I can make several resolutions to become a better screenwriter, but they all really boil down to one simple phrase: get s#!t done.
Two years ago, I came up with a list of six (6!) things I was going to do to write my best screenplay ever. Last year, the one thing I did to write my best screenplay ever was to make my first feature film. Now that I have made my first feature film and learned several lessons along the way, I really only have one thing to do this year to write my best screenplay ever. That one thing is to get s#!t done.
A Look Back at 2014's One Thing or (Why I Haven't Been Writing)
Last year, I definitely got s#!t done. Unfortunately, all of that s#!t kept me from writing.
In 2014, I focused all of my energies on making my first feature film, CENTS. The year started with the launch of our Kickstarter campaign in January, which successfully wrapped up in early February. After that, I sprinted through February, March, and April to find more financing before we started casting at the end of April and beginning of May. After casting started, pre-production was in full swing in May and June. My only real writing was rewriting the screenplay for CENTS to lock the production draft and then four more revised drafts to accommodate the realities of production. After principal photography wrapped in early August, I took two weeks off to reconnect with family, then headed into the editing suite for three months for the true final rewrite of the film (another eight versions of the story -- look for those lessons learned in a future NFS post). Once we reached picture lock in November, my focus turned to collaborating with the composer, getting sound to our post-production sound team, working with our colorist, and licensing songs for the soundtrack.
Then, 2014 was over, and I had not written anything new. I let myself off the hook (for a good reason, I believe), but now I have to take all of the lessons I learned making my first feature film, and get back to screenwriting. My challenge in 2015 will be to focus on my writing while I work to get my feature film out into the world. That means no excuses. It's time to get s#!t done.
2 Hours a Day to Get S#!t Done
The reality for me, and I believe for many writers, is that I don't need to find a solid block of eight hours of interrupted time to write every day. Instead, I need to carve out about two hours a day to write. After two hours of writing, my brain is done. I need to write down the next scene heading or story idea to pick up the next day, and move on to something else.
Two hours is not a lot of time, but with everything else that seems to crowd my schedule (not to mention all those minutes on the internet that quickly become wasted hours), finding those two hours can be a challenge. That's why three years ago, I resolved to wake up early to get my butt in the chair and write first thing in the morning before anything else. And that worked for two years, but now my family gets up earlier, and those two hours have slipped to one hour or less before the house is awake. So, this year, I will get up a little earlier to get started, but more importantly, I will carve out and protect time later in the day to finish my writing.
Back to Basics to Get That S#!t Done
As if the internet wasn't addictive enough taunting me from my iPhone in my pocket, now they want to put that crack on my wrist with a watch in 2015? Hell, no. That is not happening. I got s#!t to do. Writing is hard enough without the internet beckoning you every time you look at your wrist to see how many hours you've already wasted.
I need to get back to basics to get my writing done. It's time to bust out the stack of note cards, grab a pen (Pilot G-2 07, black), turn off the crackhole of the interwebs, and beat out that story. But even those note cards can suck you in with all of their endless combinations, seducing you to move them around on the kitchen table just one more time, so I need to know when to say when and write a treatment. That's the only way I can really see what story gaps I still have that the cards obscure. Once the treatment is done, then I can finally move on to write the first draft of the screenplay. To get to that first draft, I have to put in the time and the work. It's just that simple.
Rewrite, Rewrite, Rewrite That S#!t (Because It Really is Shit)
After I finish that first draft of the screenplay, I won't celebrate because I know, like Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” (And Hemingway's s#!t does not get censored for publication, thank you very much). Don't get me wrong, I'll feel good about getting that first draft done because that means I can rewrite that s#!t, and that's when the story really comes together. So, I'll give it a week, then print out that screenplay, grab a pen (Pilot G-2 07, red), and rewrite with cross-outs, notes, questions, new dialogue, arrows, diagrams, and whatever else it takes to tear apart that draft to write the next one.
Start the Next Story to Get More S#!t Done
Just like I need to know the next scene I am going to write when I stop writing for the day, I need to know the next story I am going to write when I finish with my current story. This has always been a challenge for me because I tend to focus all of my attention on one task until completion before moving on to the next one. So this year, I need to use those days between completing a draft of a script and starting a rewrite to develop the next story idea. That is the only way I'm ever going to get more s#!t done.
If you haven't already, be sure to check out V's 8 somewhat unusual (yet totally relatable) New Year's resolutions for screenwriting in 2015, too.
What's the one thing you are doing to write your best screenplay ever in 2015?