Pen Densham

Pen DenshamPen Densham is the writer and producer for films such as Robin Hood: Prince of Theives and The Outer Limits.

What is your method for overcoming writer’s block?

I'd like to commit a murder and kill that damn gremlin that floats inside me whispering, taunting me about my writing inadequacies. I call this insidious creature the Golem. Almost everyone trying to create anything new seems to suffer from these critical parasites. "You are wasting your time writing. Your words are so legendarily awful they'll go into the dictionary under 'excrement.' Our inner voices have no judgement and bizarrely are really an evolutionary defense mechanism. They are trying to help us avoid taking risks, because we'll survive longer. Thanks. Despite a strong homicidal desire, you can't seem to kill a part of yourself. But...

I have heard of people laughing them out of their heads. Apparently some can change their inner voice at will so, if you can, make your critic talk like Donald Duck. I have also heard that you can control the distance that these voices seem to come from and send them off to distances where the damn things may be hectoring, but can't be heard. And one really good technique I have seen described by both a computer program writer and a copy writer: "Write a piece of crap!" When you convincingly tell your inner voice that you are writing nothing important, just spewing out any old dung heap of words... the critic relaxes. "Nothing to see here". Writing any old crap lets words flow without interference. I have found that I cannot judge what I write at the moment of creation. Like it's from another part of the head. But when I read those words later I usually find they are richer, more complex and stronger than I had ever anticipated. I can easily see the tweaks needed to do a quick clean up...and darn me...I have beaten my Golem.

What are your favorite or most helpful writing prompts?

I am sure I must be one of the pinnacle achievers of procrastination. In fact I feel like I put the 'PRO' into the word! So I have tried many techniques to encourage words to flow. I have this saying, "Scripts don't write themselves." The first need is to put yourself in the work environment. I built my iTunes to play music that perks my mood. My office is pleasant. I have two computer screens so I can splay my notes and work over a large field of view. I drink tea in vast quantities, and I pick through my notes and the earlier work until new stuff seems to flow. I find airplanes a great spot to write too. But whatever works for you is the right way to write. We are each an instrument and writing is close to a magical act. One should invest in discovering how your unconscious mind best casts its spells. I have learned never to try to write against my nature; I find that my passion for a project (it's emotional value to me) seems to be a giant force in getting me to create. When I am writing from the heart, the words flow much more easily.

What is the most valuable advice you received as a young writer?

Rather than quote advice, I would like to mention something powerful, something that we can all do for others. Encouragement! When I was a child my folks made shorts for the movie theaters and, from the age of four, I yearned to do anything creative in the film business (on the cover of my book Riding the Alligator there is a photo of me riding the giant creature for a film about people who kept strange pets!). My mom died when I was 8, and my father married a very damaged woman. My artistic hopes were angrily targeted as well as unrealistic. But one High School teacher ignored my awful handwriting, terrible spelling and abysmal grammar to read my essays and attempt at a novel. And he told me I had a special talent. Looking back, I was able to see that simple piece of encouragement gave a mountain of strength to me. I have had people listen to my ideas over the years and noticed that a small amount of encouragement can go a long way. After three studios told me my concept for a revisionist Robin Hood were stupid, one of our staff assistants encouraged me to write the story anyway. And it went on to become Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Several other giant steps in my life would not have happened if others had not taken the time and care to listen and nurture my thinking. Even my book was written because an ex-Trilogy staff member took the time to make a passionate suggestion to me to write one. To this day, I have a strong instinct to support creativity in others. We creators are frequently doubt-filled and even a small, positive re-inforcement can uncork a wonderful bounty. Recently I heard that the brain's pleasure centers can be triggered by such addictive things as gambling, heroin, nicotine and charity. Yep, doing good things for others is strongly selected for —with pleasure. So, may I encourage you to encourage?