Patience is its own reward

by Suw on May 17, 2023

When to trust your subconscious to work through a problem on its own.

The first rule of Writer’s Block Club is you don’t talk about writer’s block… Wait, no, that’s stupid.

The first rule of Writer’s Block Club is that you always need to interrogate your block to find out what kind of block it is, so that you can take the appropriate steps to dismantle it. OK, so that’s not as snappy, but it has the advantage of truth. You can’t start to move past your blocks if you don’t know what they are and why they are there. (I know I keep promising future posts, but honestly, I’ll do a deep dive on this when I’ve enough brain to figure it all out.)

The block I’ve been dealing with over the last few weeks has a very specific origin. I’m working on an urban fantasy six-part TV series script, based on the screenplay for a movie I wrote 20 years ago. I started converting it from a 90 minute script to a 6 x 60 minute format in September 2021 and, by early this year, it felt like the end was in sight.

Then I hired a script editor to give me an assessment of the pilot.

I hired a script editor because I want these scripts to be the very best they can be. Generally in the TV industry it’s suggested you write just a pilot and a treatment, which outlines how the rest of the series would go if it got picked up. You don’t generally write the whole series. But I’m new to TV writing, so I wanted to write everything, soup-to-nuts, for three reasons:

  1. I wanted to know that I could actually do it. Writing 6 x 60 minute scripts is quite a bit of work, it’s something like 84,000 words all told, and I wanted to know that I had it in me to finish it.
  2. I wanted to learn the ropes. I don’t think you learn much from writing a few drafts of a pilot. You have to think about all the set-ups and pay-offs, the character development, the relationships, the plot, etc., for the whole series. If you’re brave, you think about that for several series.
  3. I want to novelise it. If I’m honest, I think this stands more chance as a novel than as a TV series, just because it requires quite a lot of SFX and no one’s going to blow that amount of money on a newbie scriptwriter.

My script editor, Dan McGrath, is great. He gave me a solid report, which was very encouraging, and then spent over two hours on a call with me going through all the major characters and plot points, and where they need to be strengthened. His feedback was invaluable, and he really opened my eyes to my weaknesses as a writer and how to fix them. I cannot stress enough how important this whole exercise has been, and how that single conversation will have positive repercussions through my entire writing life.


There’s always a but.

Knowing where and why you need to fix your script and actually fixing it are two completely different things, and the nature of the changes I need to make really stymied me. I just did not know where to start. So for the last five weeks, I have been feeling quite stuck. But I do at least know the what and the why of it:

  • What: I don’t know how to make the changes I need to make.
  • Why: Because these changes are fundamental and require me to completely rethink everything.

And that’s where the patience comes in. Because rethinking takes time and might not involve actually writing.

I knew that I had to just wait for as long as it takes for my subconscious to sort through the pieces of this new jigsaw, the one I thought I had nearly finished but which, in fact, was just put together wrong. It’s not that I’ve done nothing over the last five weeks. I’ve done a little mulling. I have jotted a few things down. But mostly, yes, I have just held my horses and kicked my heels.

It is tempting to think that I have wasted this time, but that’s not true. This waiting, this patience, is 100 per cent necessary. If I’d just dived in and started tinkering with the script straight away, it’s very likely that I’ve have made it worse, because I would have been writing for the sake of writing, not because I was ready to make the needed changes.

But on Monday night, I started to feel a shift in my mental logjam. It hasn’t cleared. I’m not yet ready to sit down and write, but I am starting to get a feel for the shape of the changes to come. The thoughts I’ve been having about characters, about structure and causality, about character relationships – particularly who trusts who and why, and how that changes over the course of the story – are slowly, very slowly, coalescing into a clearer picture of what I need to do next.

I’m not going to push myself to get writing again soon. Instead, I’m going to continue being patient. I’ll jot some more ideas down on paper. Draw some diagrams. Mull things over when I walk into town. Continue to let it all stew. Because at some point, and I think at some point soon, I’ll have found all the edges to the jigsaw and I’ll be able to start filling in the middle. At that point, I’ll be able to sit down and write.

So if you’re in a similar situation – you have a clear understanding of what your block is and why it’s there – perhaps what you need is a little patience. Let your subconscious shoulder the load, let it mull and stew and cogitate, and when it’s ready to get back to work, you’ll know it.

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