One of the most unsettling things for a human being is uncertainty. That’s just a fact of life. People like to know where they stand. What time is the train going to leave? Does my wife still love me?
We screenwriters, being mere mortals like the rest of humanity, don’t much like uncertainty either. But “not yet knowing” where a story is going or exactly what a character is going to do, is an important phase in the writing process and should not be hurried.
It’s often hard to imagine, but there’s always another way of writing everything.
Sometimes a great idea only occurs when lots of scenes have already been put in place and the perspective on the whole screenplay changes. Or when you’re halfway through the storyboard. Or when you do a table reading.
Tolerating the discomfort of knowing where you want to go but not yet knowing the way, is a skill you have to master as a screenwriter. And it’s actually easy once you learn to go with Zen of screenwriting and see each idea for what it is: One of an endless stream of ideas passing through you.
It’s a bit like having forgotten where you put your car keys when you’re already late, or not for the life of you being able to come up with the right word even though you know it exists. The harder you try to recall that trivial little piece of information, the more hopeless it seems.
The best policy in these situations is more often than not: Do something else.
Same with the unarticulated screenplay element you’re struggling with. Do something else. Relax. Trust your unconscious mind to do the work while you’re looking the other way.
Don’t take my word for it, go to Creative Screenwriting Magazine and listen to their podcast interview with David Lynch in which he talks about his fascinating relationship with ideas.
Or, of course, you could go and do something else ...