In the sixteenth episode of the first season of Jane the Virgin, Jane experiences writer’s block, which influences her journey with Rafael. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Jane the Virgin.
It’s not often that I get to see a depiction of writing that rings largely as true as this one does. This season has slowly revealed more and more of Jane’s interest in being an author and her talent, and I appreciate that, too. It makes me think that maybe there’s a much longer story being planned for her, that this is something we’ll see over multiple seasons. “Chapter Sixteen” is much more direct, though, and features a plot that is about her writing, while also taking what happens there and extrapolating it to the larger drama of the show. Frankly, it’s fucking brilliant, and I think the writer’s block metaphor is one of the most clever things the show has done.
Let me start first with some of the little stuff: I love the depiction of the writing group. (Complete with the surprise cameo from Jane Seymour!) The show only gently pokes fun at romance, but in the same way it pokes fun at telenovelas: it’s willing to criticize things, yet it always comes from a place of love. And while I’ve never been to a romance writing group or workshop like this one, it still felt and looked like what I’ve been used to over the years. A lot of them are much more about building up writers, rather than to act as a more criticism-filled vehicle like college workshops are. Each hold their place, and each has their limitations. I found college workshops to be more soul-crushing, more apt for people to give criticism that offered nothing constructive. Some people in those seemed to get off on being wholly negative of the work of other people. On the other hand, if you were looking for serious developmental feedback, or if your work seemed stagnant or had plateaued, then I often found peer workshops/groups to be lacking in a critical drive. Everyone kind of recommended the same thing (or had similar tastes if said group was based around a particular genre), and matters were even more complicated if everyone in the group was unpublished and had little experience. Obviously, we all wanted to “make” it, but sometimes, it actually helps to have someone who has been in the writing industry itself guiding things along. Which is why this group felt so awesome to me! Amanda Elaine was there to help others fulfill their dreams.
I also loved that the show was honest about writer’s block and gave some genuinely good advice about how to deal with it. My relationship with writer’s block has changed over the years. It tormented in my early twenties, but as I moved more into journalism and blogging—especially with much tighter deadlines—I had to develop tools to combat it. The major culprit for me in terms of writer’s block is depicted in glorious full-color in this very episode: I used to write up to something and have no fucking idea where I was actually going. Then, I’d obsess over that point until I was convinced I had written myself into a hole, and, more often than not, I would abandon that project.
I don’t do that anymore. I have an extensive pre-writing process (a lot of which you can see in this writing lesson I taught for Words Alive, a literacy program in San Diego) that I use so that when I’m actually writing a manuscript, I limit the chance of this happening. That doesn’t mean it never happens again. Oh, how I wish that were true! (Writer’s block is currently making the writing of my fourth novel way too hard.) (Do you know how happy it makes me to be able to type “fourth novel” and that’s like… a real fucking thing that 100% gets to happen some day???) Instead, it means that I think through a story at a macro level. I absolutely have to know the ending. Straight-up: I will not start writing a story until I know the ending. I need to know what I’m working towards. Truthfully, I often know the final line or the final image before I know the opening. Openings are a lot harder for me! I also need to know all the major story beats; I figure out characters, their names, their sub-plots, and maybe one or two central themes I want to touch on.
There is still the magic of writing, though, even though my outlines are so detailed. I discover shit along the way I never could have planned. But it also means that writer’s block still strikes. Which is why I want to address Amanda’s incredible advice: Often, the problem is further back. I think writer’s block is not just the act of getting stuck; it’s our instinct telling us that we know we’ve written something preposterous, not that great, flawed… you get the idea. And we’re stuck because we know, deep down, that where we’re headed in a story is not what we actually want to do. It defies the premise or it contradicts it or it fulfills a trope or archetype we don’t like. When I think back on some of the major writer’s block episodes I’ve had in the last five years, each of them were due to the fact that I believed I’d written myself into a place that felt boring, unoriginal, predictable, and stale. And guess what?
The problem was almost always something further back from the point where the block happened.
Sometimes, it was a character making a choice that was out-of-character for how I’d written them. Others, it was because a plot twist or choice was unneeded or superfluous or ridiculous. I want you to know that as I was typing these past two sentences, I realized why this new book I’m working on is challenging me! I made a decision that just doesn’t fit with this character’s journey, so I need to alter a path slightly. Now, there’s the other aspect of writer’s block that we see in “Chapter Sixteen” as well: the obsessive nature of it. Because oh boy, have I ever obsessed over having this sort of block. It’s hard not to! If you just think about it long enough, you’ll figure it out!
Sometimes, I do that, but usually that thought process involves free writing to myself rather than talking aloud. But actually? Nowadays, if I hit a block that feels significant, I go do fucking anything else that isn’t writing. Literally anything else! I play guitar. I play video games. I go for a walk and catch Pokémon. I call up a friend. Look, the list is endless. What I want to do is jog my mind. I want to refill my energy well and my creative well. I want to stretch other muscles. I do this because I know I already have the wonderful ability to obsess over things HELLO ANXIETY. I don’t want to do things to make that part of my brain WORSE, so this is my technique, and it works. I can’t promise it will work for you, but it works for me!
The show, then, takes this whole idea of writer’s block, and it applies it to the interpersonal conflicts unfolding, and IT’S SO BRILLIANT. Jane is dealing with the fallout of her rejecting Rafael’s proposal, which is one of the reasons why she even focuses on her writing in the first place. I also wonder if that’s why Michael’s ex, who he hasn’t seen in three years, suddenly arrives, too. Is his problem further back as well?
Anyway, I have no idea, since that’s revealed so late in the episode. But when it comes to Jane and Rafael, I love that this episode forces Rafael to do some very necessary introspection, especially after Jane finally points out that he has put the entire emotional weight of this proposal on the person who didn’t do the proposing. Y’all, that was such a MOMENT. Because it’s true! Rafael was the one who made this decision without consulting anyone. At all! He didn’t even ask a friend if this was the right move. But, taking from the theme provided by Amanda Elaine, Rafael looks back. I should note that it’s because of a subplot that Rafael is also pushing into his epiphany, and that subplot entirely features Petra. For the first time in a long, long while, I believed that there was potential for Petra and Rafael to be friendly to one another. It’s a short moment here, isn’t it? That scene where Rafael asks if he proposed to Petra too early is just… nice. And honest. And real. And I’m sure Petra felt much more conflicted about it, but damn, maybe they both might actually be able to move on?
Also, just gonna fully admit here that when Petra walked in on Jane’s surprise, the initial spark of a Jane/Petra ship was ignited, and then it was entirely set aflame when Petra made that face as she was walking out of the penthouse. What the fuck, I did not ask for this, but there it is, GOOD BYE I’LL BE FINE.
Anyway, as a whole, “Chapter Sixteen” felt almost relentlessly uncomfortable. Not only is the post-proposal shit awkward, but the horrible fight that broke out between Alba and Xiomara hangs over the show. That shit didn’t even get remotely resolved here, and I imagine that Xiomara is also going to struggle as she learns to co-habit with Rogelio. Yo, what could it possibly be like to LIVE with Rogelio? I feel like a nightmare is oncoming.
I hope that nightmare doesn’t reach Jane and Rafael, though. I worried aloud in the video for this that I was watching a genuine wedge develop between Rafael and Jane. Again, this episode highlighted just how very different these two are. Can they overcome these distances in this home stretch? Because Jane’s most likely going to give birth by the end of this season, especially with how fast season one has moved. Right now, they continue to find reasons to keep going; they compromise; they clearly love one another.
But is that enough?
The video for “Chapter Sixteen” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
Mark Links Stuff
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