10 Screenwriting Lessons from William Goldman

By February 19, 2015Blog, Featured

Addendum: Since this original post has been published, the great William Goldman has passed away. On Thursday, November 15th, 2018 Mr. Goldman said his final goodbyes at 87 years old. Our friends at The Script Lab compiled some of the most profound social posts from Hollywood screenwriters to honor his life. Read: Hollywood Screenwriters Remember William Goldman


Though he hasn’t been active on the scene for many years now, William Goldman remains one of the most famous and influential screenwriters in Hollywood history. The former Pentagon staffer turned two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter has penned some of the most iconic, lauded and cherished movies of all time, including Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, All The President’s Men, Marathon Man, The Princess Bride, Harper, Misery and A Bridge Too FarHe has written, co-written or consulted on vehicles for towering movie stars including Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Michael Douglas, Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, Matt Damon, James Caan, Clint Eastwood and Anthony Hopkins.

His tomes Adventures In The Screen Trade and Which Lie Did I Tell? remain at the top of the list in the screenwriting how-to space, and he popularized the so-simple-but-couldn’t-be-more-true line that in Hollywood, “nobody knows anything.”

Below are ten succinct tips on navigating the blank page and the politics of Tinseltown.

“The easiest thing to do on earth is not write.”

“Writing is finally about one thing: going into a room alone and doing it. Putting words on paper that have never been there in quite that way before. And although you are physically by yourself, the haunting Demon never leaves you, that Demon being the knowledge of your own terrible limitations, your hopeless inadequacy, the impossibility of ever getting it right. No matter how diamond-bright your ideas are dancing in your brain, on paper they are earthbound.”

“Screenplays are structure, and that’s all they are. The quality of writing—which is crucial in almost every other form of literature—is not what makes a screenplay work. Structure isn’t anything else but telling the story, starting as late as possible, starting each scene as late as possible. You don’t want to begin with “Once upon a time,” because the audience gets antsy.”

“Whoever invented the meeting must have had Hollywood in mind. I think they should consider giving Oscars for meetings: Best Meeting of the Year, Best Supporting Meeting, Best Meeting Based on Material from Another Meeting.”

“If you write movies, you never know who the enemy is. Someone is going to fuck you, that’s a given.”

“There is one crucial rule that must be followed in all creative meetings: Never speak first. At least at the start, your job is to shut up.”

“Studio executives are intelligent, brutally overworked men and women who share one thing in common with baseball managers: they wake up every morning of the world with the knowledge that sooner or later they’re going to get fired.”

“Being a screenwriter is not enough for a full creative life.”

“As far as the filmmaking process is concerned, stars are essentially worthless — and absolutely essential.”

“Stars, you have to understand, play gods. They have be perfect. They can’t have a flaw unless they can wink at the audience and say, ‘I’m really wonderful.’ “