I started a screenplay back in November of 2018 and I think I'm almost done now. In between starting that one and now, I've written two TV shows and rewritten another script. Today we're going to cover how there is no right answer to "how long does it take to write a screenplay?"

Instead of giving you the information, we'll talk about strategy, process, and answer a few other questions.

Let's go!

How long should a screenplay be?

I get this question a lot. The general answer is 80-120 pages. There are a ton of exceptions to the rule, but if you're a first-time writer, those are the parameters most producers want to see your script stay within. After people figure out how many pages they have to write in a script they usually ask the next biggest question...

How Long Does it Take to Write a Screenplay?

As I covered in the opening, screenplays are like snowflakes; they all have different shapes, sizes, and needs. Generally speaking, you can plan on any first draft taking you around three months. That's my general rule of thumb. I came up with that number because the usual contract for writing a script allows for 12 weeks for the delivery of the first draft.

I usually try to finish the draft and leave a month for polishing.

I want the producers to see the best version of the script possible.

If you're speccing a script on your own, take as long as you need. There's no time rush when you don't have a deadline or shooting dates. You need to write the best screenplay possible. I did an entire blog series on how to write a screenplay in 10 weeks, so it can be done. But at the end of those ten weeks, I strongly advise you to write and rewrite as much as possible.

But don't take my word for it, let's ask an A-list screenwriter.

Factors That Affect Writing Time

  • Experience: Seasoned screenwriters often work faster than beginners due to their familiarity with structure, formatting, and the creative process.
  • Genre and Complexity: An action-packed sci-fi epic may take longer to conceive and outline than a character-driven drama.
  • Time Commitment: Full-time writers can progress faster than those who work on their script in smaller chunks of time.
  • Deadlines: Working with tight deadlines forces a faster pace than writing without time constraints.
  • The Rewriting Process: Rewriting and polishing a script can be just as time-consuming (or more so) than the first draft.

General Timeframes

Keeping everything above in mind, here are some rough timelines:

  • Professional Screenwriters (with deadlines): Under a standard writer's agreement, most professionals will complete a first draft within 12 weeks (about 3 months).
  • New Screenwriters (without deadlines): Beginners often take longer, anywhere from 3-6+ months depending on other factors.
  • Rewrites: Rewriting might take weeks or months depending on the scope of the changes.

Tips for Speed and Efficiency

  • Outline: Don't just start writing. Develop a strong outline to guide you.
  • Page Goals: Set daily page count goals (e.g., 2 to 5 pages) for consistency.
  • Avoid Distractions: During writing time, focus exclusively on your script.
  • First Draft Mentality: Don't fret over perfection on your first draft. Get the story down, then refine.
  • Feedback: Get feedback from trusted readers to identify areas that need work.

Remember: Even if you write a screenplay quickly, it may take additional time to polish it to a professional standard for submission or production. Focus on writing a great story, and the speed will come with practice.

What's John August have to say?

As always, I turn to the experts to answer this question better than me. In his informative blog, John has this to say about how long it takes to finish a feature script:

"...that points to the better question to ask: How quickly should a professional screenwriter be able to turn around a script, given some urgency? In my experience, the most successful screenwriters are the ones who are able to accurately estimate how much time they’ll need. That’s part of the craft, just like a cabinetmaker promising a delivery date. For my work on Iron Man, I told them exactly how many days it would take to address certain issues, and delivered pages every night. For feature films, I’d be reluctant to hire a writer who couldn’t deliver a script in eight weeks. For television, writers sometimes have less than a week to get a one-hour episode written. You’d like to give every writer as much time as she needs, but in my experience, the deadline is often the main force getting the script finished."

What's next? How many scenes are in a movie?

When you sit down to write a movie or even cut one together, how do you know how many scenes are in a typical movie? And beyond this question, how many scenes in a movie are long? How many scenes in a movie are those short little scenes that barely last a page?

How many scenes in a feature film appear around the same length as they were written?

Click the link to learn!