Don’t stay stuck!
If you get stuck in the middle of writing your screenplay, don’t give up and don’t be tempted by the lure of starting a different story. That one will also have a difficult middle. Instead, use the first two methods below to get into a constructive state of mind, and the third to solve your story problems.
Go back to the basics
Remember what you wanted this project to be, what would make it special for readers and the audience, what you would enjoy about writing it. It’s easy to lose sight of these when you’ve been writing for a while and encountering obstacles. Reconnecting with your initial drive will revive your enthusiasm for the project and give you new energy for solving the problems.
Feed your head
Take a short break and read or re-read works by the writers you admire most. Revive your love for the written word.
Write or rewrite an outline
If you didn’t write an outline because you wanted the freedom to write the story as it occurred to you, now may be the time to re-think that. Spontaneity may have taken you as far as it can, and now it’s time for a bit of left-brain analysis.
Start with the big picture: write one sentence about the beginning, two or three about the middle, and one about the end. Then expand those to a paragraph for the start and end and two to three about the middle. Develop the outline as far as you think will help you the most.
If you did write an outline, it’s possible that writing the story to its middle has revealed some flaws or weaknesses in the structure. Rather than fiddling with the existing outline, follow the same process described in the previous paragraph.
Don’t be bound by what you’ve already written, be led by what works best.
Overcome fear of failure
The thing that stops a lot of writers from finishing writing a book or screenplay is the fear of failure: what if nobody wants it? What if I get horrible feedback? What if I’ve done all that work for nothing?
My tip is: step back.
The scenario in which you imagine getting rejections from publishers or producers is only one part of the larger picture. The more we zoom in on that, the greater our fear. Here are some questions to help you step back and put it into the context of the greater picture:
How many rejections equal failure? One? Ten ? A hundred? Here, from BubbleCow, is a list of half a dozen writers and how often their work was rejected:
- Madeline L’Engle’s book, A Wrinkle in Time, was turned down 29 times before she found a publisher.
- S. Lewis received over 800 rejections before he sold a single piece of writing.
- Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind was rejected by 25 publishers.
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected 121 times.
- Jonathan Livingston Seagull was rejected 40 times.
- Louis L’Amour was rejected over 200 times before he sold any of his writing.
Set your number at the start: how many rejections will it take for you to give up on a particular manuscript? If you say 100, for instance, rejection number 20 will not bother you all that much.
What will you learn along the way? Selling your work is not the only positive outcome of writing it. What will you learn about the subject? About yourself? About writing? Stepping back means not focusing only on the sale.
What would you have done with that time if you hadn’t been writing? The fear of wasting time suggests that if you weren’t writing you’d be doing something more worthwhile. Would you? Or would you be watching or TV or surfing the web?
If you find that a fear of failure is threatening to derail your writing, step back!
Jurgen Wolff is a writer, teacher, and creativity consultant. In the United States, he wrote for sitcoms including Benson and Family Ties. He wrote the feature film, The Real Howard Spitz, starring Kelsey Grammer and directed by Vadim Jean. He was a script doctor on the hit film, Mannequin and others starring Michael Caine, Walter Matthau, and Eddie Murphy. For Germany, he co-created the comedy series, Lukas, which ran for 65 episodes, and an original comedy series called Krista. He also wrote nine episodes of the series, Relic Hunter. He wrote two TV movies for the Olsen Twins, and several the German TV movies including, On Top of the Volcano, starring Maria Schrader and Sebastian Koch (2007). His play, Killing Mother, was produced at the Gorky Theatre in Berlin, and he’s also had plays produced in New York, Los Angeles, and London.
As a writing and creativity teacher, his courses include Beyond Brainstorming, Create Your Future, The Creative Breakthrough Workshop and the ground-breaking Script Coach Series developed exclusively for Raindance. He has presented his courses at the University of Southern California, the University of Barcelona, the Skyros Institute, many films schools, and groups and organisations including The Academy for Chief Executives, Egmont, Grundy-UFA, and Columbia-Tri-Star. For eight years he was a visiting lecturer for the Pilots Program in Sitges.
His books include Your Writing Coach and Your Creative Writing Masterclass (Nicholas Brealey Publishing), Creativity Now (Pearson), Do Something Different (Virgin Business Books), Successful Scriptwriting (Writers Digest Press), Top Secrets: Screenwriting (Lone Eagle Press), and Successful Sitcom Writing (St. Martin’s Press).
He has written for many publications including the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Broadcast Magazine, and he is the editor of Brainstorm, the creativity ebulletin.