11 Essential Steps Screenwriters Can Take Towards Success

by Ken Miyamoto on February 24, 2020

You just finished your first screenplay — what should you do next?

You're excited. You're anxious. And by all means, you should be proud. You've taken a huge step forward and have accomplished what most fail to achieve — you actually did the work and finished a screenplay.

But now what do you do?

This is the moment where most hopeful screenwriters make mistakes that can lead them down many windy roads, most of which lead to dead ends or circle back to the beginning of their journey — right where they started.

Wasted years. Wasted opportunities. Bridges burnt.

I'm going to look "into the camera" here as I open the curtain a bit. I write about screenwriting because I've been in "the suck" for almost two decades — on both sides of the table as a professional screenwriter (a struggling one before that) and in studio development as a script reader and story analyst.

My goal as an industry blogger isn't to preach my secret formula to success (there isn't one), declare the be-all end-all rules of screenwriting (there are none — only guidelines and expectations), or stand on a pedestal for all to hear my perspective (okay, that's part of it, I admit).

It's to help. It's to give others the information that I would have metaphorically killed for back when I was starting out in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Since time travel is yet to be a plausible scenario — and would likely lead to catastrophic branches of the space-time continuum — I turn to you, the screenwriter that just finished their first screenplay. You're a version of my past self, along with all of those who came before you.

And what I offer can also apply to those of you out there that just finished your second script, or maybe even your third. But you're still feeling a bit lost in the wind in your screenwriting journey.

What I offer is tough love, hard truth, and eleven necessary steps that — in retrospect — I believe all first-time screenwriters should take. Even though many will likely reject these steps at first, acting on impulse and feeling the buzz of finishing that first (or second) screenplay.

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So, you just finished your first (or second) screenplay. What should you do now?

Step #1

Put it away for two weeks. Don’t think about it, talk about it, or give it to anyone. Take a vacation from your script. Take a vacation from screenwriting. Don’t even work on anything else.

Go celebrate — wine, spirits, food, conversation -  all with friends and family. Or stay grounded and give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.

But for now, for at least two weeks to a month, no screenwriting — and that includes writing in your head, putting together a marketing plan, etc. None of that.

Step #2

Go back to the script and read it from beginning to end in one sitting. No distractions. Put the phone away. You need to experience the script as a script reader would.

Step #3

You’ll hopefully notice which scenes don’t work, which scenes are redundant, which scenes are pointless, which lines of dialogue are bad exposition just telling the story to the reader (delete all of those in next step), etc. If you read it and you think it’s perfect (it’s not), skip to Step #7.

Step #4

Take a couple of weeks to edit and rewrite the script as you feel necessary. Don’t give it to anyone yet, because the hard truth is that you need to learn independence very early on in your screenwriting journey. Don't worry, you'll be getting eyes on it soon. But building your own confidence without having to use consultants, friends, peers, and mentors as a crutch will be advice that helps you out in the long run.

And you never want to give someone a first draft. Only what you deem is a final. Why? Because if you want feedback, you should showcase your best work — not a work-in-progress. Sure, it technically is a work-in-progress, but trust me, please resist the urge to send out that first draft. You'll thank me for it.

Take at least a couple of weeks and get to work.

Step #5

Give the script to a trusted friend or peer — preferably someone that isn’t going to get on a pedestal and tell you everything that’s wrong with the script and how they would make it. You want someone that will tell you what works for them, what doesn’t, and maybe some options or suggestions.

I’d strongly recommend skipping the personal friend and instead submit your script to a great contest, fellowship, or competition (Nicholl Fellowship, ScreenCraft Fellowship, ScreenCraft Contests, Tracking Board’s LaunchPad, to name a few) that has the option of paying extra for coverage. You’ll get an industry reader viewpoint of your script — which is far more objective than going with someone you know.

You can also take advantage of ScreenCraft's Consulting Services or Coverfly.

(Full disclosure: Coverfly and Launch Pad are partially owned by ScreenCraft's parent company.)

Step #6

Take what you get from that feedback and see if you can apply it to your script. Consider ALL feedback, but don’t hold it as the final say in all.

Read ScreenCraft's What You Should and Shouldn’t Expect From Script Coverage!

Step #7

Start developing your next script. Do not market your first script.

Another hard truth is that your first script is your worst script. Your writing only gets better with each of these steps.

The worst thing that you can do is try to market that first screenplay. You'll do a lot of work, send a lot of emails, waste a lot of time only to burn a lot of bridges once they read it. You’re not ready. Trust me. And if I could tell my past self that, I would. But I can't, so here we are.

That said, you can certainly test the water by submitting to contests, but don’t try to sell it or send it for agent or management consideration.

Agents and managers want clients that have a body of work. One script is just a limb.

So start developing that next script.

Step #8

Choose your next concept very wisely.

Take the time to find something that someone will want to buy. Don’t write a small quirky comedy or drama — they are useless in the spec script market.

Instead, find a compelling original concept. A thriller. A horror flick. A contained action thriller. A unique science fiction story.

Avoid writing a retread of your favorite movie or the latest hit. Develop something original or something that is a new take on what’s been successful before.

Step #9

Before you start to write that script, take a month to do the front-end work of developing that idea.

Make sure you have a great story to tell. Figure out the characters. See the movie in your head. Writing isn’t always typing. Visualize the movie. Daydream. Watch movies and TV shows that are similar in tone, genre, and atmosphere. Feed your brain. Grow that seed of a concept.

Step #10

Take no more than three months to write that second script.

I know. “Everyone has their own schedule and process…”

Here's another hard truth. If you want to train to be a professional screenwriter, it’s best to start now. The days of taking six months or more to write a spec script should be long gone.

Step up to the plate and deliver a script in no more than three months. This is how you learn. This is how you hone your craft. This is how you prepare for success.

Step #11

This is perhaps the hardest step to take. Brace yourself. Are you ready?

When you’ve finished your second script, repeat Steps 1–10. Okay, that wasn't so bad, right? I've got one more for you though. This one is going to sting a bit.

You need to take upwards of a year, year and a half, or two years to repeat these steps. The point is to hone your writing and collect three to five amazing screenplays. Because that is what you need to succeed in this industry — that coveted body of excellent work.

You can certainly use contests, competitions, and fellowships to test the waters and look for opportunities along the way — but I challenge you to not market any screenplay to agents, managers, development executives, producers, or talent until you have three-to-five outstanding screenplays.

Why? Because the first question you'll get after meeting with industry insiders about one script is, "What else do you have?"

Would you rather be the one that says, "Well, I'm working on..." or would you prefer to be the confidant screenwriter that replies, "Yeah, I've got a few great specs that you might like."?

How do you know what those three-to-five amazing scripts are? They'll be screenplays that are either starting to place in contests and fellowships or scripts that are getting consistently great, positive feedback.

Or, they will be scripts that your gut is telling you are ready because part of this journey is gaining confidence (not ego) and being able to be objective about your own work. That’s the pinnacle right there.

Read ScreenCraft's 3 Ways to Be Objective About Your Own Screenwriting!


Trust me. I’ve been in this business for 20 years — on both sides of the table. I've failed more than I've succeeded, as is the case with every screenwriter walking the Earth today, but I've learned from those failures.

A few years from now, you’ll thank me for saving you years of dead-ends and heartbreak.

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

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