This is a guest article by Alex Bloom, from Script Reader Pro.
Aspiring screenwriters are constantly being told that the most important thing they should be doing to advance their career is “just write”. But within the remit of today’s modern break-neck lifestyle, this can be far from easy. I often get asked by writers, “How do I find the time to write?” They will then go on to elaborate, usually by saying something along the lines of, “I get home from work at 7:00, just about find the strength to suck up a bowl of spaghetti, turn on Game of Thrones and half an hour later I’m out like a light”.
What this says about Game of Thrones I’m not sure, but I can fully relate to this scenario. It can be really hard to muster up the will to sit down in front of a computer, often after spending a day sat in front of a different computer, and type out stories which you have no idea whether or not they’ll ever lead toward a career. Finding the time to write amid a full time job, family, friends and a million other activities can be a pretty daunting task. In this article, though, I’d like to let you in on three simple steps that can take you from a writer who labors to write a word, to one who writes every single day.
Here’s Step One:
- Ask Yourself A Simple Question
The first thing I ask writers who are struggling to find the time to write is, “How badly do you actually want to be a writer?” I ask this because often the writers who struggle the most with carving out writing time, are the same ones who aren’t as dedicated as they could be.
It’s easy to become caught up in the whole screenwriting merry-go-round of reading books, watching videos, listening to podcasts, going to conferences, etc. without ever actually stopping to ask, “How much do I really want this?” Or, “Is this something I’m prepared to dedicate a portion of my life to every single day, with no guarantees of success?” Asking yourself these kind of questions will force you to take stock of your aspirations.
Always remember that there are aspiring screenwriters all over the world with less talent than you who are writing every day, completing screenplays, sending them out there and getting better at the craft with each passing day. The “making it” cliche still stands — those who “make it” do so probably due to about fifty percent talent and fifty percent hard work. So, it’s really just a question of determining whether you’re prepared to actually do the work, just like all the less talented writers out there.
Are you prepared to put in the hours, the dedication, the sweat of someone like, say, Terry Rossio? Terry started out as a lawyer who would wake up at five a.m. without fail every morning so he could write for two hours before going to work. It was this level of dedication that led him to becoming one of the highest paid screenwriters of all time.
Or what about Prince? Right from when he was a kid, everyone knew that music was all he thought or cared about. And then when he became a global superstar he turned into even more of a work-a-holic — rehearsing one band for five hours, rehearsing a different band for another five hours, playing a two hour show, and then going into the studio until four a.m. Granted, Prince didn’t have a full time job, but even if he did, the dedication would’ve still been there — writing and recording in every spare moment he had.
That’s the kind of dedication an aspiring screenwriter needs, and so if you’re able to answer something like, “I want this more than anything,” to the original question, then proceed to Step Two.
- Make A Commitment
The next step is to make an actual commitment to becoming a writer. Sounds simple I know, but making a pledge to yourself about your seriousness of intent is an important psychological step to take.
There’s a great 1941 black-and-white movie called Come Live With Me, starring James Stewart and Hedy Lamarr. In one of the opening scenes, James Stewart’s poverty stricken character, Bill Smith, is accosted by a bum on a park bench who tells him, “It’s like everything else, all you gotta do is make up your mind and stick to it. Then you’re in. Whatever you pick out, you can’t lose.” These lines are so true, and apply to almost anything you want to do in life.
If you want to become a writer, then you need to first make up your mind and stick to it. Then you’re in. Start by taking a piece of paper and writing in big letters, “I am a writer, and soon I’m going to be getting paid to write”. Then, tape it to the wall above your computer. Every time you sit down to write you’ll then be reminded of the commitment you’ve made.
When you’re introduced to people at a party, don’t say you’re “an aspiring writer”, say, “I’m a writer”. If you don’t believe it, how’s anyone else supposed to? Once you actually make the commitment to be a screenwriter, everything will begin to take shape. Blake Snyder did a similar thing when, as a thirty-one-year-old struggling writer, he rented an office and went to it every day to write for eight hours. It was this disciplined approach that saw him finally make the break through he needed.
Michael Arndt, whose credits include Toy Story 3, Inside Out and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, was working as Mathew Broderick’s assistant when he made a similar commitment to become a writer. He made a conscious decision that if he was ever going to “make it”, he was going to have to change his life. And so that’s what he did. He saved up enough money to live on for one year and then quit his job assisting Broderick. If, after a year of writing for eight hours each and every day, he still hadn’t gotten anywhere, he was resigned to getting another regular job. One year later, Michael had completed six spec screenplays, the last one of which was the one that broke him into the business — Little Miss Sunshine.
- How To Stick To It
Of course, making a commitment is one thing. Sticking to it is another thing entirely. Here’s a couple of things you can do to help keep you on track from day-to-day that may help, especially after those long hours at work or commitment-filled weekends.
The first thing to do is set aside time. In order to make sure that you write every day, pick a time that you’re going to open up your screenplay every single day and do some work on it. Put aside some time every day, maybe during your lunch break? Or early in the morning before the house wakes up? Or late at night when everyone’s gone to sleep? I recommend starting with time commitment each day that’s manageable, such as ten or fifteen minutes, rather than, say, an hour. Ten, fifteen or twenty minutes are that much less daunting and so you’re that much more likely to stick to it. And besides you’ll probably find that when you sit down for ten minutes you’ll become so engrossed in your writing you’ll end up doing more anyway.
Another excellent way to keep yourself on track, is to buy a calendar and put it above your computer along side your “I am a writer” declaration. Then, for every day that you write something and stick to the commitment, you put a big cross through it. It’s then a case of keeping a chain of crosses going every single day right the way through the whole month. It can be a very satisfying feeling to see a all those unbroken crosses up there in a long chain and know that you’ve stuck it out. If you really want to “make it” as a screenwriter, I can’t recommend tactics like this highly enough.
Alex Bloom is the founder of a screenplay consultancy who only have working screenwriters on their consultant roster, called Script Reader Pro. They not only offer actionable script coverage, but also a hands-on screenwriting course and ton of free advice.