Whether you’re writing a script, an outline, a treatment, or even the logline, every writer dreads days when they go without any inspiration to siphon from. Call it writer’s block, but a lack of inspiration mixed with a lack of dedication, commitment, and all other sorts of things can equal disaster to the creative mind – and could potentially destroy your vision.
by Marie Setiawan
While I was sitting at my laptop (falling apart from constant use), I was ready to tackle that feature film treatment I’ve been meaning to edit and refine for the past couple of months. But my fingers lingered over the keyboard unable to type anything that required an ounce of my willpower. Just what was going on? Everything felt great, maybe even perfect at the time. I was inspired to write and I had a vision, one that has plagued me since I concocted this feature film idea from the get-go. And then it hit me…
I had two Vices working against me – Sloth and Pride were getting in the way. How? I was too much of a perfectionist that it affected how committed I was to a simple rewrite.
I’ve come to realise that there are many things that can affect your ability to write effectively and creatively. I propose these “personal obstacles” as seven different categories in the guise of Vices. It’s a quirky way of looking at things (and a common trope in most things), but hey, when you’re trying to think creatively, you’ll be needing to exercise that creative engine in that head of yours, right? Be prepared for a long post (slash rant of sorts).
1. Sloth (A lack of inspiration/dedication/commitment)
“The question isn’t “what are we going to do,” the question is “what aren’t we going to do?””
~ Ferris Bueller from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Anyone ever get that feeling – that itch – to do something creative? To write something onto the page and make it, well, tangible? One of the most blamed of vices to all writers everywhere, a lack of inspiration can certainly stop you from making that first word count. The problem I’ve found is that no matter how long you hold your hands above that page (or keyboard), not an ounce of inspiration is going to leak out from those fingers. You sit there for a few minutes, which can turn into an hour or two, and probably punch out less than what you’ve expected. Sometimes I’ve nodded myself to sleep trying to pour every ounce of creative juice into my work. I’m no stranger to being a sloth. But it’s not only about being lazy, it’s about being counterproductive. Slothfulness can lead to distractions, which vary from doing all the house chores to the Internet, but everyone is different in that sense.
There are simple ways to combat slothfulness. It’s simply creating the right environment for your creativity to brew. Switching off Internet access, making yourself a hot cup of coffee with a jug ready to go (or a pot of tea in my preference), whatever it is that primes you ready to get into your work. Personally, I need the right music to play while I type away. It fills the silence that is most distracting to me and tends to lull me to sleep… surprise!
2. Gluttony (Writing too much rough to get to the diamond)
“This isn’t life. This is just stuff. And it’s become more important to you than living!”
~ Lester Burnham from American Beauty (1999)
Sometimes it’s good to get through a lot of junk before you find some gold, but writing too much into a story can swallow it whole. Gluttons amongst writers may feel the need to consistently write without considering the structure and plot – almost like flow-writing, but with much lesser intentions for finding the story. In a way, gluttons write about… stuff, and not about life. I call it word-vomit (as disgusting as that sounds). As a glutton myself, I love to flow-write whenever I can, even if it’s a simple yet outrageous story at the top of my head. Unfortunately, some of these sessions of word-vomit can turn into a number of tangents that would lead you down different paths, whether they’d be good or bad for your creative health.
Despite all of this, as a screenwriter, a glutton act every now and then isn’t a harmful thing. If you need to word-vomit all over the page, do so. You may find the path you’re story’s looking for. But it’s not just about filling the pages with words, or worse, words with no meaning. It’s about instilling life into a script. That is what’s most important.
3. Lust (Falling blindly in love)
“Enough sweet talk…”
~ Poison Ivy from Batman and Robin (1992)
It’s kind of silly to think that you would fall head over heels over your work, but I’ve been down that road before. You’ve thought of this great idea and immediately you take it under your wing and concoct the twists and turns, the events, the characters, the development is entirely yours. You feel as if you’re on Cloud Nine when you write the story – like a fever but not so life-threatening. There’s only one problem with this: You’re caught up in your own story you don’t see it in any other way. Probably along the same vein as being a little greedy, but we’ll get to that soon.
I’ve met myself in this state. I wouldn’t listen to anyone else about their opinions on my storytelling and just brushed them off to the side. My universe made sense to me, but unfortunately, what I’ve come to learn is that it doesn’t always make sense to everybody else. A writer’s fight against their own lustful ways over their work can be challenging. It’s good to step away from your script for a day, maybe even for half an hour if you’re strapped for time. Always read with a fresh pair of eyes and a clear head, away from your rose-tinted glasses to get a different perspective. You may find something off while you were up in the clouds.
4. Envy (Writer’s envy)
“Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!”
~ Jan Brady from The Brady Bunch (1969)
Do you hate it when you catch word about someone else’s story ideas and think to yourself: “why didn’t I think of that?” A bit of that jealousy bug brewing inside? It’s these types of feelings that can cause a massive block in your own storytelling processes. Writing a script should not be for the sake of bettering somebody else’s work, or the drive that pushes you to write in the first place. But, having a bit of green-eye shouldn’t be something that stops you from creating your own ideas. We writers are a part of a community – we help each other push our scripts to different places, for better or worse. It should never be the field for competition (it’s already drenched in one anyway). There’s one upside to creating your own work, the biggest factor of them all: nothing’s ever original anymore. It’s only ever perfected, remixed, or turned on its head. So utilise it, delve into some out-of-the-box thinking.
5. Greed (Keeping everything to yourself)
“It came to me, my own, my love… my… preciousssss.”
~ Gollum from The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Similar to my last post, keeping your work away from others is a double-edged sword. Although the idea of keeping things to yourself and protecting them from thieves is legitimate, it unfortunately stops you from a constant stream of feedback and idea-juggling – things your work needs to thrive and flourish. There’s only one sure-fire way to combat this: collaboration. Collaboration with other writers not only helps you see your story in a different light, but it also creates community. This is probably the same remedy for Lust and Envy, by paving the way for communication to better understand where your stories are going. Think of it as a detox from your own little world and gaining insights from different other universes to see if your script is at its basic core, universal.
That is the best thing that can come out of your script, and personally, I find it as a challenge. If I find one person who could not understand my script, or probably debates greatly on the laws and physics that happen in its world, they become my audience member. If I could persuade them to suspend all belief and believe in this world I’ve created, then I have succeeded.
6. Wrath (A growing frustration when nothing works)
~ Jack Torrance from The Shining (1980)
Ever had those times when nothing quite sticks? Something’s off and you can’t quite you’re your finger on it? That would be writer’s block talking. Not only that, it brings about irritation, frustration, and maybe anxiety if that’s how you react. I’m not a fan of the infamous writer’s block, or any other type of block for that matter. It only fuels your frustration and irritability. You feel as if can’t get to your sweet spot or create your creative bubble to work.
Getting angry over your work wastes energy, fizzles you out, and is generally counterproductive when you try to think too hard past your blocks and dissatisfaction. It’s usually the telltale sign to step away from your script. Do something productive, instead of mulling over your work. Take a walk, read a book, watch television if you have to. Sometimes it’s good to get your brain to exercise in a different way, or do something completely mindless instead. Thinking creatively takes a lot of energy and it’s best to resupply your creativity and recharge for another shot at your script. Don’t ever turn into Mr. Jack Torrance.
7. Pride (Perfectionist, much?)
“Who put this thing together? Me, that’s who! Who do I trust? Me!”
~ Tony Montana from Scarface (1983)
Every writer’s bane of writing is how much of a perfectionist we can be. We want every word to be precise, every piece of dialogue to be witty, amazing, and brilliant, and we want our plots to keep people on the edge of their seats. But, in all honesty, the idea of perfection is a dream we all hope to achieve but can never grasp. It’s a bit of a sickness at times when many writers (and I put my hand up for this one) want their very FIRST DRAFT to be perfect, but you get right down to it and realise the time and energy needed to be put into a script is astonishing. There will always be drafts of our work, and we may go through a countless number of them to get it right.
I know I wished my script to be perfect at the first get-go, but in the end, I’ve rewritten things numerous times, even brought on a completely different idea or concept to my script. But after going through speedy consults and sessions, I found it more satisfying to keep writing the rewrites. Every new version, every new piece of writing is a rewrite. Writing after all, at its core, is re-writing.
You can encounter any of these seven things, but don’t despair when you approach your script. I’ve experienced these aches and pains so far and I know I’ll be coming across them time and time again. The greatest thing to overcome is not only the pains of the job, but having to explain them to others. I’ve known people who thought writing was a simple task, and it was difficult to explain to them otherwise. Through perseverance, timing, collaboration, and maybe whimsical chance, your script can be the masterpiece you’ve envisioned.
Now, to get back to that feature film treatment I’ve been meaning to complete. I’ve already committed at least three of these Vices so far…
– Marie Setiawan
Marie Setiawan is a film graduate from the International Film School Sydney, as well as a UNSW Alumni with a BA degree in Media and Communications with Honours. Writing is her passion, but she also enjoys many things on the side such as reading, watching films, catching up on social media trends, and is an avid gamer of sorts. She also tweets for The Story Department with a small crew.