From 2005 to 2011, I wrote constantly--nearly every day. And then... I stopped. Almost three years later I'm climbing back on the screenwriting horse and have had to re-learn how to sit my butt in a chair and produce pages. I recently described this process on a blog I write with my girlfriend, CoupleStylo.com:
My own journey with writing began in seriousness when I was 25. Before then, I’d written a few short stories I’d felt good about (and many I hadn’t) and as a cultural anthropology major in college, had written just WAY too many essays before the age of 21… So writing, as it were, came pretty easily to me. But my dream had always been to forge a path as a film director, and it took me until I was 25 to realize part of that path was going to require a formidable stack of original screenplays. So at 25, I caught a ride to Portland, Oregon, to crash with my friend Anna who lived up there–and knocked out my first script, Etta Rock, about the small-town adventures of a 17 year old girl trying to find a way to move on from the poverty and provincial nature of her small Pennsylvania town. The script was good, but suffered from a beginner’s inexpertise with movie structure, and is a script I’ve always wanted to return to and get right.
In the years that followed, I wrote probably 15 or so additional screenplays, and was lucky to develop and option just a couple of them to some big Hollywood companies. I also pitched TV shows, etc., etc., and in 2008 I started a screenwriting blog called ScriptFaze. I used it to share what I’d learned about screenwriting and hopefully help make the path a little easier for new writers trying to chart a similar course in Hollywood. I’ve come very close, but have never had a screenplay produced into a film–although I directed a feature last summer written by a friend of mine, Sigurd Ueland. I’ve also written on reality shows (yup, that happens) and for commercials, etc. Within the next year or so, I definitely plan to get a film made that I have written myself–and hopefully, will direct myself as well. Lest you were unsure–it’s not easy!
But this post is really about writing in general. In 2011, I completed the last MAJOR script I’d written, a political thriller about a special forces combatant forced to return to Afghanistan when his son is kidnapped. Basically, Taken but a little smarter and in Afghanistan/Pakistan. It was SO hard to write, and took almost two years to finish (usually I can get a script done in a few months). Afterwards, my manager at the time got it out to a bunch of Hollywood production houses, where it was very well tracked, and got me a lot of interest as a writer–I met with big producers all over town. But no one bought it, and after all that work, I was basically left with nothing. I wrote a quick hour-long TV pilot after that, and then, frankly–I was just a little burned out. I stopped writing, and focused my efforts on directing.
But here I am in 2014, and I haven’t written a new script in almost three years. Pulling my s**t together and getting back on the writing train has been really hard, to be honest. Day after day, I’d wake up certain that this would be the day I’d start kicking ass again–and will delve into a new script which I really care about… I’d get up, down some coffee, sit there–then do anything at all but write. Check Facebook. Email my mom. Garden. The magic was not happening.
But here’s the thing: Writing begets writing. And if anything, I realized I may have been jumping off the cliff too soon. I’d reached a point a few years ago where screenwriting was coming easily–I was fluid with the form, and could produce quickly. But I’m a little rusty now, and rather than start where I’d left off–I began by writing some simple one-page short stories. Then, when I felt ready, the first chapter of an audio book that I hope to release soon. On some days, I’d just write in my journal–something I used to do daily, and also put on hold a few years ago. And then came this blog, and finally–finally–I started beat-sheeting out two new scripts ideas, and in the weeks ahead plan to really hit the ground running. The words are coming easier, the wall has been lowered–and I think I’m finally ready to delve into my next big project–my first feature script in years.
This post has turned out to be fairly personal, but my point in writing it was simply to share that sometimes, the best cure for ‘writer’s block’ is writing something else–something off-topic, or different than the type of writing you usually so. If I’d kept staring at that Final Draft page, waiting for the words to come, wondering how I’d lost my touch–I don’t know that I’d be any further along with it today than I was then. But storytelling is storytelling, and communicating with words is a fluency that extends across genres. Prose, then blogs, then journaling, all helped me ‘get my groove back,’ as did a commitment to writing something, no matter how brief, each and every day. I’ll keep you posted as I get going with these new scripts–but the bottom line is that I’m finally ready, and truly excited to start doing the heavy lifting–for the first time in years.
Thanks for reading!
–-Nathan Marshall @saynathaniel