Acclaimed Screenwriters Reveal Their Creative Habits and Working Styles

Award-Winning Screenwriters Reveal Their Creative Habits and Working Styles
Everyone finds their own path to creativity.

For screenwriters, some tools may have become more common than others — such as note cards, white boards, outlines, and story maps — but almost no two screenwriters have the exact same way of creating a screenplay. When I find myself stuck in a story and my usual tricks for getting ideas flowing just aren't working, I look for inspiration from better known and more accomplished screenwriters (also known as "procrastination", like what you are doing right now).

Thanks to the Academy Originals: Creative Spark series, in only fifteen minutes of not writing inspiration, we get an inside look into the creative habits of three dynamic screenwriters: Ava DuVernay, whose work includes Selma, Middle of Nowhere, I Will Follow, David Magee, who has written Life of Pi, Finding Neverland, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, and Aline Brosh McKenna, scribe for The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses, We Bought a Zoo.

Instead of sequestering herself in a quiet office, Ava DuVernay describes how she ventures out into the world when she writes, looking for unique people and voices, settling into inspiring locations with just enough vocal ambience to get her into her writing. DuVernay also has a great technique for sparking her creativity by cataloging visual moments everywhere she goes:

David Magee works out of his home office in New Jersey, but has hired a full-time writing assistant whom he met as one of his students during a recent screenwriting class at Emerson College. As you'll see in the video, Magee relies heavily on his assistant as a sounding board for his story ideas as well as a trusted ally who can do in-depth research and help outline new material:

Aline Brosh McKenna has an office outside of her home with three distinctly different workspaces to allow her to work at a traditional desk, on a sofa, or at a standing desk. In one of the most insightful parts of her video, McKenna explains why she stopped using note cards as she illustrates her simple yet visually compelling style of outlining her screenplays.

What are some creative habits you have developed over time that help you find your stories as you write screenplays?     

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Your Comment


This works for me:

1. Not writing when you should write, but when you feel like it. There are articles in all these productivity blogs that try to teach you to wake up at 6am and write at least this much pages . When I stopped listening to these professionals, I started writing a lot more, because the productivity pressure was gone. Reverse Psychology ;) Yeah... and I write best in the evening hours.

2. Most of the time, I open up my creativity by writing a letter to myself, about my day and my current situation of life. -> Like a diary entry/stream of conscious;
This easily gets me into the zone.

3. If you can't inspire yourself, try to think about the people in your life. Everybody has a story, pick a few elements and transfer them to your screenplay. There's always something to write about.

4. The most important thing for me: Writing with a pen. On paper. No displays, just music in my ears and my hand on the moleskin.

August 4, 2015 at 3:54AM

Dennis Mirza
Nomad Filmmaker

Nobody cares.

December 29, 2018 at 2:32AM


Don't know if everyone is reading this and not commenting but I'd just like to say thanks so much for sharing these and putting the blog together. I feel it's a bit of (an inevitable) shame that gear announcement blogs drum up so many more responses than these incredibly insightful videos. Cheers

August 4, 2015 at 7:19PM

Dean Butler
Writer Director Shooter Editor