13 Ways to Be a Better Screenwriter in 2013

Stock Photograph Debate of the Day: Nature Enthusiast or Suicidal Hiker?

Hey guys! It’s 2013, and now that the holidays are over, it’s time to get to work on that screenplay you’ve been wanting to write. Today is a fresh start, where we can put procrastination and overcaffeination behind us, and become more productive, creative people who make up fictional relationships and events alone in front of a laptop (or typewriter, if you’re classy like that.)

With that, here are 13 ways for you to become a better screenwriter in 2013:

1. Refuel your idea bank. Have you ever noticed how heavily our dreams rely on what happened during the daytime? Even the most imaginative situations were inspired by something that we experienced or witnessed. The same concept applies to screenwriting. Take one day a week to do something interesting. Push your boundaries. Look at something in a new perspective. Get lost. Say hi to a complete stranger. What you see — and what you subconsciously take in — will affect your writing. It’s critical to keep refueling and seeking revelations and interesting observations so you can enrich your writing.

2. Declare that “writer’s block” doesn’t exist. “Writer’s Block” was invented so that writers could blame something external for their lack of productivity. In reality, it doesn’t exist. Take this perspective out for a spin, and you’ll realize that writer’s block is nothing but your brain telling you that you need to mix things up. If you can’t write a scene, that doesn’t mean some mythical writing god has blocked your creative channels, it simply means that your creative side is running low on fuel and you need to take a break, go for a walk, write something else, or list all of things that wouldn’t happen next in your story. Praying for inspiration or bemoaning your condition won’t fix anything. If you’re on a deadline, sit down and write the scene, even if it turns out terrible. Just put something on the page. Writing is re-writing, “writer’s block” or no. 

3. Write every day. If you do something for 28 days straight, it becomes a habit. Guess what you should be doing every day for this next month? Writing. Give yourself the freedom to write anything you like, even if it’s terrible fanfiction for your favorite show or an ode to that delicious cup of coffee you had this morning. Writing is joy, and if it isn’t fun for you anymore, you may want to find another profession.

4. Read every day. Most of the movies made today are adapted from great books. Not to mention, there are some great nonfiction books out there that can inspire and lend credibility to your story by helping you become more knowledgeable on subjects that interest you. Specific, accurate details can make a story great. Research in the right dose yields magical results.

5. Focus on one project at a time. You may have several projects at different stages: a contained thriller that needs to be revised, a pilot that needs to be outlined, an action 90-pager that needs a polish. But on any given day, focus on one project. That way, you can immerse yourself in your story world and then focus all your energy on that one idea for the time being. Try and push one project from one stage to another before starting your next project. Don’t quit on projects so you can start new ones– always be pushing your scripts to completion!

6. Be aware of the marketplace. If you’re looking to sell a feature screenplay, it’s important that you get an idea of what’s sold in terms of genre, concept, and budgets. The Blacklist’s blog Go Into the Story is a great place to start your research. Keep in mind, you shouldn’t write a contained thriller just because it’s popular now. The “found footage” fad could go out of style any minute, and by the time you’ve written your screenplay it could be over. But if you’re considering writing a sprawling 170 page historical drama as a spec script, know that the odds are vastly against you if you write the thing. I’m all for writing what you want to write– but by internalizing the kinds of movies that get sold and maybe made, you may be able to find territory where what you like to write and what your audiences want to watch intersects.

 7. Find a writer’s group. It’s difficult to see our own work clearly sometimes, and the right feedback from a group of trusted individuals is key! Find a writer’s group or make your own. I’ve managed to find a fantastic group of writers through a combination of Twitter, living in LA, screenwriting forums, and through the extensive SCA network.

8. Start a blog. I love blogging because it allows me to internalize writing advice, craft my own strategies so I can figure out how to approach my own work, and it also provides some variety. There’s a kind of satisfaction from writing a blog post that I can’t get anywhere else! I get to put my writing out there, and hopefully help others along the way. I suggest WordPress. It’s easy to use, but it’s still quite a powerful tool.

9. Break apart your favorite and least favorite movies. Pin down exactly what you love in your favorite movies…. and figure out what isn’t working in those movies that you hate. Then, try and apply what you’ve learned to your work!

10. You must live life to write about life. There’s this technique called “daily recall” that we’re integrating into the Page 85 screenwriting software. Basically, the concept is this: every day, you sit down and write about the places you’ve been, the people you’ve met, or something you noticed that day. Recalling details and events such as these can help enhance your creativity, and if you store all these in a database, you can easily search through them and use these interesting details in your life to enrich your stories.

12. Take advantage of…

….suspense! Remember, tension is a key ingredient in storytelling. That’s why Season Two of Homeland is so much more universally loved than Season One. Because the second season is so damn tense. Every scene is overflowing with close calls and oh-my-God-Claire-Danes-is-going-to-be-killed moments. And you know when an episode ends with one character telling another, “I’ve got something to tell you,” you know you’re going to have to watch the episode, like, now. No matter what ungodly hour of the morning it is.

13. Stop reading writing advice, and start writing. What are you waiting for? Your journey starts today! If you write a page a day for 365 days, you can finish about three screenplays this year, give or take. So get out there, and get cracking! 2013 is yours for the taking.