How to distinguish between the heebie-jeebie and a bump in the script

All right, I’m going to be indelicate here. This is a bathroom story.  If you don’t want to hear about it, turn the page.

The assignment was my first hour-long film show. “Rush job” (It’s always a rush job).  “Do it in four days.”  Four days!  I got the trots.  My entire career and a mega-figure deal were riding on this.  I was overwhelmed.  So I did what every healthy writer does.  I got symptoms, death symptoms.  Actually they were symptoms of life, and I knew it.  I tried to talk myself out of it – no dice.  So I went to a doctor who gave me a big pill to take and told me to go to bed.  Terrific, permission to sleep.  I went home, sat on the bed, looked at the pill.  What was this thing?  It was the size of an elephant tranquilizer.  I knew that if I took it I’d be out for the four days I needed to get the script written.  There comes a moment in everyone’s life – you can zig or you can zag, and I swear the rest of your life depends on it.  I got up slowly and went to the typewriter, set it up in the bathroom, and typed this contract to myself.  “Hello, Body, this is Free Will talking.  You can be sick all you want… I’m in this bathroom to accommodate you.  But here’s what: I’m going to write this script with you or without you.  Love, Viki.”  An hour later I was well into Act I and well out of the bathroom, feeling fine.


Writers are among the world’s more clever hypochondriacs. As eccentric as your symptoms are, another screenwriter has had them before you and lived.  Touch just between your breastbone, there’s a kind of lumpy mass.  This is your sternum.  Everyone has one, even nonwriters.  You might not have noticed it until now.  Often would-be writers discover this as they roll a blank sheet of paper into the typewriter.  You are not going to die of this.  Look for something else.

You will tend to pick out vague symptoms that come and go. Something nerverelated, or an itch.  Something that requires research.  An itch usually means the story’s ready to come out, but you’re not ready to let it out.

Symptoms of being a writer

Pulled muscle. You’re trying too hard to force it.

Throwing up. Catharsis.   It’s all coming up.  The next day after this is usually a great writing day.

No energy. There’s a lot of work, you’re doing on the inside, but you have nothing to show on paper, so you think you’re a failure.  You aren’t.  The thinking that you’re a failure is what is keeping the block, and that’s what’s taking your energy.  It will come out when it’s ready, usually when you start to itch.

Blurred vision. You don’t want to look at the truth that’s coming out of your script.  It’s all coming at you too fast.  You might even find yourself wincing.  You will furrow your brow.   Practice looking at something – a coffee cup – for a long time with no judgment.  Notice what there is to see about it.  Get used to the idea that seeing something doesn’t mean it’s going to get you.

Here’s another blurred vision reducer, look to the horizon. Give your eye a distant vision.  See the big picture, disengage from a squint-eyed view of the details.

Shortness of breath. One student called me in the night.  He was sure he had forgotten how to breathe.  He agreed to jog around the kitchen table.  Within minutes he was breathing so hard even he could hear it.  Shortness of breath often occurs when you get a glimpse of what you’re in for, and it scares you.  It indicates that you’re worried about being out of control.

Backache. As in “get off my back.”  This is usually a sign of pressure.  You might be worried that you’ll go backwards.  Or it might mean you want to back off and lie down in life and not do anything.  Give yourself time to just loll around.  Backache, more than any other symptom, is a sign of a career change.  When you know you have to get out of one way of life and you don’t know what you’re moving toward, backache provides permission to lie down and think.  Do an eight-minute ache escape instead.  Lie down, let the noise [rumour] inside you tell you want it wants.  Listen and take action.  Take care of your life.

These are just a few symptoms. I’m sure you’ll think of your own.

Why you get the flue on page 90

This is a symptom of resisting progress. The person you are when you finish is going to be a little different than the person you were when you began.  You need a moment to stand at the doorway and look back at the place you’re leaving before you walk through the door.  This is a good use of flue.  It gives you a few days to stop.  Rest up, when you’re ready you’ll move very fast.

One unauthorized, nonmedical explanation – of hypochondria

When you finally commit to writing and quit your day job, you will go from being outer directed – up by alarm clock, reacting to co-workers, staving off hunger until your lunch hour – to being inner directed. All decisions are yours, it’s quiet, you can hear your heartbeat.  You are getting acquainted with the stranger in your body.  Like a new house when you move into it, there are all those funny noises.  You will think of all this new stuff as symptoms.

Inner Movie Axiom: Let your body work for you. Don’t work against your body.

©Marshall Dodgsons, 1971.



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