Writing Advice from 15 Famous Screenwriters

Screenwriting takes talent, perseverance and audacity, but the road to success isn’t paved with gold. In fact, it’s probably not even paved. There are all sorts of bumps on the way – writer’s block, rejection, mistakes and mishaps. Take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. These famous screenwriters have been there and done that. Heck, they might even be experiencing similar woes right now. But they know the lay of the land and how to push through to create amazing material. Check out some amazing words of wisdom here:

Shonda Rhimes

Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Private Practice

“You want to be a writer? A writer is someone who writes every day, so start writing. You don’t have a job? Get one. Any job. Don’t sit at home waiting for the magical opportunity. Who are you? Prince William? No. Get a job. Go to work. Do something until you can do something else.”

Aaron Sorkin

The Social Network, Moneyball, The West Wing

“Writing never comes easy. The difference between Page 2 and Page Nothing is the difference between life and death.”

Melissa Rosenberg

Jessica Jones, Dexter, Twilight

“Don’t give up. You’re going to get kicked in the teeth. A lot. Learn to take a hit, then pick yourself up off the floor. Resilience is the true key to success.”

Sarah Polley

Alias Grace, Stories We Tell, Take This Waltz

“What’s the trick to writing anything at all? Discipline. And readers who are honest with you.”

Greta Gerwig

Frances Ha, China IL, Lady Bird

“Let your characters talk to each other and do things. Spend time with them — they’ll tell you who they are and what they’re up to.”

Joss Whedon

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Avengers, Cabin in the Woods, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

“Finish it…I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.”

Jeff Nichols

Loving, Midnight Special, Mud

“I’m a very slow writer, and the typing, which most people consider writing, that’s a very last step for me. I heavily outline things. Even before I write anything down, I think about things for a really long time. It’s like a tape ball that you just add detail to, and that’s what happened in this case.”

Richard Curtis

Love Actually, About Time, Mr. Bean

“One of my big rules, if I had any rules for screenwriting, would be to let things sit there and stew. Because the two times that I’ve written films, just thought of them and written them, have been the two times I’ve just put them in a drawer and never done anything with them again.”

Gina Ippolito

The Screen Junkies, Honest Trailers, The Morning After

“Get Yourself In a Community. So I happen to be a member of a comedy community. I’ve taken classes at UCB Theater and iO West. I was on a Maude team (one of the house sketch writing teams) at UCB, am on a main stage iO sketch team, coach and direct a sketch team at iO, direct a monthly show at UCB, and am in a very long running indie improv group. Every single one of my writing jobs has come out of this community and my contacts within it. It’s also just a great place to try out ideas, fine tune scripts, and get instant feedback from peers attempting to do the same thing you are, which, as we all know, is writing jokes about poop and farts for a living.”

Brian Koppelman

Ocean’s Thirteen, Billions, The Game

“Of the many supposed rules of writing, the only one that’s legit is ‘write every day.’”

Billy Wilder

Some Like It Hot, Sunset Boulevard, The Apartment

“If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.”

Lee Daniels

Empire, The Paperboy, Star

“I believe in life that you know that everything prepares you for the next thing, whether it’s a hit whether it’s not a hit. Your failures are your accomplishments because it makes you prepared for whatever it is that you are going to do next.”

Robert McKee

Author of “Story: Substance, Structure, Style, And The Principles Of Screenwriting”

“Write every day, line by line, page by page, hour by hour. Do this despite fear. For above all else, beyond imagination and skill, what the world asks of you is courage, courage to risk rejection, ridicule and failure. As you follow the quest for stories told with meaning and beauty, study thoughtfully but write boldly. Then, like the hero of the fable, your dance will dazzle the world.”

Aline Brosh McKenna

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Devil Wears Prada, We Bought a Zoo

“Young writers seem to forget that people in the industry are desperate for good material. The business isn’t constructed to keep you out of it, but to bring you into it. More than ever now, there are so many contests and agents and producers. It’s a world that’s so desperate for good writers. So if you can build it, they’ll be there. If you write something great, and you know somebody who is even peripherally involved in the industry, like the assistant director’s brother-in-law’s niece, it’ll find its way to someone. It may not get green-lit and turned into a blockbuster immediately, but it’ll get read, and if it’s really good, it’ll start your career.”

Jennifer Lee

Frozen, Wreck It Ralph, A Wrinkle in Time

“Don’t lose faith in what you are trying to do, even though you will get pummeled emotionally left and right. There are a lot of NOs to any YES. And that’s OK.”

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