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Being in "The Stuck Place"

Whether you're working on the first draft of a script or the tenth rewrite of an existing draft, getting stuck can feel like a minor-league form of purgatory. This state of stuck-itude could come from any number of dilemmas: character motivations, plot mechanics, clarity of theme, etc.

All kinds of behaviors and emotions will come out of you when you find yourself in (to loosely paraphrase 'Stranger Things'), "The Stuck Place"

Being in "The Stuck Place" is rough.

You will stare at the blinking cursor on your computer screen and, by the sheer forces of will and desire, try to command a solution to arrive from the ether. "Come onnnnnnnnn!!!!!"

Banking on a payoff from Osmosis By Way Of Repetition, you will read and reread the current draft of your script over and over and over. You will make only minor cosmetic changes, such as finding suitable replacement word that will make a three-line action passage a two-line action passage. You will try to convince yourself that you are getting things done.

You will question yourself and your abilities. A lot. Your brain will be screaming "This shouldn't be happening at this stage!".


You will pound your head against your desk while loudly exclaiming "I'm a hack!" over and over again, often in a wine-induced stupor.


You will hate your script. Sometimes to the point of resenting that it exists.


Been there? I have. A lot. And not at all in a past-tense "Here's a problem I used to have as a rank amateur" way. This is a contemporary thing for me.


It's distressing in a way that non-writers may not understand. After all, you've devoted yourself to your script. Instead of doing something easier with a quicker or more tangible payoff, or something that's simply more fun, you've decided "This is what I'm going to do for the next X months or years of my life." Slowly but surely, a story concept that you're passionate about has slithered up out of the primordial mud of your brain's Idea Bog. You've budgeted time out from daily life to get some writing done, and you finally arrive at your desk with some precious free hours ahead of you, and...you're stuck. And at a time when you really need to not be stuck. That blockage quickly evolves into a haunting spectre of irritation, anxiety, depression, etc. It doesn't help if you have a deadline creeping up on you.


Here are some things that have helped me:


1. Remember that your time in "The Stuck Place" is temporary. In due time, a solution will come. - "God doesn't necessarily come when you call him, but he's always right on time." I'm not religious, but this is a religious saying that lodged itself in my brain at some point, and the same kinda logic applies here. Your best breakthroughs will sometime come after a lot of hand-wringing, despair, frustration, etc. It's just the price you pay, and part of the sweat equity that goes into making a story. One thing that has helped me in these moments is to remind myself "Every decent or well-received script I've written before had a story dilemma (or multiple dilemmas), and eventually a solution came along for each of them. The same will happen here." Take a deep breath, have faith, and remember: if you show up, put in the work, and break down the problem into its smallest components, eventually a solution (in whatever form it takes) will reveal itself to you.


2. Watch good movies and TV I'm not saying you should steal or appropriate. But well-written material that moves you on some level should get those inner wheels turning and make you ask questions: "What was cool about that? Why was it effective?". Right now, I am watching "Breaking Bad" for the first time (I know, right?) and taking copious notes with regard to character development.


3. Do something creative that doesn't involve an audience or a gatekeeper After an almost 30 year break, I've recently gotten back into building model kits (specifically, Maschinen Krieger). It's one of the few things I've done in years that makes me happy, but isn't "results-oriented". Certain creative mediums are audience-oriented, and we tend to place a value-judgement of "success" or "failure" based on that metric. Ex., What good is a short story if no one ever reads it? If you write an objectively virtuosic album and put it on Bandcamp, does it even matter? Some person on the other side, even as an abstraction, always remains a part of the equation (for me, at any rate). With plastic or resin models, there's no pressure because, well, nobody cares. The only other people who will see it are your fellow nerds in your Facebook group, if you choose to share it with them. There is no development executive to tell you "Yay" or "Nay". It's an exercise in pure process. It's for you and your own satisfaction alone. Your brain needs this.


4. Write about your problem in journal or diary form Identify what isn't working in very specific and very basic terms. "Eddie needs to be a more active protagonist. However, the plan to break into the lab would require a lot of technical know-how, which would naturally fall to Tom, but he's already locked up and awaiting trial. How to reconcile?"


5. Work on one problem at a time "Today, I am going to work on Scene 23". Keep a log. Know what you are going to work on each day.


6. Take A Deep Dive Back Into Your Character If you are having problems with a story element, it often points to an unresolved / unarticulated component of your character. What do they want? Why do they want it? What happens if they don't get it? What flaws keep them from getting that thing they want? What do they need in order to overcome said flaws?


7. Stick with it.

Embrace the suck! There is a popular misconception that making something cool and deeply personal is a blissful, self-affirming, fun, clean, magical process from Point A to Point Z.


The truth is, making cool stuff is painful. It's frustrating. Sometimes, it's scary and deeply demoralizing.


You have to learn how to work through getting stuck. It's part of the process and will happen to you many times. It's like boxing and learning to get hit. "The Stuck Place" can be one of your most instructive teachers, if you approach it with the right attitude. Anything worth doing is going to be difficult and not fun a lot of the time. But when that problem eventually gets resolved, the synapse blaze in your head will be worth it!

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