Many, many people with whom I‘ve been in contact over the years have expressed the desire to become writers. Most of them have been egged on by their friends who, after several drinks, come up with the proclamation, “You should write a book.”
The person receiving such words really feels pumped up until they actually try to start putting words down on a blank page. They perhaps will get a couple of pages written but suddenly stop and never pick up with their thoughts again. Then on the other hand they might actually get going past two pages, but more than likely they soon run into something called “writer’s block.” This stuns their creativity in its tracks and their book turns into a “work in progress”—an expression meaning “not going to happen.” All of their good intentions somehow fall between the cracks. Their noble venture withers and dies on the vine.
Also many would-be writers try their hand at writing a screenplay or stage play. Loads of these undertakings also crash and burn somewhere along the way. Apparently the form and complexities of total dialogue writing stymie them as much or more than a book. Film and Stage writing if you don’t know what you are doing can easily become a quagmire where writer’s block can pop up like weeds.
I once had a woman producer send me her screenplay for script doctoring. She had no earthly idea how a screenplay should be put together. Her idea for the project had no logic because the story idea weighed a ton—meaning it had too much plot. She came to me, she said, because she had writer’s block.
What’s wrong in a case like hers? Is there such a thing as “writer’s block?” Is it just an excuse? If such a thing exists, what causes it?
I did eventually work on her screenplay but doctoring on my part meant cutting out the fat on her story idea by nearly 75%. As I said earlier, her script was over-plotted. That generally is a primary cause of throwing your hands up or quitting or stopping and never returning to the project. Most people simply call it writer’s block.
BUT it’s not writer’s block. Instead it’s what I call the old hat trick. My father used to tell me, “Life is a hat trick. You reach in and pull out an idea and run with it.” He added, “The thinner the idea, the lighter the load.” He meant, of course, that the more specific you are in your plan, the easier it will be for you to accomplish it.
Take the case of my grandparents Lilly Rousseau and S. P. Howard. What if you reached into your writer’s hat of possible ideas for a project and came up with “Write Lilly and S. P.’s life story.”
These two people led fantastic lives that could serve as fodder for at least a couple of books. If you tried to cram both their entire lives into one book, you would surely get “writer’s block”.
Why? The idea load would be too heavy and would soon tire you. You’d eventually get confused on what to include and what to leave out. Consequently you’d become a massive mound of quivering indecision—the exact definition of writer’s block.
So, let’s do the old hat trick again. This time reach into your writing hat and pull out a SINGULAR NOUN. This sets you up with your basic story line. For example, the singular noun marriage.
Next, add a VERB. In Lilly and S. P.’s case we’ll add the verb DISCOVER. This verb sets up your basic plot line. (Note: Plot is based on a verb because the word itself means action. Books, stage plays and films must all have ACTION or else they don’t exist. Action is the natural enemy of “writer’s block.”)
So together we have MARRIAGE (noun)and DISCOVER (verb). Then we add some COMPLICATION (snag, obstacle or entanglement). Then all you have to do is run with your project. It will almost write itself. You will not have writer’s block if you choose a very specific noun and ally it with an interesting verb. Then when you add your complication, you will easily be able to go forward with your project.
Once you have decided on the noun, the verb and a complication, you need to do one of two things: Write out a LOGLINE or a BRIEF SYNOPSIS.
A LOGLINE is about 25 words and it tells your basic story. A BRIEF SYNOPSIS is the same thing but in an expanded more detailed 75 words or so. If you can do these two, you have a viable product well on its way. Your writing should be smooth sailing.
Here are those two items for Lilly and S. P.’s story.
LOGLINE: Young man in 1901 at his wedding bachelor party accidentally discovers his soul mate and surprises everyone by marrying her 3 days later.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: S. P. who lives in San Antonio is going to get married to his business partner’s sister in 1901. His roust-about friends take him to Saint Louis for a bachelor’s farewell party. His fiancée tells him to buy her a wedding hat while there. His last day in Saint Louis, he goes to a fashionable French hat shop and discovers a beautiful, young French lady by the name of Lilly Rousseau. Three days later they are married.
True story. Here I am, their grandson, writing their hat story for you. It’s the strangeness of life that intrigues your readers. We can only ferret out these surprises of life if we are specific in our original idea and try not to carry too heavy a load.
Specific = 3 days in the lives of Lilly and S. P.
Overload = Their entire lives.
Remember, in the world of writing, the most important word for you to know and practice is the word SPECIFIC. Always be as specific as you can and you’ll have fewer problems in your career as a writer.
So, it’s the old hat trick, both literally and figuratively. Overcome writer’s block before you begin and you’ll do that by making the NOUN, VERB and COMPLIATION of your project skinny. Remember, be specific!