The 3 Commandments of Writing

5304492399_805a329467_nJames Clear has put together a variety of interviews from famous fiction writers on their daily writing routines. While I don’t think any of these writers are screenwriters, what they have to say lines up perfectly with everything that I have learned about screenwriting.

Of course, everyone writes a bit differently, and you have to find what works for you. But there are a few truisms present throughout James’ list that I have seen repeated over and over again in articles and books, and from those truisms I have created a list of writing commandments.

I have trouble taking this list to heart in my own writing, but I truly believe that no one can succeed as a writer until they follow each of these screenwriting commandments:

1. Write regularly.

Many writers say that you must write every single day (though I think some of these same people technically mean five days a week), and while I think that is an amazing goal to strive toward, it is also a setup for failure. When I miss a day of writing, I feel shitty, and that discourages me from writing the next day.

I think the more prudent advice is to set a schedule for yourself and write as often and as much as you can. Maybe with your busy work life, that means you commit to writing at least 3 days a week, and it doesn’t matter which days those are. Maybe with your more easy going student existence, you can commit to writing every afternoon for at least two hours. Personally, with my flexible freelance schedule, I’m going to commit to writing for at least three hours every weekday morning. (Hold me to it.)

2. Write whether you want to or not.

Those moments of inspiration when you’re just dying to get to your laptop and start typing are, for the vast majority of writers, few and far between. We all hope moments of genius will strike us while we’re strolling through the park or playing with our kids, and sometimes they do. But I guarantee you that 99% of your eureka moments will occur while you’re writing. So sit down and do it.

If you’re having trouble getting started, a trick that I find helpful is typing every thought that pops into my head. It usually looks something like this: “I don’t want to write. I need groceries — bananas, pork chops, some kind of healthy snack… Has tofu gotten any better? Ugh. The intro isn’t working. Must make Connor more likeable. Needs more depth. Depth… Depth… Maybe he likes tofu. Maybe he’s a vegetarian. Maybe a cow killed his dad…”

And the words start flowing. “Killer Cow” probably isn’t the best movie idea, but once you get your brain rolling, you can edit things later.

3. Writing is rewriting.

The first thing you write just isn’t going to be good. The second draft will be pretty shitty, too. It’s killer to the ego, but if you want to succeed in this business, you’re going to have to wrap your mind around the idea that it takes somewhere between five and twenty drafts to get it right. Which is another reason you need to write as often as possible: This shit is hard work, and it takes time.

While the idea of rewriting can be overwhelming, it’s also incredibly freeing. Hemingway said the first draft of anything is shit. It’s allowed to be. It’s supposed to be. So don’t worry about making it perfect right away. Just write. And then write some more. You can’t edit a blank page.

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Learn more from the experts by checking out James’ list of 12 famous writers’ routines.

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