Disciplines for your screenwriting journey to success…

We are living though rough times. As creative people, we cannot allow these recent turn of events to get in the way of our splendid screenwriting dreams. Sure, it is easy to become depressed or anxious during this time when we don’t know what the future will bring. So many of us are trying to figure out the next steps in our lives. Your physical and mental health is so important now more than ever. Now is a good time to take stock of both and take care of yourself. The best discipline we can follow is to focus on the things we do have control over — our screenwriting.

Excuses come easy for writers. We have a myriad of things going on in our busy lives that can distract us from the job of filling our blank pages. You may find it difficult to carve out a writing schedule when your distractions give you almost zero time to do the necessary writing. Keep your focus and try to stay creative. I have learned that many times, too much time is not a good thing as we tend to waste it and only realize later we have squandered precious opportunities.

I have found the key to surviving this period is sticking to a regular schedule. Many of you are not used to working from home and the complexities that involves. It is not all fun and games, sitting in your pajamas all day in front of your computer. This is a specific routine that helps me.

Here are six daily disciplines to help with your screenwriting journey.

1.  Stick to a strict sleep schedule. Go to bed and the same time each night and get up at the same time in the morning. Those of you who work a 9-5 job already follow this, but it’s the part-time workers and those who now work from home who also write screenplays that will need the most structure.

2. In the morning, get up, but take time to consider how you will “own” the day. Realize what you can control, and especially what you cannot. This will allow you to create a proper mindset to attack the day on your terms.

3. As many experts suggest… make your bed. You might laugh, but it puts you in the right direction with taking care of your sleep space and respect for order. A messy bed and house usually indicates a messy life.

4. Eat breakfast. Be good to yourself and nourish your body and mind. If you mediate, do that after breakfast. If you don’t, you might consider starting. Do not jump on the Internet or social media yet. The bad news of the day can wait, and you can’t do anything about it anyway. Over breakfast, maybe write in a journal. Write down every day what you are grateful for in your life. This will help to keep you humble and living with grace.

5. Get to work! Whatever work you are doing, jump in and do it right away. Protect your precious screenwriting time – even if that means for fifteen minutes or an hour. Any writing or focusing on your project is better than allowing another day to pass without any completed pages. That momentum is vital to the process.

6.  Do not sit at your computer without taking breaks every half hour at least. New studies have found that sitting is the new smoking and can shave years off your life. If feel you need a longer break — exercise. Whatever your choice of exercise is, do it and stick to a daily schedule. After you will feel better, energized, and alive. Even a brisk walk does wonders. I just completed a 30 day Tai Chi challenge from my sifu, and it kept me on point every day (even when I had to force myself to wake up and meet the sunrise).

If you are starting to write a new project or rewriting an old one, stick to a tight daily writing schedule and protect it from the forces of distraction and procrastination. Stephen King calls it, “closing your door.” When your door is closed, it means that you are writing. Do not stress if you do not reach your daily or weekly goal, but keep in mind, one missed day leads to another, and soon you’re losing precious momentum. We do not want to regret that we didn’t utilize our time to the best of our ability. Once the time is wasted, you are back to your day job with hardly any time to write. Time passes so fast and six months burns before you realize it.

It’s vital you take your career pursuit seriously enough to make the time to write. Hemingway said, “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.” Once you start a writing schedule, it becomes easy and you soon become a master at scheduling your time. If you dabble at your career, time becomes your enemy, and it passes quickly as projects (and you) burn out. This is why setting self-imposed deadlines is so important now when writing your spec screenplays. It trains you for the time when you do land a professional assignment job and you can create under a contracted deadline. It’s also vital to your professional reputation and ultimate success.

The long haul screenwriting journey is filled with ups and downs, both emotional and financial, but you can weather the storms if you maintain a schedule and realize what you do have control over — your screenwriting. You cannot control if Hollywood wants to buy your script or make any of your scripts into movies. If you are not writing, you only have yourself to blame. If it is important enough, your passion will force you to make the time. Remember, time is all we have. It is our greatest asset or worst enemy — it depends on how you respect and use it. During this process, my hope is your journey brings you humility and a deeper understanding that writing is a lifelong process. 

Keep the faith and keep filling your blank pages.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright © 2022 by Mark Sanderson. All Rights Reserved. My Blank Page blog.

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“If there ever was one analogy for what a screenwriter must accomplish, it’s this: To create a source of life, to find the bedrock of a given idea, to prevent most of the work from evaporating.”—FX Feeney

“The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then.”—William Falukner

“One of the things that young writers falsely hope exists is inspiration. A lot of young writers fail because they aren’t putting in the hours. Whether you can write all day every day, or whether you can write four hours on Sundays, whatever it is, you have to protect that time.”—William Goldman

“Everyone holds his fortune in his own hands, like a sculptor the raw material he will fashion into a figure. But it’s the same with that type of artistic activity as with all others: We are merely born with the capacity to do it. The skill to mold the material into what we want must be learned and attentively cultivated.”—Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

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The importance of your screenwriting momentum…

smash head in wallIt happens to all screenwriters eventually. You’re working along on at a good clip, maybe writing five or more pages a day, and then a giant barrier drops in your way. Your writing comes to a crashing halt and you’ve lost that precious momentum.

You know the positive feeling momentum can bring. It’s when you have to shut down your writing for the day, but you can’t wait until the next morning to get back to work. It feels like your characters are waiting for you to get them into the next scene and they are frozen until you do. This day-to-day schedule and working in the zone to finish is momentum—the force that propels your writing forward and enables you to complete your screenplay on a schedule. Never underestimate the energy that comes with screenwriting momentum. You reconnect with the material the next day and the next and this is how you complete a project quickly.

The problem comes with life gets in the way of your schedule. You skip one day of writing… and this leads to two days… and three… you get the idea. When you’re finally able to get back to the writing, it can be difficult to put yourself back into that creative space and “see” the movie again that you’re writing. If you allow barriers to block your precious writing time, you will derail the project and may never finish. I know many aspiring screenwriters who are still trying to complete their first screenplay after years of stops and starts. There is always something else to do than write—especially when it gets difficult.

time warp in HollywoodOnce you start working professionally, you can also lose momentum on a project when the producer or production company takes longer with their notes than you expect. This can derail your splendid career plans but also your creative process. If you want to work as a professional screenwriter and keep your sanity, you have to accept that Hollywood runs on its own schedule. Yes, your contract will have provisions about when your script is due and the producer’s reading period for notes, but the process can take longer than you’re used to when you wrote your specs alone. Don’t allow this shift in momentum to throw you off your game. Your ability to jump back onto a project and execute notes will show producers that you are a professional who can deal with any screenwriting situation.

I have a project in development and I’ve done three drafts on it, but I have not heard from the producer in five months to find out if it’s moving forward or not. When I eventually have to do another draft, I’ll need to acquaint myself with the script again because it’s been so long between the rewrites. This loss of momentum is hard to deal with unless you have experienced it before. I prefer when it’s only a few weeks between drafts and that allows me to keep sharp on the script that I’m writing.

When writing your specs, this is your training ground to keep up your momentum. This also goes for the pursuit of your career. Every day, do something that contributes to moving farther down the field where you can plant your flag. It’s all about gaining new ground with contacts and new projects. Most of the time, this will involve creating a solid body of work to standout, but it also includes networking and learning.

If you slip and allow a barrier to derail your scheduled writing time, procrastination and distractions will keep you from completing your pages. You want to see concrete results and feel like you’re constantly moving forward toward your end goal—becoming a working screenwriter. Momentum is a precious energy that screenwriters need to not only complete their screenplays but also to establish their careers.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on blog MY BLANK PAGE.

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“I’ve often been asked why the film industry hasn’t generated more acting talent. The answer is simple: the men at the top do not care. They live on the basis of product being made today. There is a sad but true saying in the industry: “Is it good?” “No, but we’ll have it Friday.”—Jerry Lewis

“… In fact, when the camera is in motion, in the best-directed scenes, the audiences should not be aware of what the camera is doing. They should be following the action and the road of the idea so closely, that they shouldn’t be aware of what’s going on technically.”—John Huston

“Not only do you attack each scene as late as is possible, you attack the entire story the same way.”—William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade.

“Just tell the story, physically and visually. Don’t censor. Let the final form come last.”—director Carol Reed

“Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.”—Ray Bradbury

“I don’t think of it as an art. When it works it’s skill & craft & some unconscious ability”—Ernest Lehman

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What you think it takes — and what it takes to reach any level of success.