Hollywood Shadows: A Cure for Blocked Screenwriters

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Academy Award winning screenwriters get blocked, too. That’s where Barry Michels and Phil Stutz come in.

In “Hollywood Shadows,” The New Yorker contributor Dana Goodyear explores the techniques that these prominent therapists use to “access the creative power of the unconscious and address complaints common among their clientele: writer’s block, stagefright, insecurity, the vagaries of the entertainment industry.”

See below for an excerpt, or read the entire piece here. Perhaps you’ll pick up a few pointers about how you can overcome writer’s block, sans the $400 per hour charge.

The writer was in despair. For a year and a half, he had been trying to write a script that he owed to a studio, and had been unable to produce anything. Finally, he started seeing a therapist. The therapist, Barry Michels, told him to close his eyes and focus on the things he was grateful for. The first time he did this, in the therapist’s office, there was a long silence. “What about your dog?” Michels asked. “O.K. I’m grateful for my dog,” the writer said after a while. “The sun?” “Fine, the sun,” the writer said. “I’m grateful for sun. Sometimes.

Michels also told the writer to get an egg timer. Following Michels’s instructions, every day he set it for one minute, knelt in front of his computer in a posture of prayer, and begged the universe to help him write the worst sentence ever written. When the timer dinged, he would start typing. He told Michels that the exercise was stupid, pointless, and embarrassing, and it didn’t work. Michels told him to keep doing it.

A few weeks later, the writer was startled from his sleep by a voice: it sounded like a woman talking at a dinner party. He went to his computer, which was on a folding table in a corner of the room, and began to write a scene. Six weeks later, he had a hundred-and-sixty-five-page script. Six months after that, the script was shot, and when the movie came out the writer won an Academy Award.

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