Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Writer's Block

I've had a lot of time to think about this dreaded condition over the last few days. I've suffered "performance related anxiety" in both my personal and professional writing.

Work wise, I have been writing a series of scripts for the Hampshire Primary Care Trust and their Smoking Cessation Program. Basically, a quit smoking program for people in Fareham and Gosport.

Their boss had heard a series of commercials in Canada that he wanted us to use as inspiration. His brief was, to be honest, complicated.

They had to be tips to quit smoking. The ads started off with "Quit tip 10" or whatever. In reality, there would only be about six or seven commercials, but the numbers would suggest a rotation of many more.

Then, they had to present a tip to help people who had quit smoking. These tips had to be from the official 23 on the web address.

This is where it gets complicated.

Because the tip had to be practical and logical and presented in such a way that it would offer an aspirational goal that could be achieved by giving up smoking. The aspirational goal had to be amusingly absurd. Like playing for England or going to Fiji.

Then, in conclusion, the entire thirty second commercial had to be funny.

Let's recap on that. We present quit tip number whatever. If you do this, it can help you give up smoking. Which can help you achieve this crazy, whacky, incredible thing. And then something funny happens.

I have literally been beating my head against a brick wall over this. I have written about 30 scripts in all and never quite got them right. Writing each one was like squeezing blood from a stone. I was staring right up against a main course of writer's block with a side order of deadline covered in cheese.

Then there was my own writing.

I'm working on a story called The Bootleg Boys. And I was facing the same thing I mentioned earlier. I had a very specific series of events that had to happen in order for the story to work. If they didn't, the story wouldn't make any sense whatsoever. But the characters, locations, timelines and things meant that there was no believable way the characters would realistically do any of the things they needed to.

So, again, I was facing writer's block.

And that's when it hit me. Writer's block doesn't exist.

Seriously, there is no such thing. Writer's block isn't the inability of a writer to express themselves on paper. It's the brain's way of telling you that the thing you want to write won't work. It doesn't make sense. It's crap. You need to sit back and look at what it is you are trying to write before you sit there and complain that you can't write it.

Because I managed to get over my block with the HPCT scripts and with The Bootleg Boys, but only with input from other people.

My boss, Paul, and the sales exec in charge of the account, Erika, spent some time with me working through ideas. Together they helped me come up with nine scripts which Erika and I presented to the assembled throng of the Hampshire Primary Care Trust. And they liked them. The feeling of a roomful of people telling you that: Yes! Your script ideas please us, Strange Ginger Man in the Leather Jacket, was brilliant.

It made me feel like a writer again.

It was only after that warm glowing feeling that the Bootleg Boys fell into place too.

I was zooming home on the motorway in my Volvo sports car (had to mention that) when the answer to my plot problems arrived.

Just like when I'd put together the story for Adventure Eddy (still updated at Adventure Eddy) I needed to take a character from another story (in this case, the original draft of The Silver Relic) and use her to replace the brand new, shiny Esperanza.

She was a character who had an existing relationship with Adventure Eddy, had an existing relationship with some of the other characters and would, while keeping in character, do the things that were required of her to keep the story going.

What's more, she was a hilariously demanding old boot who would be so much fun to write about. I was envisaging the bitchy conversations all the way home.

Just like the brain tells you to stop eating or stop drinking when you're full (or, with the drinking thing, staggering and singing) the brain won't let you write if there's something wrong with what you're trying to express. It's a subconscious thing. Or something like that. In any event, if you get writer's block, it's probably because there's something intrinsically wrong with the concept that you're trying to write about.

So from now on, I will listen to my writer's block. It's probably telling me something important.

Anyway. Don't smoke, kids. It makes you impotent. And smelly. And poor. And I have it from very reliable sources that chicks don't dig any of those things.

Although with all this banning smoking and stuff, I think smoking is quite cool and rebellious, and I have it from very reliable sources that chicks do dig those things.

Erm. So keep on smoking. That's the moral of the story.

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