There was a time when I would work on multiple writing projects — a screenplay and two or three TV scripts — all at once. When writing for Screen Wars, which played for several years on local Arizona television, I needed to pen scripts for consecutive segments and episodes within a very small window of time. Invariably, I also would be working on my next spec script (invariably of feature length). With constant deadlines looming, I suppose I didn’t have time to get writer’s block. At least in the case of the TV scripts, much of the thematic requirements were pre-defined. But what of the full-length project? What kept me going on that while juggling everything else? Even now, I’m simultaneously writing two different articles for Smash Cut and have a third percolating in my brain. What does any of this apparent productivity have to do with writer’s block? Well, it turns out, plenty.
Every article about writer’s block is required by law to state somewhere in the body of it that “every writer gets writer’s block”. (No, just kidding. Not really.) Seriously, it shouldn’t matter to you if this is, in fact, a universal malady. All you should care about is that, if it happens to you, you want to fix it. This brings us to the concept of the “wandering mind”. I doubt if I’m the first person to use this term, but it’s new to me. I came up with the “wandering mind” while on one of my morning walks. It occurred to me that I regularly found creative inspiration while walking, even though I was not just walking but also having a conversation with my walking partner, Val. Having been married to Val for over 40 years, we’ve got an awful lot of shared experiences that flood to the frontal lobes effortlessly. Truth be told, it doesn’t take a lot of brainpower between the two of us to entertain ourselves for the hour and a half it takes to complete the 4-mile trek. Enter the “wandering mind”. What magic is spun in your gray matter when your brain is humming along at a comfortable cruising speed?
After my walk, I take a long, hot shower. Muscle memory handles the soap, the lathering, and the routine body scrubbing. In my little shaving mirror, I watch the razor gently stroke my cheek like the surface of a Zen garden. The lather leaves curved tracks revealing smooth patches of skin. Slow and methodical. Likely the same sequence of events in the exact same order every day. I don’t really know. What I do know is that my wandering mind is off exploring thoughts that have bubbled to the surface. More often than not, these are things that were foremost in my mind just minutes before, when racking the towel and turning on the water. If I was thinking about a problem, then possible solutions now appear. If I was thinking about my shopping list, then I envision empty shelves where additional needs become apparent. And that unresolvable plot twist? Hey now, I’ve got an idea! Thank you, wandering mind!
There are dozens…no, hundreds…no, thousands(!) of thoughts going on in your head at any given hour of the day. Is it any wonder that you’re suffering writer’s block? Most of those thoughts never see the light of day. They’re just bursts of electricity and chemicals jumping around, making connections, losing connections, dying silent deaths, all inside your head. Many are prompted by your external senses — sights, sounds, smells, etc. Many just keep you from falling over yourself when you walk. “Ooh, there’s that SUV I’ve been wanting to buy!” “Hey, how did social media know that I have chronic backaches?” “Whoa, I was just thinking about that song!”
Writer’s block is your wandering mind’s way of telling you that there are other things that are way easier to kick around in your head than your Act I inciting incident. Those random thoughts are effortless to produce, and so they are futile to tamp down. As for me, I go with the flow. I actually encourage my mind to wander by freeing it up: Washing dishes (yes, I eschew the automatic dishwasher for my craft), folding laundry, mending holes, doodling, meditating (of course), admiring my eclectic collection of books, working on a crossword puzzle, sipping really good coffee, driving between my home in Maricopa to nearly anyplace else through the desert, tending to my vegetable garden, falling asleep (with pad and pencil on the nightstand), listening to study music, listening to rock music, kneading pizza dough, and on and on. Opportunities to release the wandering mind abound.
If you’re not already doing “stuff” then you need to get yourself busy. Nothing too difficult, just the usual common ordinary things that will let you forget that you have a hard nut to crack on your blank computer screen. But don’t just discard the thought. Instead, think about the story so far. Think about the world you’ve set it in. (Sing about that world!) Think about the people who populate your world. (Converse with those people!) How do they feel about each other? How might their feelings affect their actions? Conjure images of that visual setting and let your wandering mind take you on a meandering journey through the story you have and the story you’ve yet to write. Let the images take form and become vivid over time. Let the voices speak in murmurs and achieve clarity when their random conversations fall into the context of your plot. (Yes, yes, oh characters, tell me more!) Don’t try grasping for them too quickly. Like butterflies, your thoughts need to feel comfortable alighting rather than fluttering away in a zig zag frenzy. Invite them to land on the end of your fingertip. Then with your other fingers, start typing!
About Joe Gruberman:
Joe Gruberman is an Arizona-based writer, educator, and award-winning multimedia producer. His latest two films, ELEVEN ELEVEN and RAISING BUCHANAN, are available on most streaming platforms.
Brilliant. Beautiful. Spot-On!
Thank you for putting into words exactly what I’ve been doing for well over a half century, in botj my art and writing.
Great article Joe! As always!!