Time is a screenwriter’s greatest asset to use or worst enemy working against you…

hang onAs you travel along on your screenwriting journey, you’ll discover that time can drag on and on while you write your screenplays. Time is a screenwriter’s greatest asset to use or worst enemy.  If we don’t have the proper amount of protected time to write—we don’t create the solid body of work necessary to compete. Also time burns quickly in Hollywood. It can take years for your script to find the right producer, network or studio. My fifth spec screenplay was the one that “launched” my career, it was optioned, went into development, finally sold and produced and distributed.  But that took six years out of film school and two years after that until the first day of production. A long haul journey indeed.

So, the best discipline you can master early in you screenwriting journey is being mindful of time.  As writers we must regard our writing time as precious and do everything in our power to protect our working time from the forces of interruption and procrastination.  I know many non-writers who do not regard writing as real work and believe it’s just playtime like coloring with crayons because it’s creative. Ah, they don’t know any better. They’ve never tried to write a feature length screenplay.

“You can write any time people will leave you alone and not interrupt you. Or rather you can if you will be ruthless enough about it.”—Ernest Hemingway

And you do have to be ruthless about it. An ex-girlfriend used to tell me that I could “always write on the weekends” as if writing was not part of my daily routine or schedule.  If I have a deadline for a screenwriting assignment and friends invite me out and I turn them down, they always think I’m making up excuses when in reality, I’m actually working.  Sometimes I don’t get weekends off. One time I had to work for twenty-four hours straight to complete a script, as the producer notified me the investors were in town and wanted to see a draft the following day.  I carved out the time and protected every moment by not answering the phone or spending time on the net.  I sacrificed, protected my writing time and completed the assignment.

“The telephone and visitors are the work destroyers.”—Ernest Hemingway

IMG_1059When I’m working on a script assignment, it is a job and I try my best to write six to eight hours a day — every day.  If I get ahead on pages, that’s great… but if I get behind… it will even out if the work is done every day. That’s the type of schedule it takes to complete a script by a set deadline and dabbling a few hours here and there will not do it.  Writing is all about routines and schedules and when the writing gets hard, I know writers are easily distracted.  I’ll admit it happens to me often.  This is dangerous because when distracted, writers tend to procrastinate and ultimately stop writing.  This is the time when others chip away at our precious writing time and lead us astray.  We actually do want to go out and have a good time, it’s just we have work to do and there will be no pages completed unless we sit down and write.

As a writer, you must consider writing a job and this helps you to think of yourself as a professional.  It’s good practice and prepares you for the time when you do get paid to write and the producer requires you to complete the script on a deadline.  It’s no longer the romanticized dream of endless time to work on your spec—it’s go time as you have a schedule and a contract.  The producer or executive expects greatness from you in six to eight weeks.  You’ll already have this priceless experience if you stick to your own schedule by protecting your writing time from interruption and distraction.

the-isolatorWe have more things to distract us writers today than ever before, so it helps to turn off your phone and stay off the web.  Choosing the right place to write will also help you to protect your precious writing time.  If you’re constantly interrupted as you write at home, consider working at the library, a coffee shop or even renting a small space to write.  As renting an office can become pricy, many paid workspaces have sprung up where you can buy membership access to a quiet working environment.  When a producer hired me last year to write a script, he bought me a membership to a writer’s workspace appropriately called The Office  and I was extremely productive every day.  The Office is on the westside of Los Angeles and specifically caters to screenwriters who take their writing time very seriously.  They even enforce a no cell phone or talking policy for all members.  It’s a terrific spot for hard-core writers who take their craft seriously. If you’re there—you are there to write. As a result, I completed the script in a month because I was able to work uninterrupted. Look for a “creative space” in your city.

The longer you write the more you’ll get to know yourself better as a writer.  You discover your strengths and weaknesses, if you write fast or slow, and if you’re easily distracted or if you can work in a crowded coffee shop. When the writing gets difficult, time becomes your enemy as you never know each day if your creative juices will flow or dry up.  Do yourself a favor and always protect your precious writing time from the forces of interruption.  You’ll keep on schedule, writing will become a habit, and you will be more productive than ever before.

Now get back to your blank pages. If you stop writing you’re guaranteed never to have ANY chance at success.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2016 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

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“… a basic “must” for every writer: A simple solitude—physical & mental.”—Rod Serling

“Being an artist means not having to avert one’s eyes.”—Akira Kurosawa

Stephen King with advice from his old newspaper editor John Gould: “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”

“Don’t think of it as art, think of it as work.”—Paddy Chayefsky

Hemingway said it best, I still believe, though, that it is very bad for a writer to talk about how he writes. He writes to be read by the eye and no explanations or dissertations should be necessary. You can be sure that there is much more there than will be read at any first reading and having made this it is not the writer’s province to explain it or to run guided tours through the more difficult country of his work.

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”—Pablo Picasso

hang on

The ten warning signs you’re still a screenwriting aspirant…

The_EndOkay, it’s one thing to finish a screenplay and another to understand the complexities of how it fits into forging a career or what I call “the bigger picture.” Sure, a completed screenplay is an accomplishment to be celebrated, but you have to realize it’s only the beginning of a long journey. If you’ve completed a few screenplays, congratulations. Now get back to work because it’s always going to be about the work. Writing the perfect screenplay is elusive at best, but we can still try, right? Every time out is a chance to get better and learn while you build your screenwriting arsenal.

If also you lack humility on this adventure and think it’s an easy road, the film business will humble you and fast. According to the 2016 Scoggins Report, only 70 spec screenplays sold in Hollywood. Also there are approximately 50,000 scripts bouncing around Hollywood every year and half of the Writers Guild doesn’t report any income and those are writers with professional credits.

Consider your first screenplay as a training tool and one of many that you’ll have to write badly to get to a place where you’re writing at a professional level to compete. Specs usually end up being your calling card instead of a million dollar sale. Also realize now that everything you write is not going to sell. It might take ten scripts and four drafts of each to have one open the door for a job.

hollywood boulevardThe pursuit of a Hollywood screenwriting career, especially in today’s film business, is not for the thin of skin or for anyone looking to achieve easy fame and fortune. I wish you the best of luck if that’s your intention. There are better careers that pay more on a regular basis instead of going from script to script with many never getting produced or you paid. Honestly, no one cares who wrote the screenplay when they see a film at the multiplex. They’re going to see the stars or the story and hopefully your name is still on the end product and you haven’t been fired or have to share credit.

If you’re calling yourself a screenwriter but without credits, do you have four or five solid screenplays written, other pitches, one sheets, or treatments and have you done the training necessary to compete? Professionalism is an attitude, work ethic and discipline that shows you are serious about your screenwriting even if you haven’t sold anything yet.

Time to check the list…

THE TEN WARNING SIGNS YOU’RE STILL AN ASPIRANT:

1 . You don’t spend the time necessary to become a better screenwriter because you still believe it’s easy to establish a career.

2.  You’re writing beyond your ability at this point in your screenwriting journey because you want to sell a Hollywood tent-pole before you’re ready.

3. Your writing is only a rehash of what you’ve seen before in movies and on television and not something unique to your voice.

4. You lack the patience to master your craft and want success to come fast without sacrifice.

5. You’re not open to notes, you’re defensive about criticism on your screenplay and bristle at the suggestion of cutting anything. You have not learned how to be a collaborator and team player with professionals.

6. You haven’t accepted it’s a long haul journey to reach any level of success in the film business and believe it’s going to be different for you because you are the “chosen one”– it’s just that Hollywood hasn’t chosen you yet.

7. You don’t learn from your mistakes and you’re doomed to repeat them.

8. You constantly bemoan, “The producers, executives and agents don’t know what they’re talking about. I see the movies out there and I can do better.” If so, why haven’t you sold anything?

9. You feel entitled to success just because you’ve completed a script and expect Hollywood to grant you a big sale and a career.

10. You do more talking about your “writing” than actually writing.

If you’re guilty of any of the signs on this list, consider making immediate changes to your attitude and game plan. Hollywood is filled with screenwriters and the odds of establishing a career and being paid regularly are horrible, but it does happen. Respect the craft and the journey because that’s what professionals do and you don’t want to be stuck aspiring for success.

Scriptcat out!

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“Don’t focus on where you’re not (famous or A-list writer)—focus on where you’re at—hopefully screenwriting. Regardless of success or experience, we’re all equals in front of that blank page channeling the muse.”—Scriptcat

“‘I never feel the need to discuss my work with anyone. No, I am too busy writing it. It has got to please me and if it does I don’t need to talk about it. If it doesn’t please me, talking about it won’t improve it, since the only thing to improve it is to work on it some more. I am not a literary man but only a writer. I don’t get any pleasure from talking shop.”—William Faulkner

“Seeking support from friends and family is like having your people gathered around at your deathbed.  It’s nice, but when the ship sails, all they can do is stand on the dock waving goodbye.  Any support we get from persons of flesh and blood is like Monopoly money; it’s not legal tender in that sphere where we have to do our work.  In fact, the more energy we spend stoking up on support from colleagues and loved ones, the weaker we become and the less capable of handling our business.” —Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

“There is only one way to avoid criticism: say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”—Aristotle

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