Want to be a successful screenwriter? It all starts with having good writing habits.
The best way to achieve your creative goals on the path to becoming the next up-and-coming screenwriter will start with good habits that you can build on throughout your writing journey.
Should you write every day? For how long? What should you be writing and how?
There are so many variables when it comes to establishing this sort of thing, so to get you started, here are six writing habits of the most successful screenwriters in the industry.
Have a Great Pilot? Enter the Launch Pad TV Pilot Screenwriting Competition!
Write Every Day
“Write every day” might not be the most original habit, but it’s the advice that countless writers swear by, including Spike Lee, Stephen King, Ron Bass, Eric Roth, and Shane Black.
If your goal is to be a full-time screenwriter, you need to find ways to treat it like a full-time job. While you might not be able to dedicate 40 hours per week to writing (maybe you have a full-time job or something else eating up your time), you can set aside twenty minutes to jam out a page in a notebook.
If you can, make it a “writual.” Find a spot and time where you can be every day for a set period. The longer you perform this habit, the easier it will be to let the works flow when you sit down. You can also use “triggers” to assist you in this space, such as always playing the same classical music or lighting your favorite scented candle.
Use a Vomit Draft
Whether you’re a planner or a “pantser” (someone who writes without a formal outline or plan, i.e., “by the seat of their pants”), a “vomit draft” can be the thing that gets you moving.
This practice involves writing your first draft from start to finish, without stopping, so that you can get to rewriting as quickly as possible without having to look at the blank page.
It’s a practice employed by award-winning screenwriters, including Meg LeFauve and Judd Apatow.
Writing is a lonely pursuit that often has to happen without knowing whether or not you’ll make money off of it or receive any kind of acclaim or applause.
So, follow in the path of one of the most awarded showrunners and television creators of all time, Shonda Rhimes, and make sure you celebrate your wins.
You have to celebrate your wins on your own to keep growing and moving forward in your career. That can be something as taking yourself out to eat, buying something for the house you’ve had your eye on, or simply letting yourself take a night off and getting inspired by other artists by watching a new movie or reading a book.
Whatever will help you do some self-care, recharge, and take a moment to pat yourself on the back.
Use Doubt as a Motivator
Some people practice daily affirmations or look at their goals regularly to remain focused on their current tasks. In this same vein, remember your “why.”
This is the tangible and emotional thing that’s driving you on your path, and without it, it can be difficult to keep going as self-doubt creeps in.
The Oscar-winner Paddy Chayefsky would actively use self-doubt to propel him as a screenwriter. In his case, the doubt wasn’t in himself but in his script, as he wouldn’t bring anything to market that wasn’t perfect.
Finding that perfection drove him to keep reaching forward. He didn’t want to be viewed as less than original, and that was enough of a “why” for him to keep going.
Lean on the Good Days
The Social Network scribe, Aaron Sorkin, regularly struggles with writer’s block, calling it his “default position.” So when he’s having a good day, he leans in and lets the words flow.
While the writer’s block days hurt, he says, “If you can put together a few of those [good] days, then you can do this.”
Write Like You’re Not Afraid
One writer who has taken the screenwriting world by storm in recent years is Phoebe Waller-Bridge, whose vulnerability on the page has made her series Fleabag an iconic comedy. When asked after winning (yet another) statue for the series what writing advice she would give, she says “write like you’re not afraid.”
You’ll regularly hear writers say that you should write what you want to watch, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll let yourself be free on the page. Waller-Bridge’s words call for you to let those words flow.
Leave behind the high bar and self-doubt of Chayefsky, and go into every day like it’s Sorkin’s “good days.” Then let LeFauve and Apatow’s vomit draft style flow, and even push yourself to explore things you had previously allowed yourself.
And when it’s all done, celebrate like Shonda Rhimes and get back to that writing ritual.