Overcoming writer's block


Has this ever happened to you? You write something that sounds so logical, so perfect, you can't possibly improve upon it, then a few days or weeks or months later you reread it and you're shocked by how bad it is! Well, maybe not bad; it's just that the idea you were trying to express is lost in all of your rhetoric and hyperbole.

I can't tell you how many times this has happened to me, and I think I've finally figured out what I've been doing wrong. Absolutely nothing. I've been writing using stream-of-consciousness. I've been letting the words flow out of me, and more often than not, they come out jumbled and disorganized. The idea I want to express might be there, it's just buried in the verbiage.

Of course all of you old-timers are saying, "That's what rewriting is for, and why we hire editors." I know that. Well, I know it now, but I had to learn it, you see? And what have I learned? I've learned that I'm a plantzer; a pantzer who plans.

For those of you who don't know, a pantzer is a writer who "writes from the seat of his or her pants". It's an analogy taken from flyers--pilots who set off into the unknown without filing a flight plan. They just want to see what's out there, they want to explore. And I can't tell you how much that appeals to the explorer in me. My whole life (and career) I've loved setting off into the unknown, so when it comes to writing, I love doing the same. The only thing that gets in my way is I'm a planner by nature. Even though I enjoy setting off into the unknown, I also love setting goals and creating a plan to achieve those goals.

As most of you know, I began my career making films and television, and it is not an environment that appreciates pantzers. A film shoot has to be meticulously planned. As a director, when you walk on the set at seven in the morning you'll find 250 people waiting for you to tell them what to do. You not only have to have your day planned out, you have to have that day broken down into shots and how you're going to achieve those shots.

If I wrote the screenplay, every scene is carefully described--Interior or Exterior, Day or Night, the location, the characters, the blocking--it's all there on the page because my department heads will be "breaking down" my script and making lists of what they need to provide. My department heads don't care what my characters are thinking or feeling. They just want to know what prop they'll be holding, what their house looks like, or what car they'll be driving. So all you write down in your screenplay is what can be seen and heard because that's all anyone involved in making the film cares about.

And as I'm making the transition from writing screenplays to writing novels, I've found this surprisingly helpful. Both screenplays and novels require that you show and not tell. However, the issue I seem to be having is how to communicate that "showing" using prose. Screenplays use a very specific kind of language, and it is different from what you encounter in a novel. So I'm having to learn how to do that, and in the process, I'm finding myself, more and more, using stream-of-consciousness. After so many years of carefully planning film shoots and writing screenplays, there's something incredibly freeing about not having to plan quite so much. However...I do plan because it's the only way of achieving my goal of writing the best novel possible. So I am a pantzer who plans. I am, I freely admit, a plantzer.

Maybe that's why I love looking at a blank screen in the morning. I know most writers hate it. They find it intimidating. But to me, that blank screen represents an adventure. It's a mountain I haven't climbed. A valley I haven't explored. Wondrous wonders await me. All I have to do is slap on my boots, put on my coat, and with my trusty map in hand, set off into the unknown...