14 screenwriting habits to build a career on

Let’s face it screenwriting is hard. There was a opportunity to sit down with 3 working screenwriters. Of course I took that opportunity. The objective of the meeting was for the screenwriters to give insights to aspiring writers, so that they may discover processes which help them further develop their career and screenplays. This list of habits extrapolates the highlights from their string of collective consciousness.

A writer who practices the craft of screenwriting, writing screenplays on which mass media, such as films, television programs and video games, are based.

Screenwriter /ˈskrēnˌrīdər/ noun

These screenwriters have one thing in common.

This collection of content creators are unique in their qualifications, as well as their paths to success. So, pay attention to the mental mash up of three working writers. Take these anecdotes to improve your condition as a writer and achieve whatever it is you seek in your journey as a raconteur.

Their work is produced and exhibited by heavyweights in the industry.

The list of 14 successful screenwriting habits, from the people who know best.

The conversation started off with a question that really cut through the confusion of maintaining a successful career as a writer in Hollywood. That question was; what are you doing to maintain your lifestyle while you wait for the work? The question makes sense. You can’t write every project in Hollywood. Here’s what the best are doing while they are technically unemployed.

What the pros screenwriters are doing while they wait for their next opportunity;


1. Find Side hustles to support your screenwriting career.

It may be some time before you find that your're hired by a writer's room (TV Show) or a producer to pen a feature length script. There is absolutely nothing wrong with finding other means of income. Exposing yourself to other avenues outside of the craft will make you a better writer. Your goal is to draw inspiration from the new environment.

2. Have a dream project, money project, right now project.

This tip is to help writers keep their pipeline full. It is not always the best idea to focus on that one knock out idea. As a pro, you'd want to impart your craft onto filmmakers at every level. 

The dream project is the one you'd write with no holds barred. Your money project is the assignment you'd commit to in order to pay your bills at the end of the month. The right now project is something that you, yourself, could produce and get screened with the resources you have at your disposal. 

The ultimate goal is to A.B.W. (Always be writing).

3. Agents and Managers are bird-dogs. #buildtheteam.

Now, when you start to gain attention for your script(s)- and you do that by submitting to competitions, attending events, and making your work visible so that sales agents & managers will take notice. These people are not essential for your career, but they can make your life a helluva lot easier. 

Agents are going to make sure your bank account looks healthy. While your manager is going to protect your resumé. That's not to say that some agents will do the role of both, meaning they'll pick great work and keep food on your plate. 

It'll be up to you to build a solid team to ensure your workload is healthy and in tune to your legacy as a screenwriter.

4. Don’t shoot for the big meeting without having your creative gun loaded. You’ll need 2-3 scripts minimum.

A lot of writers make this critical error. One screenplay is not enough. It's not even close to enough. A studio executive may call you in, not because they want to make the screenplay you've submitted, but because your style of screenwriting resonates with them. It's the old line, "That movie is not right for us, but what else do you have?"

And, if they like your script and your style, it is only natural that they'd ask for more work. In this current market they are only two truths. Do work (which is writing) every day, and content is king. If you are working, you are creating content. You must be competitive, because maybe the writer in the next meeting has a hard drive full of script and ideas.

When your number is called, your hard drive better be loaded with money-making potential to keep your career healthy and happy. Make yourself more marketable than the next guy.

Where to find inspiration for your next BIG project.

So, these tips will help you get started on a new idea for your script. Also, if you have problems finding inspiration for screenplays, the next round of anecdotes can help you find some inspiration for your next big project.

I, personally, like to come up with concepts that allow me to explore genre. I have a Tarantino-esque idea of how I want my movie to play. Let, say I want to do a crime drama set in rural Louisiana- why not, throw some motifs of classic French new wave in the mix to keep the take on the genre fresh.

Just remember there are more ways to skin a script than you think. If you want a little more insight on to how to develop and/or find ideas, take a look at these pointers.

5. Let your environment inspire you. #lifehastories

When you decide to become a writer, you unknowingly choose to examine the human condition with all it's little meaty morsels. Luckily for us, there are a wealth of characters to explore on this planet. There are over 7 billion people making plans, plots, and schemes every day. Each person in this vast tapestry of reality has their own motivations for doing things in life to achieve their deepest passions and desires. 

If you are in a drought of creative thinking, crack the door to your office, and go for a walk. Explore the world around you. You're bound to take something away from it, if you know how to listen. 

6. Make a cache of your ideas. Choose the cream of the crop.

The only bad idea is the one you neglect to write down. Any concept can be developed. I firmly believe that ideas, if neglected, form a host of bad energy within your psyche. They never really go away until they have been explored and researched. If your mind conceived the idea, you should, at the least, do yourself the honor and commit it to paper. 

That way you can clear space in your brain for more fresh content. Make sure that you're constantly tapping into your imagination, and committing your ideas to paper. When your time comes to pitch or produce your ideas, you want to have enough content to sustain your success. Alas, this will increase your odds in making a healthy career in entertainment. 

7. Draw questions from objects that pique your interests, and form a focused idea.

Are you asking enough questions? Are you even asking the right questions? In every writer there is a smidgen of investigative journalism. And that's okay. 

When you ingest content and headlines, ask the five W's (Who, what, when, where, and why). This exercise may have you forming the basis of your next big Jason Bourne-like thriller. As mentioned earlier, human-beings have a wealth of motivations and desires that regularly go undiscovered. Be a great writer and peel back the layers on this foul and fruitful onion we call life. 

Ready to start putting the pen on the page.

The next few tips are designed to help you generate ideas, specifically, for your plot and characters. These professional/working screenwriters seem to have a very concrete workflow in terms of beginning their screenplays.

They also understand that; plot and character are two aspects of a single narrative. Those two things are symbiotic. The idea is that they cannot exist, successfully, without the one another. A solid protagonist needs obstacles and events that will help test their motivations. It wouldn’t be very entertaining to watch the world’s strongest athlete wash dishes all day. Because it doesn’t test their claims of strength.

script-feedback2
It’s job to write all of your ideas down. No one else will do it.

8. Focus on the plot, and build main character from third party feedback.

This is one of those tips that I thought was bonkers. But it makes sense. So, the idea is to focus 90% of your attention on building a knock-out plot to put your character into. 

After you have the framework of your story down packed, you would workshop your idea with trusted colleagues, asking them what they think your characters should be doing under the circumstances you've designed. 

This tip must being inspired by working in multiple "writer's rooms" for tv shows. Thinking in regards to the writer's room dynamic makes this idea hold a lot more water. 

9. Make attempts to get feedback from working sources.

Sharing your ideas is an intimate endeavour. Especially at the beginning of your screenwriting career. Exposing yourself to folks who are also in the same predicament as you is crucial. 

It could be, actors, producers, other aspiring writers, or even a young director. The trick is to find people who are working above-the-line (those who have the authority to make creative decisions on a motion picture) to give you feedback on your work. Who knows who might know somebody. That's the idea behind this tidbit. 

10. Base characters on real people, and build context on their lives.

Finding real and unique characters proves to be one of the more difficult tasks the writer encounters while drafting their screenplays. The working pros think it is quite advantageous to base characters loosely on real people. 

People who exist in your lives, or on local tv new segments. The trick is to fill in the insitricities of the character. Their habits, their speech pattern, and the quirks which make them unique. Once you have a living breathing human in your story, then you can begin to mold that individual to suit the needs of your narrative.

11. Find plausible motivations for intimate action and emotions.

The buzz word here is PLAUSIBLE. Actions define your character. So what is motivating them to act. What do they want, within the confines of your plot. All the internal mojo that festers in soul of your characters is readers feast upon. 

Intimacy is meant to relate solely to the character's passions and desires. Your main character needs conviction. They need you to give them scenarios that challenge their convictions. 

12. Crush the voice!

Writer's have a tendency to be their harshest critics. It is so very important to dismiss 'what you think is poor writing' and seek third party feedback. 

The voice in your head telling you to 'write it better', or you're 'not good enough', etc. Is not helping you focus on the task at hand. You must finish a draft of your screenplay. Ignore that voice at all cost. Listen to your instincts and do not critique your creative decisions. 

You wouldn't cut a carrot, and doubt your skills with a knife. Although you hardly practice with it or train with cuttery. But you drill and read on the topic of screenwriting. Yet, you question every stroke you make with your pen. This is counter-productive. Stop doing that, just write.

13. Use physical conditions to help render a characterization.

Are you having issues visualizing characters? You remember the story of the "hunchback" of Notre Dame? Using a person's physical condition can help you shape an entire characterization about your protagonist in your screenplay. 

This can include, slouching, peg legs, eye patches, missing fingers, bone cracking, dry lips, messy hair, missing teeth, etc. All of these aliments put a picture of a person in your mind, and allow you to think how that person acts, talks, and feels. Try it out, and see for yourself. 

14. Exercise – Swap character names in the middle of a scene, to figure out if they are different enough.

We are familiar with writing in our voice. You must know that your narrative voice and your character's voice is two different beasts. They have their own rhythms and cadences. Your characters should also have their own unique motivations and ideas that differentiate them from all other persons in your story. 

The trick is to swap character names with two characters of the same scene to see if they are unique enough. If the scene reads and still makes sense regardless of who is saying the words, then you may have a problem. 

Your characters need to own the words they are speaking, and they certainly belong in the mouth of their respective owner. No one in the story should be able to deliver the dialogue and have it maintain the same impact in the scene. 

This is normally a tell-tale sign that your characters are falling flat. You'd need to raise the stakes for them in your narrative. Their motivations/desires need to permeate in the scene and out of their mouths.

Screenwriting is a craft of patience

No matter what you are doing, get to the end. As a matter of fact, it would be better to know where you are going before you start your narrative. That is, how does your story end? Does the protagonist win or lose. Do lead characters live or die. Ask that fundamental question first, after you come up with a dramatic premise (what your story is about).

The crossroads between success & stalemate is that some people can finish and release their work more effectively than others.

Eugene Batiste III, Film Club America

You must know where this narrative is going! A chef does not begin cooking a 5-star meal without first knowing what he is preparing. Follying about your laptop’s blank pages, searching for meaning and resolution as you write is as about as productive as building a house with a blindfold on.

The labors of screenwriting are hard of enough. To make your life easier, get to the end. Do the groundwork. Discover where your end is before your begin. Then patiently craft scenes, sequences, and set-peice that deliver your audience to the catharsis. That’s the game you are in. You a sort of travel agent. But don’t you do not trade in jets or exotic hotels. We trade in perspective, emotions, wisdom, and peace through catharsis.

I hope to see your work on the silver screen, very soon. Until then, put your face in a screen or pad and get to work.

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