What do writers do? To be a screenwriter, all you have to do is write, and many people struggle with doing that consistently.
A lot of screenwriters out there have the perfect idea for a film they just need to put to paper. Maybe they’ve already written a few pages or the first act. Getting over that finish line can seem like an insurmountable task, but with some helpful advice, any screenwriter can finally finish that first draft, which is the first step to actually getting a film made. You just need to learn how to write every day and committing yourself fully to the project.
How to Write Every Day
Finishing your spec script
Some people are fortunate enough to make a living writing screenplays. Many other people write spec screenplays, which means they write their own screenplay without it being assigned. It’s meant to serve as a writing sample or an example of their work in case it ever catches the interest of directors or producers.
Spec Script Definition
What is a spec script?
A speculative screenplay, or spec script, is an unsolicited and non-commissioned screenplay. It is written by the screenwriter in hopes of having it optioned and eventually purchased by a movie studio.
In some cases, the spec script may never get made. It merely acts as a “calling card” of sorts for the writer who uses it to receive future commissioned work.
What are some famous spec scripts?
- Thelma & Louise, written by Callie Khouri
- Good Will Hunting, written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck
- American Beauty, written by Alan Ball
If someone hired you to write a screenplay, then congratulations! Otherwise, there’s a good chance you yourself have a spec script you’re trying to finish.
Specs are hard to write because there’s no deadline. It’s simply something you’re writing in the hopes of getting it into the right hands.
Learning how to write every day for it is tough because you naturally have other things to do. You have to pay rent and have family commitments, so it can be tough to find the time to find for your screenplay. Many screenwriters end up delaying the spec because they figure they can get back to it at any time.
There are plenty of successful writing habits you can incorporate into your daily life. Even if you have a day job, you can apply these steps to help you finish that script. Once you finish one, you can move onto the next and develop an impressive collection of movie scripts.
Yes, writing every day is possible and recommended. Don’t just take our word for it. Listen to Stephen King who talks about how writing is a form of hypnosis and how you have to create a routine to finish anything.
Learning the writing habits of great writers is a tremendous help. Now, without any further ado, here are a few techniques for finishing that pesky screenplay.
One of the Best Writing Habits
Outline, Outline, Outline
A lot of writers struggle in starting their screenplay because they don’t know where to go next. Before you open your screenwriting software, I recommend you first download this free story outline to plan out your key beats. Also popular, check out this free Save the Cat Beatsheet and movie synopsis template.
Some professional screenwriters swear by outlining while others say it’s overrated. You don’t necessarily have to outline to create a good script, but if you’re having trouble knowing how to write every day, then it can be a good habit to implement.
A script outline can guide you through your screenplay, so you know precisely what you need to write next. However, you shouldn’t feel confined to the outline. You may come up with a better idea down the road. That’s fantastic! An outline can just help you get the motors in your brain moving.
Build a Writing Routine
Set a Deadline
When you’re writing on spec, you don’t have a boss looking over your shoulder making sure you write all of the time. Instead, you need to hold yourself accountable, and that involves setting a deadline.
It could be one month or three months if you need the extra time. The important part is just setting a firm date without moving it around.
Once you have a deadline in place, you know exactly how much you have to write each day. If you give yourself 30 days to write a 90-page screenplay, then you only need to write three pages per day. That’s a lot more manageable than writing 90 pages all at once.
Even if you don’t have a ton of time, you can likely devote some time in the morning or evening to writing three pages. If you end up writing more than three, then that’s just icing on the cake.
Write Every Day like a Pro
Just Write (Even If It Sucks)
No screenwriter cranks out an Oscar-winning screenplay on the first draft. You may try coming up with witty dialogue (or how to write dialogue with Quentin Tarantino) and action-packed set pieces to come up blank. That’s all right.
It’s better to write something than nothing at all. You may not be happy with the dialogue you’re writing, but you should not sit there for hours staring at your screen trying to come up with something better. You should just write what you can and move on.
Once the words are on the page, they become tangible. You should move on for the time being and come back to that section later. You have plenty of time to ruminate on the scene and come up with something better on the second, third, and fourth drafts. More than anything else, successful writing is just about writing something rather than nothing.
Breaks Between Daily Writing Exercises
Know When You Need to Step Away
Life happens. You may have wanted to finish your screenplay in 30 days, but now it’s Day 31 and you still have 20 pages to go. Don’t kick yourself for failing to meet your deadline. You’re only human. Pick yourself back up and get to work finishing those 20 pages in the near future.
What do writers do all day? The truth is that they have various other projects. They may have errands to run or take care of their family. Most writers don’t have eight hours a day to devote to writing, so you don’t have to hold yourself to some unattainable standard.Chuck Palahniuk, whose novel was adapted into the Fight Club script we all know, has a great analogy to the writing process. In the video below, he compares writing to going to the bathroom. Basically, get in, get out, and move on with your day.
You don’t need to sit at your computer if you just don’t feel like writing. While building up daily writing habits is good, it’s also good to have a life. You don’t want to go overboard and push back writing your spec script for months, but taking a day break every now and then is healthy
How to write a script like a boss
You’ll have an easier time learning how to write every day if you have the right tools at your disposal. Explore StudioBinder’s free screenwriting software to help you write in proper script formatting.
Speaking of formatting, make sure to brush up on how to write a screenplay like a pro in our essential guide.