by Fin Wheeler
With the New Year come vows to write more and better. Here are a few pointers on how to keep your screenwriting resolutions.
1. Write more often
Every screenwriter could spend more time writing. Award-winning screenwriters tell of how they’d get up three hours early each morning just so they had time to write.
Start small and regular, gradually increasing the duration of your writing sessions. Writing screenplays is quite technical and difficult. It can help to only write in prose for the first month or two while you carve out your writing routine.
2. Write better
No one writes a perfect first draft. It’s tempting just to register it and get it out there, but the secret to writing better is rewriting.
3. Write a new spec each year
You’ve heard others boast they write a new spec each month. Why can’t it be you?
There are hundreds of thousands of new screenplays registered each year. The world is lousy with badly written screenplays that producers have no interest in reading. Woody Allen could tap out one spec a month, but he chooses to write one screenplay a year. Quality is what producers are looking for, not quantity.
4. Stop abandoning each script halfway
Often this happens when you’re trying to write an idea to impress someone else, an idea you have no genuine personal interest in. As professional writers, we always have to write what’s required. That’s why our (unpaid) specs need to feed our soul. They keep our passion for writing alive.
The other reason you get stuck is that you probably didn’t spend enough time outlining. Be sure about the plot points. Don’t be afraid to do several drafts in the outline stage. The stronger your structure, the faster and easier it is to write the complete script.
5. Network more
We live in an excessively market-savvy era. Screenwriters are all expected to do our own PR. With networking, as with most things, quality is more important than quantity. Don’t take up too much of someone’s time, don’t ever be a nuisance, and be strategic in your research and approaches.
6. Procrastinate less
Every screenwriter is going to procrastinate. Writing a feature screenplay is a huge, complex, complicated, daunting, time-consuming task, of course we’re going to want to put that off. The trick is to be constructive in your time-wastage. I read. It doesn’t get the words on the page, but it does give me a deeper general knowledge, a stronger sense of why I write and my place within the cultural landscape.
7. Work on your craft
Part of maturing as a writer is acknowledging and accepting your weaknesses. You need to work on the elements you’re not great at. Producers want to hire well-rounded screenwriters.
8. Get a qualification
A degree is not a guarantee. The vast majority of people who graduate with a screenwriting degree are never employed as one. The WGA only has a few thousand members, and half of those were unemployed last year.
Film school and/or a creative writing degree can be a worthwhile experience for many, and studio execs tend to have paid a lot for their own education, so they respect a screenwriter who has made a similar investment. But a blind assumption that it’ll lead to any employment will only cause you frustration and disappointment.
A more general (Liberal Arts) degree gives a better value-for-money knowledge base, and introduces you to all manner of interesting subjects to write about. Plus, statistically, interning as a writer’s assistant is far more likely to lead to paid writing opportunities than attending film/creative writing school.
9. Read more
More than half of all movies released last year were adaptations. It makes sense for an aspiring screenwriter to be well-read. Mix in best-sellers from the fiction and non-fiction lists, a few mid-list novels, as well as some classics.
10. Find that one perfect screenwriting manual you can use as a bible
There isn’t one, but there’s always a useful point or two to be learned. Each producer often has a favorite manual or two, so it helps to be familiar with all the top-sellers.
Check in next week for the next 11 resolutions. And Merry Christmas!
Fin Wheeler is a member of the Australian Writers’ Guild and has a feature in development.