Brian Helgeland, Rose McGowan and Robert Rodriguez at the 2006 Austin Film Festival
We know how valuable it can be to hear another writer, especially a successful one, discuss their craft. It can inspire renewed commitment to one’s work, give ideas for different ways to approach a story and remind us that we are not alone with our frustrations – and joys – in the writing process.
We’ve asked some friends of Austin Film Festival to share some of their thoughts on aspects of the writing process with us. Here’s Brian Helgeland on Writer’s Block. How do you combat feeling stonewalled by creativity?
Writer’s Block is a myth, a chimera. It is a bogeyman spoken of around the fire by deluded writers too afraid to deal with the bitter truth. Writer’s block is not the departure of the muse. Because writing itself is a con, it’s a bait and switch and the muse is a slut who skipped town at dawn the night after you slept with her. Why would she stick with you? There are rock stars out there and writing is just hard goddamn work. Mental ditch digging. Anyone who ever used a shovel and hit a rock along the way knows what I mean. Writer’s block is not an obstacle to writing. Writer’s block is writing. When you stare at the wall, you are looking at the very spot through which the muse exited. She went that-a-way. Through the sheet rock. And she was laughing. Laughing at you for believing the lie. The life of the mind… Ha ha ha. Writing is staring at walls, banging your head into them, feeling stupid and useless and facing a life in which you will always fall short. Fear, anxiety and inadequacy are your cohorts. They are the weight you feel on your shoulder as you sit there staring. The joke of it is: get up from your seat and you have stopped writing. Do you really think you are writing when your hands are flying across the keys, when it feels like a symphony is rising before your eyes? Ha ha ha. Writing is a one man chain gang. Writing happens when you stare at that wall and wonder why you are so useless. Writing is doing the time harder than the time is doing you. So get your game face on, crybabies. Your sorry crooked ditch just uncovered a block.
– Brian Helgeland, screenwriter MAN ON FIRE, THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123, PAYBACK, ROBIN HOOD, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, MYSTIC RIVER, A KNIGHT’S TALE