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6 Things I'm Doing to Write My Best Screenplay Ever This Year: Mid-Year Review

07.24.13 @ 9:54AM Tags : , , , ,

At the beginning of 2013, I wrote about the 6 things I’m doing to write my best screenplay ever this year. Since no one is paying me to write my best screenplay ever, I’m only accountable to myself. With that in mind, and with half the year over, I thought it would a good time to review my screenwriting progress this year in relationship to these 6 things. I also realized instead of being only accountable to myself, I should be accountable to the NFS readers who were kind enough to read and comment on the original post. So, here’s my mid-year review of the 6 things I’m doing to write my best screenplay ever (including a report card!).

For those of you playing at home, below is my personal report card for my screenwriting goals for the first half of 2013:

Mid-year report card

1. Schedule Writing Time Every Day: A/B-

I’ve done a great job of waking up every weekday by 5:30 am so that I can write, hence the A. As a result, I finished the first draft of my latest screenplay by the end of March, hitting my target for writing a new screenplay in twelve weeks. After a short break, I rewrote the script over the following month, finishing the rewrite at the end of April.

I took another break in early May. Since about mid-May, however, my actual screenwriting during those early hours has declined sharply, hence the B-. After the rewrite, I shifted my focus over to working on putting together plans for my first feature – which is moving at a snail’s pace. Also, I’ve been stuck figuring out my next screenplay idea for too long, spinning my wheels in those early morning hours, but not doing much actual writing. For this reason, I’ve amended this goal to “Schedule Writing Time Every Day (Then Write).” Time to boost that B- back up to an A.

2. Set Deadlines: B+

The Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting worked as an effective deadline to get my script written with enough time for some rewriting before the final deadline. Honestly, I recognize that I will need to spend more time rewriting the script to get it to a level where readers, managers and producers will take notice (I’m anticipating my Nicholl rejection around Aug. 1), but the deadline still kept me motivated, and I now have a solid script worthy of a rewrite. Is it my best screenplay ever? No, but thankfully, I have almost another half-year to achieve that goal.

Once Nicholl passed, I found myself a little more aimless with my writing, as I mentioned above. I need more discipline to stay focused for the rest of the summer and into the fall and winter. At the beginning of the year, I didn’t think I would submit to the BlueCat Screenplay Competition. I loathe spending money on screenwriting competitions, but I’ll admit that I appreciated BlueCat’s notes on my previous script. So, I think I’ll use BlueCat’s Sept. 1 deadline to push through another rewrite and look at the entry fee as a reasonable amount to spend on good notes from a qualified reader. I don’t expect BlueCat to open any doors, but that’s not the reason I’m using their competition deadline. This also means I need to get more work done on my next script idea concurrently with the rewrite so I can finish another screenplay in the next few months.

3. Write in My Head: A+

I do this better than anything else, but it doesn’t result in words on the page. Writing in my head does help me play around with story ideas and address individual story problems without making concrete commitments on the page, and I find that valuable. I’ve even been writing this blog post in my head for a while now. But I don’t want to use this as an excuse for actual writing. I’ll certainly keep writing in my head on my daily walks with the dog or when I’m working out because it helps the actual writing flow better, but I need to write the words, not just think about them.

4. Rewrite, Rewrite, Rewrite: C-

Underwood typewriter (CC Flickr user mpclemens)

I finished one substantial rewrite on my latest script, but then let it sit. And sit. And sit. If I want it to become my best screenplay ever, I have to rewrite it. And rewrite it. And rewrite it again. So, no more excuses, it’s time to start the next rewrite, which will actually help me get moving on my next screenplay, too. Rewriting begets writing begets rewriting.

5. The Script is Never Finished, So I Need to Know When to Move On: B+

The flipside of walking away from my latest script after the rewrite was that I was ready and eager to move on to a new screenplay. The question was, “Move on to what?” I don’t get paid to write screenplays (yet), so there was no writing gig waiting in the wings. Usually, I have a few story ideas that I want to tackle as soon as I finish one screenplay, but that wasn’t the case this time. I need to do a better job keeping viable story ideas “on deck”, so I can keep my creativity flowing.

6. I Need to Set the Bar High Because the Competition is Fierce and the Odds are Against Me: A

I have no trouble setting the bar high. I have trouble clearing the bar. That will never change. But at least I know the only way I’ll ever get close to clearing the bar is to keep writing.

So, to recap:

Mid-year report card

Essentially, I need to make better use of the time I set aside for writing, set meaningful deadlines for the rest of the year, get to work on my rewrites, and start writing a new screenplay soon. I can certainly improve my GPA by the end of the year and have the screenplays to show for it.

Have you written your best screenplay ever this year? What steps have you taken to overcome your own obstacles to reach your screenwriting goals? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the Comments.

[Underwood typewriter photo by Flickr user mpclemens (CC)]


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Description image 26 COMMENTS

  • Instead of writing this crappy blog, focus more on your script…. is what I would have said if I was an a-hole.

    • “Instead of writing this crappy blog, focus more on your script…. is what I would have said if I was an a-hole.”
      … Is what I would have said if I was a passive aggressive arsehole.
      Really useful update Christopher. I think it’s really important for screenwriters to share their process; successes and shortcoming alike. I was listening to an episode of Scriptnotes (ep99) … Craig Mazin made a really great point about screenwriters working and suffering in isolation, and how this can really affect writer’s morale. When we can’t see how other writers work and struggle it can make it really easy for us to beat ourselves up about our own struggles.

  • Enjoyable movies need great scenes.

    Scene: A couple walks into a diner. They find a table, sit down, and talk.

    To most, this is boring. A rewrite is needed.

    Scene rewritten: A bundle of dynamite is hurriedly placed under a table by a frantic character, who runs out of a diner, bumping into a young couple as he exits. The couple sits down, unaware of the ticking time bomb beneath them! What do they talk about? The possibilities are endless.

    Too many try to write an entire screenplay, getting 50-60 pages in when they haven’t yet written just one great scene. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and give up when 120 pages is the goal and you aren’t sure what you are trying to say anymore or if it’s even enjoyable to read. Write one great scene first. Really focus on it and you’ll at least have one story that will be read all the way through. If you can’t write at least one great scene it’s going to be hard to make an enjoyable movie out of what does get written. The bomb under the table was mentioned in an interview with Alfred Hitchcock.

    • Im sorry, but I disagree with nearly everything you’ve said: “Write one great scene first”… This is the kind of broad advice that just isn’t useful to many people trying to write. We all know we’re supposed to be trying to write one great scene after another. You say it as if it’s easy and not obvious.
      The advice I really find helpful from writers normally concerns their influences (and stuff they are watching/reading that they think is good and why), writing habits and how they deal with procrastination and writer’s block etc. Also, little industry tips like pitching, dealing with notes, dealing with set-backs and generally trying to carve out a career etc…
      I do agree about 120 pages being incredibly daunting and getting lost half-way through. I have many a story that didn’t even make it past the 30 pages mark.

      • Watching: The Seventh Seal by Ingmar Bergman, Chinatown by Roman Polanski – commentary by David Fincher and Robert Towne, Heaven’s Gate by Michael Cimino, Only God Forgives by Nic Refn, Bottle Rocket by Wes Anderson, Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock, Punch-Drunk Love by P.T. Anderson

        Reading: Self Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Book of Revelations The Bible, Final Cut by Stephen Bach, The French New Wave: Critical Landmarks edited by Peter Graham, Who the Devil Made It by Bogdanovich, The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway, The Visual Story by Bruce Block, Catching the Big Fish by David Lynch, Making Movies by Sidney Lumet, The Jaws Log by Carl Gottlieb, Getting Away With It by Stephen Soderbergh

        The soundtrack of Ran by Akira Kurosawa
        Anything by David Wingo

        Anything by Renoir
        A Russian painter, I can’t remember his name at the moment.
        Two painters Sidney Pollack mentions on the Jeremiah Johnson commentary

        I can’t tell you why I think these are good or why I’m watching or reading them this week other than I found my way to them due to my subject matter. On some I’ve seen other work these directors or writers have done and liked it, I’ve heard about them before or am interested in the theme. Mainly I would say my reasons for viewing these are because human beings are naturally curious and some want to appreciate finely crafted things.

        I’m afraid I have no experience in pitching and actually dislike the thought of ever spending any serious time thinking about it or doing it. I prefer the filmmaking side of filmmaking and the writing side of writing, I especially like the adage, “Show, don’t tell” as it works here too.

        Overall the notes I’ve received have been thoughtful and in some cases immensely helpful. However, I have found that every line I write or action I describe is for a specific purpose to the story and though notes may help the viewer understand more in one scene they usually hurt other scenes that were linked to it. This can affect the feeling of a story which can be dangerous for a script. Especially after investing a year or two writing from a certain viewpoint.

        Carving out a career:
        Write if you want to be a writer, show only people whose opinions you trust, figure out how to survive and write at the same time (it often involves a second and even third job), stop feeling sorry for yourself, help others.

        I’m glad we agree on 120 being daunting. I hope

        • Haha. Thanks, that’s an impressive list. I didn’t know Fincher and Towne did a commentary for Chinatown. I was just about to pull the trigger on a retrospective of Polanski’s 60′s and early 70′s stuff. I’ve only seen a couple of his films. I will try and get hold of the commentary. Towne has had such a fascinating career (Fincher’s no slouch either.)

  • With regards to #5 – many cinematography oriented sites allow their members/posters to link to their videos uploaded to Vimeo or YouTube, thereby welcoming other users of that site to make comments or suggestions with regard to their works. Even more, yesterday NFS had a very popular – judging from a number of comments normally reserved for a new/nonexistent BMD camera – post on the Blade Runner “Sean Young” scene lighting.

    Based on these experiences, I feel that it might be a decent idea to have a similar discussion based on a writing sample. Within the last few weeks, there were links to Kubrick’s “Napoleon”, Goldman’s “All the President Men”, Uhls’ “Fight Club” but members of this site have not been able to exchange ideas about each others’ projects. Granted, there are the ever present fears of misappropriations of the unproduced material but I still reckon that a short 3-6 PDF page excerpt either uploaded to or posted on a suitable site may generate a fruitful discussion. I, for one, am interested to see what Christopher’s writing is like – including his recent script on the (a capella?) singing group. Obviously, every writer would have to accept the risks involved with putting his work online but, as most writers know, professional screenwriting is less about the ideas and more about the execution of these ideas. I wonder if this might interest the NFS management – hey, more user generated content! – or the frequent visitors to this site.

    With that, I yield the floor (to non-a-holes only).

    • Christopher Boone on 07.24.13 @ 2:43PM

      Hey DLD,

      You can read my a cappella comedy script, COUNTLESS MELODIES, in full as I posted it online last year when it was DOA just months before the opening of PITCH PERFECT. Read my post and script here:

      I keep my Nicholl semifinalist script CENTS close to the vest right now as that is the feature I’m trying to set up, but hopefully I’ll be able to share more about that later this year.

      As for my most recent script, it needs a rewrite :) But perhaps after that rewrite, I’ll consider posting a few pages for NFS readers to critique.

      • Man, that’s the worst effin’ screenplay I have ever (not) read (channeling a passing aggressive a-hole, from now on known as the PAA, trying to eliminate the potential competition … even before reading it).
        Seriously, Christopher, just because there’s an existing movie with a similar plot line doesn’t mean that yours can’t be made. In a “Boogie Nights” thread, I mentioned that, in the late 90′s, there were two “John Holmes” themed movies in development (the other was “Wonderland” with Val Kilmer and Lisa Kudrow) and both were released in theaters, despite a fairly off-the-beaten-path (pardon the pun) subject. I myself have a screenplay that is a remake of an old Soviet play/film that’s – without me knowing about it at the time – been re-made in 2006 already. But my version is considerably different from the one made in 2006, from the general premise, the dialog and the characters.
        Plus, my version is better, as that film is rated in the low-5′s on IMDB. And this is not being a PAA, Really.

  • I enjoy your articles, Christopher.

  • Just out of curiosity, how long do you write each day? From 5:30am to ?

    • Christopher Boone on 07.24.13 @ 10:26PM

      I write from 5:30 am to about 7 am M-F. At 7 am, I have to wake up the kids and getting them ready for school/camp. If I’m in the heart of writing a treatment or a draft of a screenplay, I may try to carve out another hour or two during the day if time permits to keep the writing flowing. When I’m writing a draft of a screenplay, I aim for 5 pages a day, but I typically stop when I feel like I’ve accomplished enough and I have an idea of what I want to write next so I can pick up again quickly the next day. That may be less than 5 pages a day, it depends.

  • Thanks for this and all your other articles, Christopher. As someone who wants to get into TV drama writing (where deadlines are incredibly short), it’s inspiring to see someone taking stock of their process.

    Keep up the excellent writing!

    • Christopher Boone on 07.24.13 @ 10:31PM

      Thanks, Srini. Glad you appreciate the posts. Good luck with your TV drama scripts. I don’t write nearly fast enough for television :)

  • Hey Chris –

    How did you create the report card? Any specific program?

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