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Writer's Block


 

Writer's Block
by Ken Lyen

My friend is writing a musical about an author suffering from writer's block. In his story, a relative helps him overcome the block by recounting a personal experience, which becomes incorporated into the new story.

As an author who suffers intermittently from writer's block, this type of story resonates with me. It is a theme that has been frequently explored by many writers and filmmakers. I'm not sure if watching films about writers who are stuck in their writing, will help you get unstuck. Unless, of course, the subject of your writing is an author inflicted with writer's block!

Bells Are Ringing (1960) is a film musical about a playwright with writer's block, played by Dean Martin. He has 9 hours to complete the first draft, and 2 weeks to write the second draft of his new play. A telephone operator, played by Judy Holliday, finds out about his problem, and goes beyond her call of duty to help inspire him to write.

In Paris When It Sizzles (1964), William Holden is the drunken screenwriter with writer's block. He has 48 hours to complete his screenplay. His secretary, played by Audrey Hepburn, assists him, and their creative efforts are played out on the screen. Not unexpectedly the two protagonists fall in love.

The film, The Gambler (1997), is about famous Russian author, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who is debt-ridden and needs to complete his novel in 27 days. His young stenographer helps him write, and the fictional scenes are interwoven between the real life romance.

A slightly different slant of this genre is taken by The Muse (1999). This is a film about an award-winning screenwriter played by Albert Brooks, whose writing has lost its edge. He is unable to complete his next screenplay, until he is visited by a muse, played by Sharon Stone, who claims she is the daughter of Zeus. She lands him in awkward situations, that are incorporated into his screenplay, and he regains his inspiration to write again.

The Man from Elysian Fields (2001) is about a man who is losing his ability to write, and running short of money. He becomes the paid toy-boy of a wealthy lady, the wife of a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, who is now terminally ill. The help of this novelist is sought, but events turn out more complicated than expected.

Adaptation (2002) is a quirky book about twin brothers, one of whom has writer's block. He is unable to adapt a non-fiction book with no dramatic story line, into a film script. His brother is a successful screenwriter, albeit a shallow one. Both twins are played by Nicholas Cage.

Alex and Emma (2003), is also referred to as The Gambler, and draws its inspiration from both The Gambler, and Paris When It Sizzles. It is about a debt-ridden author, played by Luke Wilson, who has 30 days to complete his novel. His stenographer, played by Kate Hudson, helps him write the novel. Like the two films it is derived from, not only is the fiction depicted on screen, but also the leads fall in love.

FILM

MALE LEAD

FEMALE LEAD

DEVICE USED

Bells Are Ringing (1960)

Playwright with little motivation has 2 weeks to write the second draft of his play.

Telephone operator of an answering service helps inspire him to write.

Old-fashioned way of sitting in his flat until he finishes writing.

Paris When it Sizzles (1964)

Author has 48 hours to finish a screenplay.

Stenographer helps author finish novel.

Screenplay story acted out on screen.

The Gambler (1997)

Author in debt has 27 days to finish a novel.

Stenographer helps author finish novel.

Fictional scenes crosscut with real life.

The Muse (1999)

Screenwriter has lost his writing edge, and has difficulty completing his next screenplay.

Kooky muse, who may or may not be an ancient goddess, helps inspire him to write.

The muse lands the screenwriter in situations that become incorporated in his writing.

The Man from Elysian Fields (2001)

Failed novelist unable to pay his bills is desperate to get his book published.

Becomes toy-boy of the wife of a terminally ill Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.

Dying author helps novelist finish his book.

Adaptation (2002)

Screenwriter stuck adapting a nonfiction book with no dramatic story line.

No obvious muse, but possibly his twin brother might have some influence.

Comparison with his brother, a successful writer, may have helped.

Alex & Emma (2003)

Author has 30 days to finish a novel.

Stenographer helps author finish novel.

Novel's story has bearing on real life.

It is often said that all the plot ideas in the world concerning love and romance have already been written, staged, or filmed. The prime example is Romeo and Juliet, which has been reincarnated in literally hundreds of writings.

To come up with a truly original idea is virtually impossible. Hence, while I do not expect my friend to shatter any barriers, I hope he will add some new variations to give a fresh take on an old formula.

So how do you cure writer's block? There must be myriads of remedies, each one specific for that individual. Find a muse if you can. This seems to be the most popular method suggested by many Hollywood films. The muse can be your partner, your friend, your student, or your mentor. The Man From Elysian Fields has someone else doing the writing, but this is cheating. In real life, you might have the help of a writing consultant or dramaturge, and some may actually do part of the rewriting, often uncredited. If the consultant does a significant percentage of the rewriting, he or she deserves credit for it.

Other ways to overcome writer's block include going on a holiday, doing something out of the ordinary, trying another art form, playing some sports, acting, attempting some manual labor, or playing interactive games. Alternatively, stick some superglue on your bum and sit staring at your computer screen. Whatever!

Best of luck!

14 December 2005