7 Proven Ways to Be More Productive as a Screenwriter
Making a living as a screenwriter is tough, especially if you’re trying to “break in” for the first time. It can be daunting and feel overwhelming at times, not to mention the constant rejection. Trust me, I’m right there with you. I’m nowhere near where I want to be but I’m a lot closer than I was when I started this journey in 2017. Five years later, I’ve amassed a lot of accolades, advice and real experience when it comes to the craft.
Here are some proven strategies that have helped me:
1) Improve Your Health & Wellness
This may seem obvious, but when you’re constantly hunched over a laptop and eating dinner out of a bowl, you can forget about your health. And when you’re working hard against a deadline, taking a walk or working out at the gym is the last thing you’re thinking about. But you MUST. Your health is everything as a writer and you’re going to need your stamina the more successful you become.
So, set aside some time to get plenty of rest, eat healthy, meditate, walk, stretch, run, ride a bike, etc. I lost 50 lbs. (yes, no joke!) over the course of six months just by eliminating sugar, fried foods, salt and processed foods from my diet, and I’m so glad I did. Now, I have more energy and focus and I write faster!
2) Treat Screenwriting Like a Job
If your writing habits are random, your success will be, too. When you set aside time to write, the hard work will pay off. Trust me. But you must be consistent about it, even if you have a full-time gig. When I had a day job, I would write during my commute to and from work and even on my lunch hours. I was dead serious about getting pages written and I wasn’t going to let anything get in the way. Now that I write full-time, I set aside a minimum of at least four hours a day to write, research and read industry news.
3) Set Career Goals
Knowing what you want is key to improving your odds in this business. When you map out a plan, the journey will feel less arduous. Nothing happens overnight, so you want to make sure that you set short-term and long-term goals. For instance, a short-term goal may be to make a new industry connection every month. A long-term goal is to get staffed on a series. Both are achievable, but the short-term goal is more attainable.
I set goals every year and hit my targets about 50% of the time. Why only 50%? Because so much of what I want is out of my hands. For example, I apply to labs and fellowships every year. I don’t get into every one of them, but when I do, it is life-changing. Furthermore, when you set goals, you also open the door for those unexpected opportunities that you didn’t see coming.
4) Strengthen Your Support Network
We’ve all heard how screenwriting is a solitary endeavor. It is also one of the toughest careers to break into. On average, it can take between 5-10 years before you’re actually to make a living at it and even then, it can still feel like a feast or famine situation. Along the way, you will experience a great deal of rejection, self-doubt, financial worries and even depression. Strengthening your support network will help you during those tough times when you feel like giving up.
But don’t give up - EVER!
Find your tribe and stay connected. You will need them. Because trust me, we’re all experiencing similar issues. And the encouragement from friends and family is the lifeline you will need sometimes.
5) Read More TV Pilots & Features
Many screenwriters do this automatically, but as a reader and story analyst for labs and screenwriting competitions, it is sad how many don’t. I can take one look at a script and tell if the writer understands formatting, structure, plot, character development, etc. When you’re first starting out, this is a MUST. You’ll see what good (and not-so-good) writing looks like. Reading pilots and features not only helps you step up your game, but it will also inspire you in your own writing. Try to read at least 3-5 scripts a week, if you can. If you can’t, read at least ONE a week.
Here is a list of websites that allows you to download scripts for free.
6) Minimize Social Media
This is kind of a no-brainer for most serious screenwriters. Social media is great for catching up and engaging with friends, posting accomplishments and following your favorite celebrities and influencers. But you can get sucked in real quick and lose precious time. We’ve all been there. You hop on with the intention of doing a quick check-in and before you know it, a whole hour has gone by.
My advice is to have designated days and times for when you utilize social media. You don’t have to be on it everyday. As a matter of fact, social media can be detrimental to your career if you overuse it. In the end, it’s about finishing your scripts and getting them out in the marketplace.
7) Don’t Network, Build Relationships
So, you have a great screenplay and you’re ready for a producer to see it. You send query letter after query letter with very little response, or the response you get is lackluster. You’ve made some connections but nothing seems to be moving the needle fast enough. You want to sell something, anything. You want to get staffed on a show. You want that movie made. I get it.
But here’s the secret: People work with people they like and respect. And part of establishing yourself as a screenwriter is to build relationships with the intention of forming a life-long bond. No one likes users and people who always have their hand out. So, don’t be that person. Make an impression. Be someone who genuinely is interested in other people and what they’re doing. That is how you build your network. The more you move with genuine intention, the better your career will be.