Fighting Physics

Accepting "Writer's Block" as a natural part of writing is one of the hardest things I've ever tried to do. I took to writing the same way I've taken to playing music as a child or studying the history of classical music in college. I had to do it, so I put my shoulder down and pushed my way through. Of course I gave up playing music in high school and I couldn't tell you a single fact about Bach or Prokofiev an hour after I pasted my Performance & Culture final that was required for a B.A. in Theatre Arts.

Having to play an instrument or graduate college were different kind of necessities then having to write. My mother was a musician and that class stood in the way of my degree. Duty and obligation were my main engines to getting through those challenges. I was - in all things - a stubborn, working-class kid who hated two things above all; being told I couldn't do something and failing at the things I did.

That attitude has gotten me through most of my artistic working life, as well. But the longer I do it, the more I realized my need to tell a story comes from an obsession with understanding people better. Why they believe in things that do them little measurable good. Why they stay in relationships and situations they hate. Why they hate at all. Exploring these issues is a life goal. There will never be a marching band competition to show off at or a degree that says, "A. Zell Williams: People Understander, Ph.D." There's the occasional commission or production, but the reason(s) I would write the thing being made comes months or even years before any opening night or season premier. And whatever that reason was is usually the thing I've lost sight of when I get blocked.

It happened recently this summer. I've been waiting on word from producers about a project I fell in love with in the winter. The reasons I wanted to work on that loomed massively in my brain, so much so that I found it hard to move on to other projects. As I waited and struggled to make other things, I grabbed onto topics that had absolutely nothing to do writing. One of which is physics.

I sucked at science. It may have taken me until late in my teenage life to discover drama as a passion, but it was always clear to me that the marriage of math and chemicals were two horrible punishments that combined, equaled torture. But now that my drive to push out stories has reached a denser wall then I'm used to, science a subject of relief. I owe physics nothing. Professionally, at least. In fact, I'm sure physics doesn't want what I'd have to offer it, which is mostly self-doubt and frustration. The freedom that comes from looking at a field so far removed from drama is like a bolt cutter to the restrictions - self-imposed and otherwise - put on my process.

Particularly, physics' rigid laws are a comfortingly nihilistic reminder of why writing, ultimately, can feel great. I'm thinking of the second law of thermodynamics: objects in the universe will always decrease their level of entropy over time. Everything wants to be in disorder. Everything wants to stay away from an orderly outcome. That's why it's amazing when your team's well-executed strategy leads to a score, or why the hardest recipes (usually & when done properly) taste the best. There are endless ways for things to go wrong and seemingly few for things to go right. Everyone's fighting against universal laws to make things happen. The "work" of a story is its structure.

I could and have made family, friends, and agents sit through ramblings of my early ideas. I spit out words that excite me like "trauma surviver" or "every human is a star" or "the equation proves love is definitely harmful" without having much else I can tell them. Literally, those thoughts I've grabbed and shot at someone is me reaching into the mess of what could be a script. "Writers' block" is hard because anyone who does it is going up against the natural order of the cosmos. My nurtured instinct to muscle my goal into submission, while still a core part of me, can't fight something as bedrock as thermodynamics.

Which, interestingly enough, made it a bit easier to come back to writing. The escapism I found in short YouTube clips from Hank Green and the theories of Dr. Michio Kaku took my eye off the ball of scriptmaking long enough to give in to the 2nd Law. And once I did, I started to see that to even begin to challenge entropy (writers' block,) I needed to know what order (question) was. What did I want to explore? What story was important enough to wage war against chaos? Questions in a story are like a picture; by the end of every story the audience should know what they're looking at. And most writers will tell you that at the start, their "questions" are messy. If they weren't, we'd just walk away from them. Clarifying that image is what should happen by the end of the story. That's a writer's antithesis of entropy. Answers.