Screenwriting isn’t just an art. Screenwriters don’t write screenplays to directly publish them or put them on display — you write them to be made into films and television shows — both of which are collaborative mediums. And in order for them to become films and television shows, you need to break through those industry walls. In order to do that, you need to hone your craft so you can showcase amazing screenplays for the powers that be to consider.
A screenwriting career is a process. You need the output. You need the content. And you need a lot of it to enhance your odds of breaking through.
So streamlining your productivity is key to becoming a successful screenwriter. Here we offer some of the best ways for you to streamline your development, writing, and marketing process in order to make things easier for you to attain your goals and have a fighting chance at your dreams of becoming a working screenwriter.
#1 Develop and Log Multiple Concepts Before Writing
Whether you’re getting ready to write your first script or deciding on what you’ll write for your next, it’s best to have a general plan of attack for the next year or more.
When you have a list of developed concepts that intrigue you as a screenwriter, you are less at risk of floundering in between screenplays. So before you write your first or your next, stop and take some time to organize the current ideas that have been swimming around in your head for however long. Take a month to determine which ones have some narrative weight and which ones aren’t worth the time.
After that, start developing them a little bit more. Assign some characters, some conflict, and perhaps some general broad stroke beginnings, middles, and ends. At the very least, write an extended logline for each. Create a document or spreadsheet with these concepts and the details you’ve conjured.
And don’t forget to title them as well. When you name your babies, you have a better connection to them — even if the titles are tentative.
After that, pick the one that calls to you most at that point in your life and go write it. As you move forward, that concept list can and will change, but you’ll at least always have something to go to instead of just waiting for inspiration for the next.
#2 Give Yourself a Three Month Deadline
Time-wise, all writers need to stay self-disciplined. This isn’t just about the routine self-discipline mantra that you’ll hear from everyone. This is about preparing for a possible career in screenwriting. The tough love truth is that taking a year to write a screenplay is ridiculous and basically means that the writer has no self-discipline. If a writer has no self-discipline, they are nowhere near ready to sign a professional contract if their script manages to actually garner them a writing assignment.
So give yourself an end date deadline before you start writing a script. If you’re really serious about wanting to make screenwriting a career, it’s best to start finding ways to streamline your writing time for each and every project that you are writing on spec.
Most assignment contracts give the writer around 10 weeks to finish a first draft of a screenplay — sometimes less. If you can get into the habit of finishing a screenplay in two to three months, tops, you’ll be doing your future self a favor.
Since you’re writing on spec and not answering to anyone yet, three months is likely the perfect target deadline.
Check out ScreenCraft’s 7 Reasons Why “Writer’s Block” is BS!
And keep in mind that this is not just for the first draft. This is to get the script to the best possible final draft that you can. With this three month time frame, you’re emulating the contract process for assignments — given the fact that most professional screenwriters are working on assignment, as opposed to getting their original screenplays purchased and produced. Sure, you’ll get 10 weeks — give or take — to finish the first draft. However, you’re only usually given a couple weeks for the next draft and another week or so for that final.
So getting into the habit of finishing a screenplay isn’t just about writing productivity for your own projects — it’s also about training for the future.
If you really want to challenge yourself, sign up for ScreenCraft’s Write Your Screenplay in 60 Days e-Course.
#3 Visualize Before You Start Writing
Too many screenwriters jump into the process too quickly. Before you begin that writing venture, take some time to visualize the major beats of your story. You’re doing yourself no favors by going in blind. You may have written out some extended loglines. You may have fleshed out the story with a synopsis or outline. But you need to bring visuals to the table once you sit down and write.
It’s not enough to just have a bullet point document saying, “Scene 1… A guy and a girl run away from a beach party, stripping their clothes off to skinny dip. When the girl goes into the water, the guy passes out as she is attacked by something from underneath the water.”
You have to see that scene in your head. You have to be able to convey the quick and subtle elements of atmosphere and tone.
So take some time to go on walks, go for runs, go for drives and bike rides.
Whatever you need to do to let your mind wander, do it so you can bring some visualizations to the table when you actually sit down and write. Otherwise you risk freezing on that first day. Your productivity will drop. That’s where the demons of so-called writer’s block linger, waiting.
Read ScreenCraft’s 7 Reasons Why “Writer’s Block” is BS!
#3 Forget Mini-Deadlines Within Those Three Months
Despite the need for deadlines, screenwriting must also be an organic process. When you set that final draft date, don’t feel the need to set additional mini-deadlines for certain page counts or drafts. The final deadline will be enough to drive you. You’ll have days where you’ll write just a few pages and you’ll have days where you’ll write ten or twenty.
Mini-deadlines can lead to anxiety and shame. Self-discipline is important but over-discipline can burn you out. You need to trust your gut and instincts — and trust the process. Your mind is a powerful and almost magical machine. It will know the deadline you need to reach.
#4 Rewrite While You Write
This is a skill that you need to master for when the time comes that you do finally make it to the “show” and get a writing assignment. The nonsense — with all due respect — of writing non-stop in a flash to just get through the first draft is a big hole to fall into and a difficult one to get out of. Especially since you’re training yourself to be able to write like a professional. You need to understand that such flash writing does you no good.
If you want to streamline the writing process as a whole, rewriting as you go will save you weeks upon weeks of work. It will also afford you the ability to narrow your draft count from six or more to just three — the first draft, the rewrite draft, and then the polish draft. Sure, there may be more rewrites down the road after notes and feedback, but you’ll drastically cut down your draft count — thus cutting down your overall writing time as a whole — with rewriting as you go.
A simple example of this process:
- Day One — You sit down and write ten pages.
- Day Two — You sit down and read those ten pages, tweak as you go, and then write another ten pages.
- Day Three — You sit down and read those twenty pages, tweak as you go, and then write another ten pages.
And so on, and so forth.
What this offers you is the ability to catch those otherwise elusive little grammar and spelling errors, create uniform prose, stay on point with character and plot points, and hone in on a great sense of pacing and forward progress. You’ll also see a decline in plot holes as well because you’re constantly experiencing the story at the beginning of every writing session.
It’s amazing. Try it. Most that do will see their productivity increase ten fold. And when it comes to being an assigned screenwriter — that process is worth its weight in gold.
#5 Create a Master Marketing Plan
Too many writers just go with the flow and let contacts, networking prospects, and marketing targets come as they may.
If you want to streamline your map to success, you need to get busy and take a month to do some work. You start by mapping out your possible contacts and networking prospects.
Read ScreenCraft’s Maps Screenwriters Can Use to Build Their Industry Network for details on that process!
You record all of that information in a document or spreadsheet that you will constantly be updating.
Along with that, you will research the best screenwriting competitions and fellowships and log their deadlines and announcement dates.
And finally, you will research the films that are similar to yours in genre, tone, and subject through IMDBPro, find out who produced them, who wrote them, and who represents those writers, and find any and all email addresses for those companies and contacts. You’ll do all of this before you send your latest script out to anyone because writers tend to sit and wait for a response that may never come. Don’t fall into that common trap. Go in with a plan.
Then have a general query email format ready and waiting for you to go in and adapt it to whatever contact you will be pursuing.
Read ScreenCraft’s Writing the Perfect Query Letter for Your Scripts for more on that!
Keep that document or spreadsheet updated and log your progress with each and every contact after you’ve sent a query out.
When you streamline your marketing process like this, you are increasing your chances of success immensely because you’re taking proactive measures, as opposed to just seeing what comes along, opportunity by opportunity.
These five streamlining elements will hopefully help you become more proactive and productive in your screenwriting journey. These are tried and true practices that have proven to be very effective.
And as is with everything you learn along the way, adapt these various tips to your own process, your own personality, and to your own context of the screenwriting journey you are on.
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies