New year, new writing goals...
Are you ready to write the most pages you've ever written before?!
I am excited to help you make it happen with TWENTY resolutions to keep you on track.
Let's jump into it...
The 20 Screenwriting Resolutions for 2020
1. No more free writing.
Don’t do it. The current system is predicated on taking advantage of writers and playing them against each other. The studios and production companies have gotten away with it for so long because they know how eager writers are to break into the business.
There are also many more writers than there are jobs, which means these companies have all the leverage. This allows them to promise an eventual payday in exchange for free work. The problem with eventual is that it means nothing. It’s an empty promise that usually results in writers toiling away for months without any financial compensation. Writing is a job, so we need to treat it as such. You wouldn’t be a nurse for free, you wouldn’t wait tables for free, and you wouldn’t be a financial analyst for free, so why write for free?
In 2020, make a stand. If an executive asks you to write for free, ask them to do their job for free. If they’re not willing to do it, why should you?
2. Worry about what makes you happy.
Screenwriting is tough under the best of circumstances and nearly impossible under the worst. Being a screenwriter can be an emotional rollercoaster that often ends in disappointment, so always try to keep your happiness in mind.
Don’t work with toxic creative partners. Don’t let yourself be taken advantage of. Write what excites you. And perhaps most importantly, take time to have a life outside of your writing. It’s a big, beautiful, complicated world out there. Make sure to spend some time living in it. It’ll make you happier, and also, a better writer.
3. Write something original.
The entertainment world is obsessed with IP(Intellectual property) right now, so chances are, if you’re up for assignments, they’re IP-based. However, if you’re still trying to break in and get that assignment, your best bet is to write something original. It’s funny how Hollywood works, but when people read up-and-coming writers, they want to see something that showcases the writer’s voice, and nothing does that better than an original spec.
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4. Write something outside your traditional wheelhouse.
Flex your writing muscles and step outside your comfort zone. Always written horror? Take a stab at writing a thriller. Only written action? Try sci-fi. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself.
The adage is “write what you know,” and while there’s value to that, you also shouldn’t be afraid to write what you don’t know. How else will you grow as not only a writer but as a human being? Even if what you wind up writing is terrible, I promise you’ll learn something from it.
5. Focus on tone.
Characters and story are critical to any screenplay, but something that writers often let goes by the wayside is tone. Nothing ruins an otherwise good movie like a scattershot or inconsistent tone. It’s something every writer should keep in mind, so in 2020, make sure you know your story’s tone and write to it.
6. Stop planning your script around twists.
Twists are great, they surprise the audience and can liven up stories. Some of the best movies have twists, but not every movie needs a big twist, and not every script allows for a twist. This is okay. If your story calls for a twist, then write one in. But too many scripts have a twist jammed in where it doesn’t belong, and instead of making the script better, it usually makes it worse.
Don’t jam a circular peg in a square hole. Don’t do it!
7. Set confines for yourself to work within.
Whether it’s writing to a low budget, one setting, entirely from one character’s perspective, or a script with only two characters, don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. Working within strict limits like this often results in a better end product and forces you to be more creative, so take a stab at it.
8. Write a fully fleshed out film treatment.
While original specs will get you in the door, treatments are what will you get assignments. Knowing how to write a strong treatment is an invaluable skill that many young writers don’t focus on. Don’t be that writer. Read treatments, identify what sets the good ones apart from the bad ones, and then write one of your own.
9. Practice pitching.
Perhaps more than anything else on this list, this resolution might be the most important. It’s not technically impossible to succeed as a writer without being great at pitching, but it’s infinitely more difficult. Pitching is an art form; if you’re good at it, it can be a very lucrative skill. If you’re bad at it, you might find yourself struggling to find work. So make sure you’re good at it. Write your pitches. Read them aloud. Get feedback. Rewrite them. Continue the cycle.
10. Don’t worry about the lists.
At the end of every year, a group of writers gets their “breaks” thanks to the Black List, the Hit List, and the smorgasbord of other end-of-year best-of lists out there. These lists are a great thing for young writers, they create opportunities and pathways to success that didn’t exist before, but too many writers try to write projects to specifically wind up on one of these lists.
Getting on these lists is great, but you shouldn’t write something only because you think it’ll help you get on the Black List. Write something that speaks to you and that you’re passionate about writing. Chances are if you do that, you’ll have a better script and be more likely to be selected for a list anyway.
11. Subvert character tropes.
Don’t write any more veterans with PTSD or husbands whose wives died, unless you have a truly original or unique spin on those characters. Readers are sick and tired of those characters. For every You Were Never Really Here, there are five hundred mediocre screenplays about a veteran with PTSD. For every John Wick, there are a thousand knockoffs where the lead’s wife is dead. Be original. Write new characters. Write a protagonist you haven’t seen before.
12. Don’t be afraid to blow things up and start from scratch.
If you find yourself stuck and unable to solve a plot hole or feeling like you can’t figure out what’s wrong with your script, don’t be afraid to start from square one. Even if you’ve written two full drafts of something, if you feel like something critical isn’t working, be willing to take a torch to your script rather than a scalpel. Band-aid fixes usually don’t work and waste more time in the long run.
13. Take time off.
In a similar vein, if you’re truly stumped, don’t be afraid to shelve a project and work on another one. Sometimes you’re going to find yourself stuck and unable to solve whatever problem you have in your script. In those situations, setting that project aside and working on something new is the best approach. Not only could it lead to a new, better project, but time away from your initial script might help you see it more clearly and lead you to the solution you couldn’t find before.
14. Rewrite religiously.
Everyone’s heard the motto ‘Writing is rewriting,’ and it’s true. Almost no one enjoys rewriting, but it’s essential. So do it. Derek Cianfrance wrote 66 drafts of his romance drama Blue Valentine.
15. Don’t be defensive about constructive criticism.
If you ask friends, colleagues, or readers for notes and find that there are some critical ones in there, don’t get defensive. This especially applies if you’re already a working writer and getting feedback from producers, executives, or directors.
No one, and I mean no one, likes working with a defensive writer. So don’t be that writer.
Take the notes to heart and address them or don’t, but be gracious and thankful that someone’s taking the time to read your work.
16. Create a routine for yourself.
Set specific times of day for yourself to write. It’s really easy to procrastinate or get distracted, but it’s harder to do so if you create a routine and stick to it. Write in the morning, or during lunch, or at night. Just pick a time and force yourself to stick to it. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t or can’t write during other times of the day, but at the very least, it guarantees you a specific slot of time where you can focus on writing and nothing else.
17. Find someone to hold you accountable for your progress.
This can be your manager, a producer, a roommate, a friend, a partner, etc. Many writers struggle to self-motivate if they’re not under a deadline, so get someone to set deadlines for you, but more importantly, make sure they incentivize you to meet those deadlines.
18. Read voraciously.
Read scripts, novels, memoirs, essays, plays, articles, etc. Read anything and everything.
Outside of actually writing, there’s nothing else that will make you a better writer than reading.
19. Revisit the movies and shows that influenced you the most growing up.
If you’re a writer, chances are it’s because you watched something in your formative years that impacted you. For me it was Jaws. Whatever it is for you, revisit that movie or show. This is especially valuable if you’re feeling uninspired or burned out like we all sometimes do. Watching what inspired you to write in the first place can help you rediscover your love for the craft and give you a needed jolt of motivation.
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20. Spend an hour a week eavesdropping.
It’s far too easy to get stuck in your little screenwriter bubble. But set aside at least an hour a week to observe other people and their interactions.
Pick up on their speech patterns, their body language, and how they communicate with each other. Observing how real people will allow you to more authentic and relatable stories.
Summing Up The Screenwriting Resolutions for 2020
Look, the thing about resolutions is that you make them...and you break them. This list of twenty ideas are things I think can generally apply to anyone.
But I am well aware that they make not apply to you.
See, the only thing that matters is that you put your butt into a seat and spend 2020 writing. Whether it's an hour or a minute a day, just let your fingers hit the keys and your pen hit the paper.
I'm excited to read what you write.
And so is the rest of the world.
Just write it.