Norman Lear on Writer’s Block

[My therapist] asked me to imagine myself in a small room with some fifty or so people.  Suddenly there is some smoke, someone yells “Fire!” and there is a rush to the single door in the room.  Some get out and some, jammed in the doorway, do not.

“Your thoughts are no different from those people who rushed to the door and are crushed there.  Let the people out one or two at a time and everyone gets out.  If you want them assorted by height or weight or hair color, plenty of time to do that when they are all out and safe.  Same thing with your thoughts, Norman.”

The first heavyweight writing that came easier for me as a result of adopting that metaphor was my Divorce American Style screenplay.  The next day I bought a tape recorder and started dictating the entire story, writing some scenes two or more ways, changing my mind and taking unexpected twists and turns, but pushing on to the final scene and the words “FADE OUT” before I had a word transcribed.  It was much too long when I finished – more than two hundred pages – but every thought, scene, and sequence was on the page ready to be sorted for the rewrite.  I was in heaven at high speed.

After that I dictated the first draft of everything I wrote.  It saved my life. 

— Norman Lear
from his autobiography Even This I Get to Experience

Norman Lear (Writer/Producer/Director) All in the Family, Good Times, Maude, The Jeffersons, Good Times, Sanford and Son, Cold Turkey, The Night They Raided Minsky’s

Norman Lear, The Writer Speaks, WGA Foundation (58 minutes)

Norman Lear with Whoopi Goldberg at the 92 Street YMCA ( 1 hour, 10 minutes)

Fun Fact:  Lear was on Nixon’s “Enemies List” and Jerry Falwell dubbed him, “the greatest threat to the American family.”

1 year ago