Seven Ways Screenwriters Can be More Productive
Do you want to write your screenplay faster but without giving up quality? Here are the top tips based both on my own experience in writing more than 100 episodes of TV as well as TV movies, a feature film, and script doctoring, as well as the experience of top writers I’ve interviewed:
- You don’t have to write the script in order. Sometimes you get stuck on the best way to open a script, or on a scene where you’re not quite sure exactly what a character would say. There’s no rule that says you can’t jump forward or backward and write the scenes that you do know how to write at the moment. You may find that writing other scenes helps you figure out the ones that were stopping you.
- You don’t have to do all the research before you start. One successful novelist I interviewed puts an X in his draft when he encounters something to research and keeps on writing. When he’s finished the first draft he goes back to all the X’s (using the search function to locate them quickly), does the necessary research and incorporates it into his second draft. This won’t work all the time, of course, because sometimes you need the information before you can write the scene, but when you can delay it, bunching the research is a great time-saver.
- Set daily or weekly page goals, not time goals. If you say you’re going to spend an hour a day working on your script it’s easy to spend that hour reading the trades or checking out a few sites that relate to writing your project but not actually get any writing done. Once you’re in the writing phase, set a page goal for those sessions—e.g., to write 3 pages a day, 3 days a week, or whatever fits your schedule.
- Don’t keep going back go revise what you’ve already done. Instead, if you know you want to change something, make a note in the margin and do it when you write the second draft. The note might be something like, “Have this take place in Joe’s apartment instead,” or “Make Millie more aggressive.”
- Instead of writing character biographies, discover your characters using your imagination. I adapted this from a method Alvin Sargeant told me he uses. He writes scenes in which his characters experience a variety of things, just to see how they react and what it reveals about them. These are not necessarily situations that will be in the script. I do the same thing, but in my imagination (it’s faster). For instance, imagine your protagonist saw someone trying to break into a car. What would he or she do? Call the police? Ignore it? Try to stop the crook? Usually your intuition will give you an answer quickly.
- When it’s time to evaluate your first draft, print it out and go into a different room to read it and make your notes. When you are at your usual writing location you are in a creative mode. To evaluate your work you have to switch to a critical mode and it’s easier to do that when you’re in a different place, with a different posture (perhaps sitting back in a comfy chair). In the critical state, identify the problems. Then go back to your usual creative state to figure out and implement the solutions.
- When rewriting, tackle the big issues first. Don’t start doing little dialogue rewrites, for instance, when the bigger fixes may mean that scene may not even be in your script anymore, or may require drastic changes.
Want more? Be my guest—Free!
I’ll be sharing more ideas for writing faster and writing better on Saturday, March 3, on our online Massive Action Day. It runs for 16 hours so that people in just about every time zone can take part. For instance, whether you’re on the West Coast or the East Coast, you can join in from 9am to 4pm your time. If you’re in the UK, we start at 9am your time and keep going 16 hours!
You declare your goal at the start of the day (e.g., write an outline of a short film, clean up my office, compile a list of agents, etc.) and check in every hour to let us know how you’ve done. At the start of every hour I do a live video feed for about 5 minutes with tips and to answer questions. I also give away prizes and we have a lot of fun along the way.
Usually this costs $15, but I’m inviting Jason’s people to join me for free. Just send me your name and email address and I’ll send you the instructions. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please do that now, because Saturday is not far away and I think you’ll find it will be a most productive and enjoyable day.
Jurgen Wolff has written more than 100 episodes of television, the mini-series “Midnight Man,” starring Rob Lowe, the feature film “The Real Howard Spitz,” starring Kelsey Grammer, and as been a script doctor on projects starring Eddie Murphy, Michale Caine, Kim Catrall and others. His books include “Your Writing Coach” (Nicholas Brealey Publishing) and “Creativity Now!” (Pearson Publishing). For more tips from Jurgen Wolff, also see www.ScreenwritingSuccess.com