Screenwriting Like a Boss: The Writing Process

August 31, 2016 Strategy

The secret to killin’ it in the entertainment industry is figuring out your goals and following a plan of action. Take your best work, make it better and get it into the hands of someone who can make it happen – even if that person is you. The writing process can be broken down into 4 components: Planning, Writing, Revising, and Getting Your Work Seen. Mold the specifics of your process around your strengths to see success. Screenwriting Like a Boss is the last post in a 4 week series on breaking into the biz. Check out:

Planning

Create a strong game plan to guide your career. Break down long-term goals into short-term actionable steps. As you progress towards those goals, you’ll start to gauge the pace at which you can hit your targets. From there, you can get an idea of how long certain goals are going to take and where you can push yourself to work harder and work smarter.

It always comes down to the writing. Writing consistently will separate you from all the other screenwriters in LA. The more you write, develop your skillset and grow as an industry professional, the more the odds fall in your favor. There are no guarantees, but there are things we can do to tip the balance of probability. Prepare yourself for any possibility by doing everything you can to be a well-informed, well-written and smart writer.

  • What do you want?
  • How do you want to get it?
  • Create a game plan.

Writing

There’s conflicting advice: write from the heart versus write what sells. Why not do a little of both? I, for one, can’t craft a plot around a story that I’m not interested in telling.

If you’re making your own short film or feature film, maybe you don’t need to write an “idea that sells.” You have the freedom to take more chances, experiment with what you love, go against the status quo.

If you’re trying to get represented from a script (without making a proof of concept), writing an experimental indie drama might make it hard for your script to seep through the Hollywood filter and into the hands of an agent or manager. Think of how many people your writing passes through before finding a home. When your idea is more universal or easy to sell, it has greater potential to land in the friendly hands of a reader who “gets it.” Also consider the fact that, reps can’t make a lot of money off of a small indie. But you will find someone that gels with your style and your unique vision, so don’t give up if you have a very specific niche. It takes time.

I generally think that strong writing will get noticed- that at some level, it doesn’t matter what you are writing as long as you exhibit potential and expertise.

On the other hand, getting writing jobs, working consistently, and making any money requires the ability to work with ideas that aren’t your own and ideas that are more universal. Starting out, just write. For those initial scripts, choose what you think is your best idea and go with it. Then keep writing and adapt as you see fit.

  • Choose a great idea.
  • Write something else. Then write something else.
  • Create consistency and routines.

Revising

Script notes and I are in a big love-hate relationship. On one hand, I love breaking down a script into the components that make it work. On the other, getting notes can be confusing to say the least.

Get good at making sense of script notes by writing more and sending your scripts out for feedback. The more you do it, the “easier” it gets.

Good notes help you become a better writer. Find readers who work well with you. This doesn’t mean people who blindly say, “It’s phenomenal. You’re amazing!” That will hinder your growth. Conversely, beware of anyone who tells you that your writing is cruddy and that you should stop while you’re behind. In fact, people who give harsh criticism that lacks a constructive nature tend to have some sort of emotional complex or failed dream fueling their attitude; however, you can’t focus on them- think about your own attitude.

Be respectful to people who give you notes. This applies to all kinds of readers: good and bad. Don’t argue with the feedback given to you. Say thank you. When you tell someone why their notes are wrong, it insinuates that you’re insecure. It also displays a lack of regard for the opinion you asked that person to give you.

The best readers are constructive. They help you focus in on problem areas by drawing attention to why certain details are not working and how that relates to the larger story. Finding good readers is a process of trial and error. You have to put yourself out there to figure it out.

  • Revise your script using notes.
  • Try out different readers in order to find “your” people.
  • Be constructive and encouraging when reading scripts, including your own.

Getting Your Work Seen

Why do we want to get our work seen? To get representation, sell a screenplay, staff on a show, ALL THE THINGS…

Finding representation and recognition is a process. 

The first step is getting your script in front of people. The avenues that are easily available to you include screenwriting contests and fellowships. These two things offer accessibility unparalleled by other avenues.

An old school method is writing a query letter. I’m just going to get this out there and say that I really don’t think queries work anymore. Getting your script seen requires a referral. If you still want to give queries a shot, then go for it. There’s still a small percentage that this might do the trick.

From my experience working as an assistant, established companies generally did not take unsolicited material. It would wind up in the trash. When I interned at a literary management company, they did take queries, which were then read by the interns, and if the intern (me at the time) liked it, the assistant might read it and pass it on. I don’t think a script ever made it past the assistant in my time there.

Build your network and utilize those relationships to get your work seen. This takes time. I can’t emphasize that enough. Start now!

Consider building powerful connections by working as an industry assistant and gaining insider status. If that’s not an available option, start making your own work. Do something. Anything.

You have to get your own ball rolling. No one else is going to do it for you. But this puts the power in your hands. You have so many options and opportunities! All you have to do is put yourself in a good position.

  • Agents and Managers will come to you once you have the work. So write!
  • Get your work seen using contests, connections and anything else up your sleeve.
  • Generate your own momentum.

Related Post: 30 Stellar Screenwriting Prompts