Eric Edson is the author of the screenwriting book The Story Solution: 23 Actions All Great Heroes Must Take, as well as numerous feature screenplays.
What is your method for overcoming writer’s block?
To tell the truth, writer’s block has never really been a tripwire for me when I am deep into a project. Getting my inner writer to bloody well shut up is more my personal challenge. But I do have a tough time at the very, very beginning of every new original screenplay when I’m in that “so okay, big mouth, what you gonna write next?” mode. This can keep me suffering for months. Picking the core idea in which I will ultimately invest years of my working life—now there’s a decision to freeze the larynx. My answer? Take up residence in a very large library and every day cruise through the stacks pulling down random volumes, not even looking at the titles, non-fiction and fiction alike. Then I continue to skim many scores of books and magazines that way until zap—a juicy idea ricochets out and hits me between the eyes. An off-the-wall association of some kind. Not a literal idea translation, just something that can morph. A seed. Fiction fodder. And once I’ve captured that first thought, I can usually run with it. The process of finding it, though, can take many weeks. But eventually I know I’ve got something when the knot in my chest begins to loosen—and my family starts smiling at me again. Always a good sign.
What are your favorite or most helpful writing prompts?
As a professor, as soon as I walk into the first class meeting of every writing course I teach, I write upon the board in very large script “Write Badly With Pride.” All the students have a good laugh. Then I smile enigmatically until everyone settles down—and point out that I am deadly serious. This is a critical concept. This is the one major issue that will always separate real writers from people who wish they were real writers. If you cannot allow yourself to write badly, and I mean to the very depths of the most bone-chillingly bad prose or dialogue you can crank out, you will never write well. Never. Don’t ever forget that good writing always comes into focus as the end result of lots and lots of bad writing. Only when you have the scratch draft of an awkward, unsubtle stumbling mess can you even begin to search for that splendid creation lurking within it. Many new writers fool themselves into believing that all the wonderful stories they long to create will somehow descend from the heavens, pass through there fingers and pour out onto paper in one fevered gush of inspired genius. Fagedaboutit. Learn to enjoy gushing out the bad stuff. Then you can really get to work.
What is the most valuable advice you received as a young writer?
I can’t recall where I first heard it. I had so many wonderful, insightful mentors along the way. Maybe it was playwright Robert E. Lee who co-wrote “Inherit the Wind.” But it's this: “Do not write what you know. Write the unusual in terms of what you know.” We’ve been told all our lives to write what we know. So the world rapidly fills with screenplays and novels about struggling writers, and students who don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. Yawn. When we literally write what we know about our personal everyday lives it makes us slaves to the mundane. Laid out as stories, most of our personal lives are, well, pretty boring. Give your audiences and readers tales of brave people who start out in an ordinary world, but soon leave it and set forth on a grand journey filled with risk, pressing onward toward a hugely important goal while struggling against seemingly insurmountable opposition. And fill those tales with the human truths and insights about life that you personally have come to understand. Always offer your wisdom and passion in what you write, yes! Just not necessarily your literal autobiography.
My deepest good wishes to you all. Write ever onward.