writers block tips - image of a backpacker passing a bookshelf on the street

Is writer’s block a real thing?

Are you feeling like you can’t write anything useful?

Time passes, you sit staring at the paper or a screen, and nothing comes out. Nothing works. It’s a problem. It’s stressing you out. It makes writing feel like an impossible burden, so you avoid doing the thing you want to do. You avoid starting or finishing that book, screenplay, whatever progress you’ve wanted to make. It just won’t go. You’re… blocked.

I remember reading an article in Wired, years and years ago, about a tech company that was trying to create a scent on-demand appliance. I think it was for the cosmetics industry. The article said the appliance had little vials of different scented oils inside, and they would be opened or closed based on which smell needed to be produced, and a little fan inside the appliance would waft out the scent. In order to test the appliance, the researchers had the journalist stick his nose into a jar of coffee grounds, because somehow the smell of coffee works like an olfactory reset button in our brains.

Later, when I was in college, working on my BFA in Creative Writing at UNC Wilmington, a professor gave us a simple exercise at the beginning of a workshop session when several people came in looking worn out and stressed around exam time. Similar to the idea of throwing a dart at a newspaper to pick stocks, you just open a book or newspaper and blindly point to a sentence, then write for 3-5 minutes exclusively on this random topic, in whatever direction you please. This has a similar effect to the coffee grounds thing on one’s deeper creative brain, effectively allowing the connections to clear. The words we wrote were disposable, and that was the key…

Let’s talk about writer’s block.

Is it a real thing? Yes and no.

It’s not a disease, and in most cases, it’s just an unproductive frame of mind.

Most often, writer’s block is symptomatic of the fear of failure.

The block comes from a place of fear, whether you’re conscious of it or not. Making the act of writing non-precious and for your own immediate satisfaction alone is the solution nine times out of ten.

The tenth case is often depression, which can require medical intervention, and I’m in no way qualified to address it here. If you are feeling depressed and agitated all the time about basically everything for no reason, you should definitely speak with a mental health professional as soon as possible, it’s often simply a chemical imbalance in the brain that can be treated with a variety of medications.

So, what do you do about it?

Metaphorically, you open your veins and bleed on the page because it gives you joy when you let what is inside you flow out. Don’t think about the next page, think only about one line at a time. That’s how you write your way out of a block.

At some point, you just have to let the pressure you’ve allowed weigh on your heart to pass. Say to yourself something like…

This line is going to be trash, and it almost certainly won’t be productive, but if I write a hundred lines, and then even a hundred pages, there is half a chance one of them might be good, and that’s enough to catch the wind and sail on. I know I have to go through the shit and the doldrums to get to the good stuff, but not every comma has to be gold, because in the end I’ll edit, and editing is the real work. All I have to do right now is dream and write down whatever comes to mind that I feel is interesting.

Transcend self-inflicted pressure to perform and you will transcend your creative block.

Don’t worry about what people will think or what will sell during the initial writing process. That’s how you get stuck. Just focus on the joy of the words, then edit later.

You’re probably just prematurely self-censoring, and it’s gumming up the works because idea generation and critical thinking are separate processes. Most people can’t really run them simultaneously. That’s why when you’re brainstorming it’s important to just write everything down and not make any judgments about the ideas while they’re flowing.

Write, then edit. Don’t edit as you write.

Any time you feel like you’re hitting a wall with your writing, step back and dismiss the idea that you need to be accomplishing something concrete at every moment, even if you’re on a deadline. You shouldn’t try to make rational decisions while you’re writing, you do that after you write.

The best cure for writer’s block is low-pressure writing.

Here is a simple exercise:

Use the “Random” feature on Wikipedia here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random

Every time you click that link, it will give you a new Wikipedia entry.

Whatever comes up, use it as a writing prompt for 5 minutes of freewriting that you can assume you’ll immediately discard. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. It will help get the lead out.

—— written by Charles Beckwith, January 13th, 2022


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Where can I find screenplays to read?

This is the most important thing:

Read Fucking Screenplays

There is no shortcut for this shit. You won’t learn how to write screenplays if you haven’t read any. Aim for 50 and then read more. All will be revealed.

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software section title card, "is that your final draft?" text over prison bars

Which screenwriting software should I use?

Just fucking pick one:

  • Final Draft – the standard since the 90s
    (also Final Draft files are the standard file format for collaboration in the industry, but most of these programs export smoothly to .fdr)
  • Fade In – also popular
  • Highland 2 – good shit, free to try, Apple only
  • WriterDuet – best tool for online collaboration, flexible pricing
  • Scrivener – popular with people who also write books
  • KIT Scenarist – freemium open-source software with paid-tier services

If you join UCLA’s WP Now program, you can get discounts on certain screenwriting software.

Don’t be asking everyone what to use, it’s a personal preference. Seriously, just fucking pick one.

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title card image for books on screenplays

Where can I find books on screenwriting?

Did you already read some screenplays? Do you want books now?

Read this shit first:

Check out the Blogs page for online reading material.

Read those? Now go write some shit.

Wrote some shit? Messed around with it? Now read more screenplays.

Eventually, later, read this shit:

More than any book, if you want to be writing movies and television, you should be reading screenplays (good and bad).

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podcasts section title card

What are the best screenwriting podcasts for new screenwriters who don’t know anything yet?

Listen to this shit:

This list is intentionally short. There are hundreds of screenwriting and entertainment industry podcasts, but you should start with these three.

You should be making friends with other screenwriters, so ask them what else to listen to.

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movies section title card

What are the best movies for a new screenwriter to watch?

Watch this shit:

“You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.” – Harlan Ellison


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Blogs

Are There Screenwriting Blogs?

Of course, there are fucking screenwriting blogs.

Primary Recommendation:

If you only pay for one thing in your screenwriting career preparation, a Medium.com subscription to access all that Go Into The Story has to offer is where you should park your dimes.

It’s mostly written and edited by one guy, Scott Myers, who really knows his shit. An amazing resource with probably over 1000 articles at this point. They’re on basically everything you could possibly want to know about screenwriting.

You’ll need to subscribe to Medium.com (not expensive) to read past the first few entries, but it’s totally worth it.

Other Good Screenwriting Blogs:

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Copyright

A Simple Guide To Copyright For Screenwriters

IL DISCLAIMER LEGALE:

THIS GUIDE TO COPYRIGHT FOR SCREENWRITERS IS NOT WRITTEN BY A LAWYER, JUST SOMEONE WITH A LOT OF EXPERIENCE IN THESE THINGS ON THE BUSINESS SIDE.

WHENEVER ACTUAL MONEY OR A RIGHTS TRANSFER IS INVOLVED, ALWAYS CONSULT A REAL LAWYER (PREFERABLY AN EXPERIENCED ENTERTAINMENT OR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ATTORNEY).

NOW, LET’S START BY SAYING…

Copyright.
Your.
Shit.


You have an inherent right to control and profit from any original work you independently generate, but what you need in place to protect that right is serious motherfucking documentation.


Need a lawyer? The lawyers section has links to several different lists of entertainment lawyers.


In the United States, if you created a work of art, whether it’s taking a photograph, doodling a sketch, or laboring out the first sentence of a screenplay, then you automatically own the copyright on that work. However, you may have trouble proving that, so read on…

If you get into a situation where someone is claiming your work as their own, you want some evidence to take with you to court. Basically, the best evidence of authorship is a registered copyright.

CUT TO:

Copyright.gov logo

A registered copyright is easy to obtain. Before you show your script to strangers, or even friends and family you don’t quite trust, just pay the filing fee and register what you’ve got.

By holding registered copyright, if you need to go to court, essentially your witness is the Library of Congress. The usefulness of being in this position cannot be overstated.

So, when in doubt, always pay the fee and get the thing.

Here’s what you do:

  • Go to https://eco.copyright.gov/
  • Set up an account, and make sure you save your copyright.gov login information in a safe place
  • for Register a Work select Standard Application if you are collaborating with another writer, or One Work One Author if you are the sole writer (slightly less expensive)
  • for Type of Work select “work of the performing arts”
  • for Titles click “New” and type in your title
  • keep hitting “Next” until you’ve finished checking out and have paid the registration fee

Important notes:

Hit Next

For some reason, the “Next” button is at the top of the screen, so you have to scroll back up to go to the next step each time.

Work For Hire

If you’re doing “Work For Hire,” the copyright may belong to your employer (based on your employment contract language). If you plan to work on side projects while employed by a studio, make sure they don’t own your side hustle. Again, consult an entertainment lawyer.

WGA Registration

Some people may tell you to register your shit with the Writers Guild of America West (WGA).

WGA registration is definitely not a substitute for federal copyright registration.

WGA registration only provides limited added protection in certain situations.

But It’s Unfinished / Unpublished…

Copyright and Registered Copyright cover both published and unpublished works.

You can file an update on a registered work if it has been modified since the original filing.

The last time we checked, it cost about $35 to file an update.

Other People’s Shit

Don’t rip other people’s shit off.

If you want to make Citizen Kane II: Rosebud’s Revenge, you need permission from the rights holders to create a derivative work.

As a new writer, you just aren’t going to get those rights without weird extenuating circumstances, so basing your script on someone else’s work, unless it’s clearly in the public domain, is a complete waste of time and energy, and you won’t be able to sell it.

The Foreigner

If you live outside the United States and it’s awkward to register copyright locally, you can likely still register your work with the US Copyright Office. Most nations operate with mutually recognized copyright treaties.

“An eligible source country is a country, other than the United States, that is a member of the WTO, a member of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, or subject to a presidential proclamation…” – LoC Circular 38B

Here is the official list of countries with whom the USA has a copyright treaty in place: LoC Circular 38A

“Can I copyright my idea?”

No, you cannot copyright “an idea,” you need to actually do the work of writing out a specific narrative.

Even if it’s just a one-page or five-page treatment, or some sort of short story, you still need to have more than just “shark guy in board shorts terrorizes Ohio.” What happens to him? How do people react to him? How did he get there? Flesh it out.

A narrative is more than just a situational premise or inciting incident. You need to string together a bunch of ideas in words people can read to be able to register copyright on narrative work. An interplay of multiple ideas is what is considered unique and protectable for these purposes.

“Copyright 2021, The Noob”

Some people will say putting the copyright notice on your title page makes you look like an amateur. Ignore them, they’re not lawyers.

From the beginning of the work on a screenplay, you can immediately write “Copyright {year}, {your name}” on your title page, and you should do that.

“Copyright {your name} {year}” also works.

However, don’t put your registration numbers on the script (LoC or WGA). You are the only person who needs that information until you file a lawsuit.

NDA?

Non-Disclosure Agreements are not helpful when you’re trying to sell your script.

Unless you’ve made it up to the Aaron Sorkin level of success, don’t ask a serious producer to sign an NDA.

You don’t want to be projecting “Hey, look at me, I’m litigious!” It’s a rookie move that will get you nowhere. If you have the copyright registered, that’s your protection.


If you want to hear basically the same information presented here, but from an actual lawyer, consult Stanley B Gill’s website.


Read more about entertainment lawyers.


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Lawyers

Lawyer The Fuck Up

YOU’RE GOING TO NEED ONE AND YOU SHOULD USE ONE.

For employment contracts, most entertainment lawyers charge a 5% fee, so you don’t have to pay before the deal closes.

Find A Lawyer:

Be selective. Find someone you’re comfortable communicating with. This is a relationship you’re starting.

Here are some lists of entertainment lawyers and law firms:

see also: Entertainment Law Exposed on Clubhouse

Notes on Working With Entertainment Lawyers:

Ask Your Questions

  • Once you have a lawyer you are going to work with on a regular basis, they tend to be pretty open to the occasional quick question. Don’t abuse their attention, but also don’t hesitate to call them when something feels sketchy.
  • Calling to ask, “should I sign this?” takes 2 minutes on the phone and can save you millions of dollars in lost revenue.
  • If they’re not open to infrequent quick consults, or they ignore you or bill you for every second of their time, you may want to find a different lawyer.

Don’t Release Me

  • Most entertainment lawyers will advise you not to sign those rights-grabby submission release waiver whatever forms a lot of agents, managers, producers, and competitions often require new screenwriters to send before they’ll look at an “unsolicited” script.
  • Once you’re properly represented, whenever someone asks you to send them a script, you should be able to just email them the PDF and copy your lawyer (see note below) the same way you would when represented by an agent or manager. As a client of an established entertainment lawyer, you do in fact have representation.

Note: ABSOLUTELY DO NOT try to fake having an entertainment lawyer to submit materials. It will not end well. It’s a small fucking town.

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