How can you develop better writing habits that best fit your own schedule, philosophy, and writing process?
In 10 Screenwriting Habits of Highly Effective Screenwriters, we pointed out that when you write novels, screenplays, or teleplays, the most vital element of becoming a productive and successful writer is developing great writing habits.
If your development process is random and your writing process is sporadic, you’re going to find it very difficult to be productive and successful.
We covered the habits that all writers should consider developing, but here we are going to offer simple ways that you can develop writing habits that work for you within the context of your schedule, your philosophy, and your writing process.
1. Assess Your Schedule
Not every writing habit applies to everyone.
Some writers have the freedom to write all day, every day. Others can find a few hours daily to work on their craft. But most are at the mercy of their schedule.
To build consistent writing habits, you need first to assess your schedule and find out when those habits can take hold.
Some of you may be students, which means that you have certain days free when classes and studying aren’t ruling your world. Others may have full-time jobs that take up much of your time during the week, and sometimes even on the weekends. And many are juggling not only a full-time job but a family life with a significant other and maybe even some kids — or you’re a full-time mom or dad, which is like working two full-time jobs.
First, forget the notion that you have to write every single day. And then take comfort in the fact that writing isn’t always about putting fingers to keys. As a screenwriter working within a visual medium, you should have upwards of 75% of your movie in your head before you type a single word.
That means that you open your writing time beyond sessions in front of the laptop or home computer. You can write in your head on your way to school, on your way to work, during lunch breaks, during workout sessions, during your drive home, and those quiet moments before you lay your head down to rest.
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But you have to create good writing habits within your schedule, and that starts with looking at your schedule and seeing the moments when you can visualize and when you can sit down to physically write.
Instead of breaking your schedule down to writing days, focus on developing time frames when you can schedule writing sessions. Some days may offer two different writing sessions. Sometimes you’ll only have two days out of the week to schedule writing sessions.
When you focus on finding writing sessions throughout your weekly schedule, it’s easier to create a habit of writing regularly without feeling the pressure of “having to write every single day.”
Assess your schedule. Work with what you have. And when you do sit down to actually write, go nuts. Most writers would choose one good two-hour writing session over seven days of staring at a blank computer screen and writing contrived movies scenes and dialogue. Your visualization throughout the week will pay off with a flurry of intense writing sessions.
2. Assess Your Writing Process
No secret writing process leads to success. Talk to two different Oscar-winning screenwriters, and you’ll likely hear two conflicting accounts of what it takes to write an Oscar-worthy screenplay.
Some screenwriters outline — others refuse to. Some screenwriters adhere to a particular structure while others believe that the story will dictate the structure.
Learn the best way to structure your screenplay with this free guide.
Regardless, you have to assess what your writing process is. You need to define your philosophy on how a screenplay should be written, and you have to embrace it. And once you do that, you can start to create writing habits within that framework.
You can determine when and if you need to outline. You can decide how long your development process should last. And when you do that, you can create habits that can exist within those perimeters.
And when you start writing, you’ll also know what does and doesn’t work for you. You’ll be able to ascertain what writing habits apply to you best based on your schedule and your writing process.
3. Assess Your Locations
Writing habits aren’t just about when and how — where plays a big part in the habits that you create.
Habits are born of repetition. And repetition will often depend on where you are writing. If you’re writing in different places for every writing session, it can be difficult for your mind to center and get into game mode. But if you have not only the consistency of when and how, but also where, that’s when repetition takes hold and writing habits flourish.
When you’re in a familiar place, your unconscious mind flips a switch to what it is normally accustomed to doing in that location.
It’s perfectly fine to have multiple locations where you write, but the more you have, the less recognition your mind will have.
Random writing locations throughout your writing process can cause problems with focus.
Most great writers are creatures of habit — primarily because habits are what keep them focused and disciplined. And nothing is more important to a writer than writing in an environment that is familiar. Because when you sit down in that writing habitat of yours, you know it’s time to focus — you know it’s time to get to work.
If you’re randomly sitting down in various rooms in your home, random coffee shops or book stores, and what not, you’re not giving your brain that trigger.
So do your best to find a place you always go to write. It’s perfectly fine to have a backup location as well. But the best habit to have is a perfect place to write.
Some people prefer to be locked away in a study or bedroom. Others prefer the open solitude of a table at their favorite coffee shop or book store.
When you know your location you also know the stimulants and distractions — you expect them because you always write there.
Find your writing space and get into the habit of writing there with every writing session that you carve out for yourself.
Assess what locations are best for you to flourish in. Which ones have too many distractions? Which ones allow you to escape into your stories the most?
Now Create Your Writing Habits within that Context
You’ve assessed your schedule, your writing process, and your possible writing locations. Now it’s time to create some strong writing habits.
With each writing session, have a goal. It could be five pages or ten pages. It could be working on particular scenes or sequences. Whatever your process is, you need to set goals.
Distractions prevent you from gaining momentum during your writing sessions, so before you sit down to write, you need to clear those emails, texts, and other social media notifications. And then you need to put that phone away. This is your time.
If you go into a writing session blind as to what you are going to write, you’re in for a world of mental anguish. Writer’s Block is BS. It’s your own fault if you’re not prepared to write. So take the time to visualize and see most of that movie in your head before you write.
To develop your writing habits, you need to take a look at your life and situation and work from there.
Don’t listen to the noise. Don’t hold the beliefs and perspectives of others as doctrine. Yes, you need to create great writing habits to succeed. But you can’t just replicate what others have done before you because you haven’t lived their life and they haven’t lived yours.
With that said, if you don’t take the initiative to assess your schedule, assess your writing process, access your locations, and then create writing habits within those parameters, you’re not doing yourself or your screenplays any favors.
Persevere in your own world. Don’t try to emulate others. And don’t listen to the noise of people trying to insist that you do so. But you still have to do the work. And to get that work done, you need those great writing habits.
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