Episode Six

In this episode of "The Wonderful World of Writing" Laura Cotton, published playwright and award winning screenwriter, discusses what to do if you are feeling frustrated with a particular part of your novel, screenplay or story.

If you are serious about writing, then you know how challenging the process can be. There are going to be times when you feel like throwing up your hands and just giving  up. You will question your abilities as a writer and wonder why you ever thought you could do this. Some writing coaches refer to this as “hitting a wall” but I prefer to think of this in a positive light and thus, call it “discovering an island.” The term “island” makes sense because it is often difficult to figure out how your island connects to the main story and it is also hard to find your way into and out of it. However, if the term “an island” confuses you, you can also think about it as “a writing problem.” Writing through your islands is a crucial part of succeeding as a writer.
Below is a discussion of three ways you can recognize islands and five ways that you can conquer them.
Three Ways to Recognize Islands
1) You find yourself feeling lost or confused when you write. Islands have a way of making you feel miserable. This is actually a positive occurrence because it means you are challenging yourself. If you never encounter an island, then you are probably not writing outside of your comfort zone. We will talk about writing comfort zones in a future episode, but for now, just know that it is important to experiment with new ideas and characters when you write.
2) You procrastinate or actively avoid writing. If you have encountered an island, you will often find that the kitchen needs to be cleaned, the lawn needs to be mowed, and the dishes need to be cleaned.
3) When you do try to write, you feel dissatisfied with yourself. Writing used to be fun, but now it feels like work.
Five Ways to Conquer Islands
1) Save your island for later. Much like taking a standardized test, some parts of writing are going to be harder than other parts. Write the easy parts first, then go back and fill in the hard parts. This is a new version of “write what you know.”
2) Share your island. In other words, ask other people for help. This doesn’t have to be another writer, it could be anyone who you trust. Talking about your writing problem will give you a chance to verbalize your concerns and also obtain advice on how you might write through it.
3) Live on your island for a while. If you have written all of the easy parts of your story and all you have left are your islands, then you will need to decide which island, or problem, you want to work on first. Once you have decided, you have to be willing to spend some time working on that particular part of the story every day.
4) Research your island. Sometimes islands occur from a lack of knowledge. Talk to people who know more than you about your particular area of interest, do research online, read books. The answer to overcoming your island might be easier to find than you think.
5) Leave your island. Consider putting that piece of writing away for a few days and return to it later. Sometimes you need to just take some time away from your story and when you return to it, you will be able to see possible solutions.
Assignment Six: Make a list of any areas in your story that you think could be difficult to write. Instead of being afraid of these potential troublespots, write about how you might overcome them. For example, if you are writing about horseback riding and you don’t know how to describe how your character feels when she wins a race, you might go online and search for an interview with a jockey.