’t need to be very good in these activities. Use them as hobbies, helping you to destress and gain perspective while effectively improving your writing abilities.
- Practicing thinking creatively in any form will help you write and present your ideas eloquently.
- This is also a great way to gather ideas from insightful learning while performing fairly imaginative tasks.
So enjoy practicing singing, a new language or doing photography, but make sure you’re feeling passionate while performing these activities to hop back on your writing process better than ever.
15. Revisit Your Past Projects
Do you ever wonder how you managed to write successfully in the past? How you worked so well through the projects that you’re proud of? Can’t think of how you overcame a writer’s block before?
Visit your old work again. There is a lot that you can learn from your past accomplishments.
- What were your goals for these projects?
- Were you successful in accomplishing these goals?
- Is there something you would like to change in these finished projects?
Your past work, both failures and achievements, can be one of the most insightful places to look for answers when overwhelmed by writer’s block. As you walk through your own journey towards successful projects, you might be able to recall some hindrances you faced and eventually overcame.
Furthermore, if you find that you found the goals of these projects successfully achieved, it will help you push through a writer’s block. Or you might end up finding failures. These are your lost chances that you learn from and take another shot at.
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This article was written by Jahnvi Saluja and edited by IS Staff.