Welcome to the New Year!
If you’re anything like me, you’re saying, “What the hell? How did that go by so fast?” You’re probably also wondering how one more year slipped by without you getting any closer to your dream of becoming a professional screenwriter.
Take heed. I’m here to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
The first step in achieving any dream is setting goals. And the first day of the year is a great time to start. You’re rejuvenated. You’re excited. And you have a clear sense of time to work with. I promise you this. If you leave your writing up to a vague set of circumstances, you won’t have anything to target and you’ll be at the exact same place this time next year. So let’s figure out how to set up and execute goals.
Most writers don’t truly understand screenwriting until their sixth script. That’s when your grasp of the various elements specific to screenwriting (dialogue, structure, character-building) finally come together in a way where you can shift your focus to the more important element of screenwriting – telling a good story. “Six scripts” isn’t a hard and fast number, of course. But it’s a good reference point.
Keeping that in mind, you should be aiming to write two scripts a year, or one script every six months. That way, by year 3, you’re a legitimate threat. Some writers ego-write so they can say they’ve written 4, 5, even 6 scripts a year. But I find this exercise to be pointless. Anything written in two months or less, unless you’re one of the better screenwriters on the planet, tends to be thin and dumb. Six months is an adequate amount of time for you to write something legitimately good.
Obviously, six months is different depending on how many hours you write a day. So the math I’m using is 2-3 hours a day 7 days a week. This may seem excessive to some. But all one needs to look at is athletes or skilled professions to see that those people put AT LEAST 2-3 hours a day into their education. The only reason I’m going with this low a number is because I know most aspiring screenwriters have jobs and families. So I’m assuming you’re squeezing out hours whenever you can find them. If you’re one of the lucky few with time to spare, take advantage of it!
In addition to picking your two screenplays to write, find any way possible to hold yourself accountable. Tell a friend you’re going to have a draft for them to read at [said date]. Pick a screenwriting contest for each half-year. E-mail me and tell me you’re going to submit a script to Amateur Offerings on so-and-so date. The more dates you have locked up, the more accountable you’ll feel, and the more likely you’ll be to push through.
Another thing you should aim to achieve is NOT GIVING UP ON YOUR SCRIPTS. When we did the 3-month writing challenge, a lot of people fell by the wayside. They couldn’t keep up with the intense pace. My experience with why people give up on something is that they run into a problem they can’t solve. Maybe a major character isn’t working. Maybe you can’t figure out a key plot point. Maybe you run out of ideas to keep the story moving. You’ll fight for a solution for a few days, maybe a week, decide that it’s too hard, put the script down for a few days. A few days turns into a week. A week turns into a month. And the next thing you know, you’ve given up.
Here’s a secret you may not know about major script problems. They often result in the biggest story breakthroughs. The amount of thought and analysis put into the problem necessitates that you inspect your story on a much deeper level. It’s through that introspection that a new, way better idea than you could’ve possibly imagined, takes hold. So don’t think of these problems as “problems.” Think of them as opportunities for major breakthroughs.
Also, understand that they WILL happen. If your script is easy to write, you’re probably not challenging yourself enough. So have a game plan ready for these moments. Here are a few solutions for problem-solving. Solution 1 is to shift your focus to a different part of the story. Sure, that plot point may be problematic. But there’s no reason you can’t go back and implement those new ideas you had for your main character. Or write around the problematic section of the story, continuing on with the script. If you know exactly what your ending is going to be regardless of the problematic plot point, go write the ending. Often times advancing one section of a script leads to new ideas for another section. So that may be how you solve your problem.
Solution 2 is to simul-write. Instead of writing 1 script for the first six months of the year and a second script for the second six months of the year. Write them simultaneously, bouncing back and forth between the two based on which one is inspiring you more. I know a lot of writers write this way. What happens is that the different scripts jog different components of your creativity, so that when you jump back to the other script, your mind is reinvigorated with new ideas. Just make sure you’re still adhering to a schedule (a page number each day, regardless of which script you’re working on).
Solution 3 is to place-hold. If you have a problem with a character or a plot point, write a place-holder “generic” version of it. You may not love that version, but if it helps you to keep writing, that’s better than giving up on the script entirely. Again, when you write, you’re keeping a continuous stream of ideas flowing through your mind. Which means you’ll be more likely to come up with solutions for that problem, which you can then go back and implement. If you stop writing, you stop the stream. It’s still possible to come up with ideas, of course. But the process will be more “start-stop,” and offer less return on your investment.
In addition to setting goals for your writing, set goals for your learning. Pick 2-3 components of screenwriting that you’ve either been told you’re weak at or that you know are weak, and strive to improve them this year. Maybe it’s dialogue. Maybe it’s learning how to arc a character. Maybe it’s structure. Maybe it’s suspense or GSU (goal, stakes, urgency) or conflict or learning to build during your second act. Make it a goal to master those 2-3 things by the end of year. Read about them. Place special attention on them in your writing. When you get feedback or notes from me, specifically ask how you did in those areas. The more you’re targeting something, the more likely you are to get better at it.
And that’s it. Write hard and write often. Fight the negative voices in your head (“This article from Carson is all well and good, but I take longer to write scripts because I’m different”). You’re all capable of this if you put in the work and the focus. Below I’m including my 3-month schedule to write a screenplay. Simply double the time within each section so that the process equals half a year. Follow it to a “T,” use it as a guide, or use it as inspiration and do it your own way. The most important thing is that you’re not just writing, but producing fully fleshed out screenplays you can send into the world by the end of 2018. Now go forth and kick ass already. You deserve it!
How to Write a Screenplay in 3 Months: