Writer’s Desk: Work Backward

Screenwriter and playwright Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, Steve Jobs, The Trial of the Chicago 7) has a trick for getting past a writing block which many of us use, or at least know that we are supposed to use: Get outside and take a walk.

But he does this not just to clear his head but to see what he picks up along the way:

Frequently if I’m really stuck I’ll go out into a public place – a diner, a bus stop, any place you might overhear a conversation. I hope that I can land in the middle of a conversation that will get me thinking, ‘What in the world was the beginning of this conversation?’ I’ll try to write that…

Think of it as a challenge or puzzle. Take this line Sorkin overheard:

I was in Jackson, Mississippi, and passed by a park bench, and two men were sitting there, and one of them said, ‘Who thought they were going to get the jump on Jesus?’ Again, I thought, ‘That’s what I’m talking about.’ He wrote the best line in the scene, now let me write the rest of it…

Give it a shot.

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