My wife and I recently welcomed our first child into the world. I've never felt so inspired in my life. Yet, finding time to write screenplays has been difficult given the new (and incredible) responsibilities I've taken on. As a result, screenwriting had to be put on the back burner for a few months.
I may not have written much more than a few paragraphs lately but I never stopped thinking about my latest screenplay. I've found ways to make my story stronger so when free time does appear, I'll be ready.
Below you'll find 10 simple techniques I've used to keep up with my screenwriting. I'll settle into a new routine that includes time for my screenplay eventually. Until then, I consider myself extremely lucky to be blessed with such a beautiful baby girl. Life has certainly changed and I believe my screenwriting will evolve greatly as a result.
1. It's Okay To Be busy!
If you wake up in the morning with an insurmountable list of errands, shifts, appointments & other responsibilities to look forward to then accept it. It happens! Why frustrate yourself needlessly? Rushing to sneak in a writing session will not yield meaningful results if your mind is elsewhere. There will always be days when you're forced to put your latest draft on hold. If you haven't written much over a long period it may be time to reorganize your schedule but a single day here and there? Relax! Just because you're busy doesn't mean you can't be productive.
If you only write at home on your computer with a cup of coffee warmed to a specific temperature with the keyboard tilted at a specific angle to allow for maximum wrist control at precisely 37 minutes after sunrise...... (Deep breath)
You're screwed if life becomes too busy for those conditions to be met. So expand your creative universe. Mobile solutions do not necessarily mean technology. Apps, laptops, smartphones & tablets are valuable screenwriting tools but a pocket sized notepad can be a busy screenwriter's best friend.
That's not to say that technological advances should be ignored. With today's connected screenwriting apps, you can bring your screenplay with you wherever you go. With a couple taps and swipes, you can perfect that nagging line of dialogue or finish a scene in a waiting room at the dentist. Whatever it takes to free yourself and maximize your time. You'd be surprised how gratifying it is to tweak your screenplay while you wait for a slow cashier in a grocery store. It may not seem like much but it's better than skipping the day entirely.
3. Writing Doesn't Necessarily Have To Mean *Writing*
Are you feeling too rushed to even finish a scene on your phone? What about good old fashioned thinking? Your imagination will work overtime if you let it and the results can greatly impact your script. To me, thinking about plot points, characters and important moments during down time absolutely 'counts'. If time doesn't permit you to write notes on a piece of paper or device then go over things in your mind. Work out plot holes and ask yourself key questions like: How can I improve my screenplay?
No matter how crammed your schedule is, there will always be free moments here and there to let your imagination run wild. There are always ways to be productive especially while you're out being productive. Did I just come up with a positive to sitting in traffic? You're damn right I did!
4. Pitch Your Screenplay
Tell your story to trusted friends and family. Pitch it to your pet. In my case, I've been pitching my latest screenplay to my new born daughter. One of our favorite past times is talking about movies while I rock her to sleep. She may not understand words yet but she's a great listener. I've actually made a few changes while talking things out as her eyes slowly close. (And then open... And then close again...)
Pitching your story is a great way to iron out wrinkles in your plot. You may even discover new possibilities you never thought of.
5. Embrace The Temporary Distance
Sometimes, stepping away from your screenplay for a day can bring forth much needed clarity. It allows you to look at your screenplay from a fresh perspective. This can be an extremely valuable part of the writing process. Who knows how your story will evolve when you step away. You're busy anyways! Why not enjoy the break and the potential breakthroughs that may arise?
6. Observe The World
If you have to go out into the world then use this time to your advantage. Observe the people around you and identify interesting characteristics. You can build entire stories around a perfect stranger. You may spot someone with a unique trait that inspires you. Every single detail you observe can be applied to the characters in your screenplay. You're stuck in traffic anyways right?
What makes the stranger on your left tick? What are their life goals? What frightens them? If you can't ask these questions, how can you develop believable characters?
7. Learn About The Craft!
While these tips will help you feel more productive on busy days, there is no substitute for a true writing session. All screenwriters crave it. A quiet afternoon in your 'perfect writing spot' with nothing but a blank page and your imagination certainly doesn't suck. But it can be difficult if you simply can't find time to write. By no means am I suggesting you create your entire masterpiece at the grocery store. These tips are simply meant to illustrate that there are always ways to make progress.
Having said that, I also understand that loading your screenplay on a smartphone for 3 minutes at a time can be a cruel tease. But you can still use these moments effectively. Read a blog post on your favorite screenwriting blog. Watch screenwriting interviews on YouTube. Fire up twitter and follow countless passionate screenwriters. Many of them deal with the same day to day challenges you do. Watch your favorite movies. Read screenplays.
You don't need an hour to feel inspired. All it takes is that one perfect moment when you learn something new and your passion grows. Sometimes, a tiny spark on a busy day helps put things in perspective. Honk if you're addicted to screenwriting!
8. Don't Throw Away The Free Time You Do Have!
I'm the last person to give advice on procrastination but, since the birth of my baby girl, I've seized every opportunity to write. You have to. Don't let these opportunities pass you by. I think about my screenplay on my way to work, I write notes during my break or when she takes naps during the day.
In a way, managing your screenwriting time is a lot like fatherhood. Love every moment and never let an opportunity or experience pass you by.
9. All Progress Is Progress
The bottom line is, screenwriters find ways to write. Maybe today isn't your day. It happens to everyone. At the same time, we are all busy. Every screenwriter on the planet deals with time management challenges. The most productive screenwriters truly understand how to maximize the time they have. That's all you have to do. If you don't have 4 hours every morning to write, enjoy the 20 minutes you do have here and there. Another long writing session is right around the corner and you won't feel guilty about falling behind.
10. Take Care Of Yourself
You can't get any writing done today. We've covered that. The most important thing to remember during busy stretches is to take care of yourself. If you push too hard or take on too much, you'll wear yourself out. Take care of yourself. Catch up on life. You have to be happy to write so writing can make you happy!
Live. Write. Live. Write. Live.
Jason McKinnon is a ScreenCraft guest contributor. He is the creator of The Screenwriting Spark.