A writer I know who's trying to write a romantic comedy can't get started. "It feels like everything's been done before," he tells me. "I don't have an original idea in my head. I'm blocked."
Especially in this genre, where the audience comes in knowing not only the ending (99 times out of 100, the couple will be coupled), but the basic moves of the story (meet, lose, get) -- being original is no easy task, and getting blocked would appear to be a common work hazard. Except... I don't really believe in writer's block.
I'm not saying it doesn't exist. I'm saying I just don't believe it is what it seems to be. I don't believe it's a legitimate excuse. "You can always write something," Erskine Caldwell wrote. "You write limericks. You write a love letter. You do something to get you in the habit of writing again, to bring back the desire."
Sure, sometimes it don't come easy. Writing is hard work. Anyone who's really gotten down there in the coal mines with a draft and worked at the damn thing for any serious length of time can bitch about what a difficult process it can be. But when I hear a writer talk about how tough it is, sometimes I feel the same incredulous anger I felt when that guy in the White House was telling people, it's hard, so hard to try to do what he was trying to do: I was like, dude, it's your job!!!
Sometimes in my bleakest moments what I want to tell a writer who says he's got writer's block is, hey, who held a gun to your head and said, go be a writer? Hey, if you're having such a hard time of it, and you just can't write...
Stop. Give it up. Don't do it anymore. If it hurts, why bother? Like, do we need another writer? In this town?! Please -- study medicine, join the peace corp, find something useful to do with yourself -- more writing gigs for the rest of us, man, you'll be doing us a favor.
Of course this is nothing I've ever actually said to a fellow writer. I certainly wouldn't say it to you.
In fact, forget I said that. I want to be a helpful human. I do, I honestly do! And in support of romantic comedy writers everywhere who are looking to bust their blocks, to break on through to the land of fresh, distinctive and original, I'm going to let you in on one of my own trade secrets.
Stuck on a dime? Knocked by a block? Try turning to your daily, mundane, quotidian everyday LIFE.
And you don't have to actually get up and leave the house to do it -- what are you, nuts?
I go on line.
Looking for rom-com characters? Come traipse with me cross the infinite currents of cyberspace, to the Wedding Vows pages of the New York Times' Style section, where for example, when Jordin and Kevin got hitched, the bride was serenaded by 200 kazoos, her bridesmaids "like a pack of sexy leopards, wearing their names spelled out in bling necklaces," and guests "were offered costumes from medieval to bondage gear." And roll camera...
Peruse the annals of Craig's List, where a "Jewish lawyer needs someone to pretend to be my wife" for business purposes, a real-life plot so romantic comedy screenplay-ready that the Craig's folks have had to remove the post after it got floated in the blogosphere (there's prob'ly already competing versions set up at different studios).
For that matter, it's just a flick of the finger to get your research done on the one current celebrity who seems to me the Most Likely to Have a Rom-Com Heroine Based On Her. Looking to write your revisionist Woman of the Year script? Have at her, now.
Or spend some time trolling down the amazing roll call of Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About, which writer Mil Millington has already turned into a book (screen rights available?). Read and laugh at the exploits of one extremely entertaining male and female pair, not a couple, whose Kiss & Blog blog is full of I-can't-believe-they-wrote-that items like the answer to the question, "How does pussy feel for a man?" (see October 4th: "Cybersex" -- thank you, Jennifer).
Other blogs centered on gender relations that may offer the alert rom-com writer food for thought include girlspoke and the fledgling wanted babblefish. And of course, for dialogue inspiration and guaranteed laughs straight from the street, subway and bodega, there's the site that's pretty much this expat New Yorker's favorite blog: Overheard in New York.
Some might say all it takes to get a funny love story started is to be a good listener.
Sometimes a block is a crock.
Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
Latin proverb: If there is no wind, row.