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Project Stacking: How to Manage Multiple Screenplays At Once

By April 7, 2021 No Comments

The dream is always to write a script, sell it, become a “go-to” screenwriter with a flourishing career. However, we all know that’s not how it works. If you create the perfect script and get it in the hands of a producer or representation, the response will not simply be “Sold!” — more likely it will be “What else you got?”

To be a writer isn’t defined by one script, but by the ability to be turning out scripts regularly. This can seem daunting if you’re not yet established and having to find time to write in your free time. That doesn’t change once you’re “in” either. A working television writer still works on other scripts while on staff, either to expand their portfolio or in hopes of selling a pilot. The same is true for feature writers, who might sign on for rewrites with a studio or for a franchise, but that doesn’t mean they’ll never write another script from an original idea. 

In order to keep things moving, you have to be efficient with your free time and it’s even better if you find a way to juggle multiple projects.

If you’re into personal development or productivity books, you’ve likely heard of someone doing either a “90 Day Journey” or “12 Week Year”. The idea is that you should break your year down into quarters. 12 weeks of hard, focused work, taking specific daily steps to reach a larger goal. Or at least make a great deal of progress towards it. They usually include weekly check-ins for personal accountability and, at the end of the 12 weeks, there is a 13th week where you review all your hard work. For an easy-read starter guide on this topic for any kind of goal-setting, I highly recommend Brian Moran and Michael Lennington’s The 12 Week Year.

You can use this same process to guide you through juggling multiple projects.

For a quick crash course on this kind of goal setting, here’s how we can use it for writing your scripts. First: Set your goal. 

How many scripts do you want to have written in three months? 

For simplicity, we’re going to say: At the end of three months you will have one edited script, one rough draft script, and one in-depth outline. Pick out these three ideas, even if it’s not more than a logline, right at the start so you know where you’re headed. They don’t all need to be the same length. This works for half-hours, hours, and features. 

The second thing to do is figure out how much time you actually have in three months. Every time you sit in your writing space, you’ll want a solid half-hour (at least) to focus on the task in front of you, but you likely won’t have that every single day. Particularly in the third month, you’re going to want to give yourself as many days as possible, but early on you can be a little looser as you build up your muscle.

Month One

Start a “Living Conversation”

This is the lightest month, so embrace it and relish it! Take your first idea and start a “living conversation.” This idea comes from JJ Abrams, who described it in depth during a surprise visit at Screencraft’s Virtual Writers’ Summit. You simply get out every possible idea, thought, theme, random dialogue, or anything else that crosses your mind. This document will stay with you for the full three months, so if there’s ever a point where you lose sight of why you loved this idea so much, come back to this document and get inspired. 

Do Your Research

This is also the phase where you do any background research you might need for the characters, settings, or world creation in your story. Between this research and your conversation document, you should be able to create a fairly detailed treatment. 

Outline

Once you think you know everything you could possibly need for this story, it’s time to outline. Now, there are a lot of writers who do not outline and, if that’s not your thing, try a beat sheet. What you want is to finish this first month with an incredibly detailed blueprint so that when you get to the actual screenwriting phase next month that there are as few obstacles as possible.

How much time you spend on the conversation document and the research vs. the outline is totally up to you and your style. Just look at your month and try to break down where you know you will for sure have the time to write, and break down this process into manageable bites so you’re not doing it all on the last day. 

Month Two

Write 3 Pages Per Day

Now that you have all your prep done, we’re going to take some advice from screenwriting consultant Lee Jessup, who many years ago discussed “The Bob’s Rule” of writing 3 pages a day. Now that you have your outline, you can apply this same rule to your writing routine. 3 pages a day would give you a feature in a month, an hour pilot in three weeks, or a half-hour pilot in 10 days. And if your writing a TV pilot, then you don’t have to zip through the script in consecutive days either, giving you a little room to pace yourself.

Start Prepping Your Second Idea

Also, now that you’ve gone through the month-long process of prep once already, you know how to pace yourself during the research and outline phase. So as you’re writing your script, you now have the second regular task of working on prepping your second idea. 

This might feel like a lot, but if you have a detailed outline, those three pages a day should actually move quicker than you would expect. And if you’re having a good day, you’ll find it’s easy to pick up momentum beyond three script pages. If you have the time in your schedule available, you’ll be finishing up that first script in no time, leaving even more time for prepping that second idea.

Month Three

Get Notes

First thing’s first. You need notes. No one actually sends out their first draft. More likely, you were either rewriting pages already last month, or you’ll take the first few days or the first week here to get that script to a place where it’s ready to send out for its first round of notes. 

Repeat Month Two

Once that script is out, you’ll repeat exactly what you did for Month Two, just a little bit faster now that your writing muscle is picking up and you know the drill at this point. You’re writing your second script while prepping a third. 

Start Editing

When you get the notes back on your first script, you can set about editing it, and how big a process that is will depend on how intense the notes are. Rebreaking a story can be saved for the next quarter, but anything less you can fit into your month depending on when you get the notes back. In an ideal world, you would get your notes back in a week and have two weeks left in your 12-week-year to make a decent rewrite happen. 

By simply adding one step every month, you give yourself time to build momentum, learn to pace yourself. The whole way through you should be looking at what you did that week. Which project needs more attention? Which project are you using to procrastinate from working on another? Don’t overwhelm yourself, but hold yourself accountable for the things that you set out to accomplish that week. 

Even if you don’t finish a script you’re ready to send out to the town at the end of that three months, you’ll still have another set of three months to work on it. And another, until you’re satisfied, along with multiple other scripts. Because now you know how to juggle them all.


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