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The video above, courtesy of Variety, presents eight excellent screenwriting advice from professional screenwriters.
In this article, I discuss each of these quotes and give you tips and helpful exercises on how you can implement them in your work.
Table of Contents
Tip #1: Let the joy of the writing process be the reward.
“Never think you’ve written your masterpiece. You should always be writing, and it is the process of writing that should give you the most joy, not the ‘having written something.’”– Micah Fitzerman-Blue
This tip comes from screenwriter Micah Fitzerman-Blue, who wrote A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.
It becomes easy to sit back and bask in the glory of what you’ve just written every time you finish something.
Always having your next project lined up keeps you focused on the work instead of having a finished project.
Next time you finish a draft of whatever screenplay you are working on, start thinking about what your next project is going to be.
It doesn’t have to be immediate.
Take a few days to relax and rejuvenate, especially after a long first draft slog.
Tip #2: Take time to consider your concept.
“Don’t underestimate concepts, and taking time to think about your concept and what the story is you want to tell before you dive in and actually start writing it, because if it’s a concept that you’re just writing for yourself because you think is fun or that no one else is interested in, chances are it’s going to be a lot harder for you to make this movie.”– Charlie Wachtel
This advice comes from screenwriter Charlie Wachtel, who wrote BlacKkKlansman, and co-writers David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Spike Lee.
This tip goes to taking your time in the development stage of an idea, which is great advice that can be hard to follow when you’re excited to jump right into your story.
However, the more time you take to flesh out your idea before you start writing, the easier you make the actual writing of the script.
Jordan Peele famously outlined Get Out for five years before writing the script.
Get feedback from your script-writing friends and your family at this stage, and listen to what they have to say.
Is your idea interesting, and can it be made into a movie?
If not, it’s back to the drawing board.
To help you follow this advice, we’ve written a lot about how to write a story that works.
Tip #3: Know when (and when not) to break the rules.
“It’s hard to know in the beginning which rules to take into and which rules to break. Reading great screenplays will teach you which rules to break, and reading not so great screenplays will teach you what rules not to break. Once you’ve gotten a barometer for that, be absolutely reckless in your pursuit of revision.”– Elizabeth Chomko
This advice comes from screenwriter Elizabeth Chomko, who wrote and directed the film What They Had, starring Hilary Swank and Michael Shannon.
This is fantastic advice – especially the part about reading great screenplays to know which rules to break and not-so-great screenplays to know which rules not to break.
The last part of the quote that advises you to be “absolutely reckless in your pursuit of revision” is also gold.
When you know what to do and what not to do, you need to apply it by revising your work to push yourself to be more creative with your problem-solving.
Remember, to write is to rewrite.
Try reading three screenplays for a…
- movie that has gotten great reviews but you haven’t seen
- classic movie that you love but have never read the script for
- movie that you’ve either seen and hated or didn’t see but got bad reviews.
Read more on where you can read screenplays online.
Tip #4: Spill your guts onto the page!
“Spill your gut onto the page…you should be slightly embarrassed by the work you’re putting out there. You want your work to be as embarrassingly personal as possible.”– Bryan Woods
This piece of advice comes from A Quiet Place co-writer Bryan Woods.
As writers, we need to be bold in our writing – the highest aspirations of drama demand that we hold a mirror to society to show the world as it is.
This also means that sometimes we must go to those places that scare us.
And the world needs your voice to be as honest as possible. The best work comes from the personal!
Try to spend time on a personal piece unrelated to your current work.
Write deeply and vulnerably, possibly through a character’s monologue, to express a feeling you find daunting.
After an hour, set it aside.
This exercise helps you delve deeper into writing and may inspire future stories or characters.
Tip #5: Divorce yourself from your ego.
“Divorce yourself from your ego. I feel like the best art really comes from passion and purpose and the need to say something, and I think the greatest dragon you have to slay is your own ego, your own need to be worshipped and celebrated and that’s just not where the best art comes from. I would say attack the blank page with humility and celebration and curiosity and imagination and joy. Ego is not going to give you any of those things.”
This tip is from writer Christy Hall, who wrote and created the series I am Not Okay With This.
We all want to be known as great writers, but wanting to be a great writer doesn’t make you a great writer.
Instead of focusing on how you want your scripts to be received, this advice asks you to focus on the passion and purpose behind what you are doing.
Don’t write for being great – write for the sake of saying something important, and be humble and creative while you do so.
Try to write a mission statement about your script.
Write why you are writing your script.
What’s important about it to you?
Then, read your script back and make sure each scene in your script contributes to the overall mission behind your story in its unique way.
If you find some scenes don’t fit into the purpose behind your story, take a second to ask yourself if those scenes need to be in the story at all.
This is a good way to “kill your darlings” and find out what scenes genuinely move the story forward and which ones you kept because they are fun or cool but don’t serve the greater purpose of the story.
Tip #6: Write your voice.
“Write your voice. Write how you talk and write how you think, what’s really inside you, because if there’s anything that executives are looking for it’s something fresh, and something original and something authentic… write to entertain yourself and entertain the people that you love.”– Jac Schaeffer
This tip comes from screenwriter Jac Schaeffer, who wrote the story for Black Widow and WandaVision for Disney+.
Your voice and your thoughts and perspective are the things that are going to make your scripts stand out.
Schaeffer points out that executives are looking for original voices first and foremost.
They can hire the same people to write the same movies all day long.
What they want is what they haven’t read yet – and that’s whatever the most authentic version of you is.
Writer, critic, and TV creator Andy Greenwald summed this up perfectly on a recent episode of the podcast The Watch when referring to showrunner and creator Michaela Coel and her new show I May Destroy You:
“The best works of art are the ones that are put into the world fueled purely by their own passions and interests and abilities, and then the world meets up with them. It’s not responding to anything other than the life, existence, experience, and aesthetic interests of its creator…”– Michaela Coel
Take a stab at writing a scene from a movie you love – but write it in your voice this time.
Don’t feel obligated to stick to the source material.
The more “you” you can make the scene, the better.
You might come up with an entirely different take on the material that you could transform into your original story.
If it helps, consider what movies would read like if another established screenwriter.
- What would the heist movie The Sting look like if Phoebe Waller-Bridge wrote it?
- What would The Thing be like if Jordan Peele took a stab at it?
- What would Donald Glover’s version of Casablanca be like?
Try writing your version of any of the movies I just listed.
Or find a movie you didn’t like but with an interesting premise and write your version of a scene from that movie!
Tip #7: Write through the suck.
“Write through the suck. There are going to be days where the words are not coming and the thoughts just aren’t there, and in my experience, you can’t let that derail you, you can’t afford to just get stuck, so even if it’s terrible and you know it’s the worst thing you’ve ever written, write it, keep writing, get through it, that’s what rewriting is for you can come back and fix it later, but just keep the momentum going.”– Asleigh Powell
This tip comes from screenwriter Ashleigh Powell, who wrote The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.
You have to keep writing even when you know it “sucks.”
That’s because, as Ashleigh points out, it’s all about momentum.
As with anything in life, the secret to pushing through adversity is to keep going, and in writing, that means writing through the suck.
If you haven’t read it yet, I wrote about this as part of our article on what to do when you get writer’s block, and if you couldn’t tell, that article came from my firsthand experience struggling with my own writer’s block.
Set a timer for 10-15 minutes and write continuously without worrying about grammar, punctuation, or even making sense.
The goal is to let your thoughts flow freely and to disengage your internal editor.
This exercise can help bypass perfectionism and tap into a more spontaneous, creative state, often leading to breakthroughs in your writing.
Tip #8: Don’t give up!
“[…]if it’s what you really want to do, to not give up. I first moved to LA twenty-something years ago… I had a lot of stops and starts and people telling me it wasn’t going to happen, and I knew it was what I wanted to do, I was passionate about it and knew I was good at it, and I just didn’t give up… walking into a theater and hearing the crowd react to words that you wrote for the very first time like all the heartbreak and all the struggle and all that is so worth it when you have that moment…”– Jay Longino
This last tip comes from writer Jay Longino, who wrote the film Uncle Drew.
If you want to be a writer, are genuinely passionate about making this your career, and want to tell a story you want to be made into a film, then “not giving up” is the one tip you need to follow.
The only action you can take that is 100% in your control is your willpower to continue writing and improve.
If there’s a script you gave up on because you weren’t ready or lost interest, dust it off and give it another read.
If there’s a concept you’ve always been interested in but never felt brave enough to try and crack, why not give it a go this week?
If there’s a script you submitted to a contest and got denied, a contact of yours that read your script and never got back to you, or a round of notes you got that you never tried to implement, now is the perfect time to try again.
Take another pass and re-submit.
If the current pandemic has taught us anything, our world is fragile. Tomorrow is never guaranteed.
The only thing we can do with every day we’re given is give the life we want another shot.
So, if you want to be a writer, use today to write. It doesn’t matter if you wrote yesterday or not. Write today.
Do it every day this week, and don’t give up! You do that, and guess what happens? You become a writer.
And that’s it – those are the best eight screenwriting tips we heard this week! If you end up using any of these tips this week, let us know in the comments which tip helped you the most!