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Screenwriters Erik Bork and Pamela Gray Break Down the Marathon Writing Process

Screenplays look deceiving. Short paragraphs, blocks of dialogue and all of that white space can lure new writers into the trap of believing that writing a screenplay just can’t be that hard. That is, until they actually try to write a screenplay. As aspiring screenwriters, we know it is so much more than putting words on a page. We have so much creative work to do before we even type word one of our screenplay. Yet, ironically, after we have grappled with concept, story, structure, character development and setting, we still face the long process of, well, putting words on a page. John Buchanan of Script Magazine interviewed professional screenwriters Erik Bork (Emmy winner for HBO’s From the Earth to the Moon and Band of Brothers) and Pamela Gray (Conviction, A Walk on the Moon) and uncovered valuable perspectives on tackling the long haul of writing screenplays.

Writing a Screenplay is Not a Sprint


In Buchanan’s article, Bork doesn’t outline a schedule, but instead offers his advice on how aspiring screenwriters should think of the craft if they want to become professional screenwriters:

To me, it’s really about dedication and commitment to the craft and to working at it regularly to become the best you can be…. [The schedule] doesn’t have to do with days and hours so much as it has to do with attitude and approach. And one key to the approach is to realize what a marathon writing a script is.

The marathon analogy is a good choice, but in my opinion, writing a script is more like training for a marathon. To be able to run a marathon, you have to put in several weeks of training, building up your endurance over time, getting stronger each week. The moment of the marathon arrives and puts all of those weeks of training to the test. The process of writing a screenplay is very similar. You have to put in several weeks to outline your story, develop your characters and create your world, making new discoveries along the way. The moment of writing the screenplay finally arrives and determines whether your story preparation will survive the first draft.

Small Bursts of Writing Add Up Over Time

The process of writing that first draft can easily slow to a crawl if a writer tries to hammer it out all at once. Also, aspiring screenwriters may even drop out of the race if they believe they don’t have enough dedicated time to get their writing done. Pushing that notion aside, Gray doesn’t try to carve out these large chunks of time to get her writing done:

It’s more important for me to write for 15 minutes a day, six days a week, than to write for five hours on Monday and not work again until the following Monday.

Fifteen minutes a day is such a small hurdle to overcome. Anyone can find fifteen minutes in their day to write. Sure, you might not be able to finish writing even one scene in fifteen minutes, but if you come back to the screenplay everyday for fifteen minutes, the scene work will get faster and the pages will add up. More importantly, the regular contact with your script will keep your mind focused on the world of your story. You will be writing in your head constantly, everyday, until you finish your screenplay. Then, you will be rewriting in your head constantly, everyday, to make your screenplay better.

Check out Buchanan’s full article in Script Magazine to read many more insights from professional screenwriters on their work habits. And check out Jenna Avery’s article in Script Magazine on the benefits on writing in small increments of time.

How do you approach the marathon process of writing your screenplays? How do you work on your scripts on a daily basis? Share your work habits with us.

Links: Work Habits of the Pros and Get a New Story: Why You Don’t Need Big Blocks of Time to Write, Script Magazine

[Finish line photo by Flickr user jayneandd]

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We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

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  • Please Please nofilmschool! introduce target=”_blank” in your external links! I want to look at the links that litter your articles but I still want to stay on site at least til I’m done reading the article!

    Anyways I like this and all the other Christopher Boone screenwriting articles :)

  • Thanks for the post, Chris, I like the addition of the new writers to the site.

  • Bret Stanesic on 02.5.13 @ 4:13AM

    Running a marathon may seem daunting, but with the right training, 26.2 miles is perfectly doable. Even people who have never run a distance longer than 3 or 4 miles can successfully train for and run their first marathon. Even seasoned marathon runners benefit from structured training programs, especially if they have a goal to finish it in a certain amount of time.Do you want to run a marathon? Well, all it takes to do so is to select a good training program and to make the commitment to stick with the plan. The training is designed to help condition your body to withstand.’

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