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5 Tips To Finishing a Screenplay

January 30, 2023
5 min read time

In my article “5 Tips To Starting a Screenplay,” I offered advice on how an aspiring screenwriter can start writing, which is often the most difficult part of the process. However, a lot of writers — whether they’re aspiring or seasoned professionals — also struggle with finishing a screenplay. Starting is important, but if you don’t finish what you start, it doesn’t matter much, right?

Below are 5 tips to finishing a screenplay…

Stick with Your Routine

I’ve stressed the importance of a personal work routine in other articles and it’s vital to finishing a screenplay. Human beings are wired to procrastinate and put off work. Regardless of whether you’re getting paid or not, you have to treat writing like a job: put aside a certain amount of time each day to writing and stick to it; have a daily page quota (I try to get in 5 pages everyday myself); and make your work routine part of your daily life. Writing bursts when you’re inspired are all well and good, but it’s steady and sure repetition that’s going to help you reach your goal and finish your script. It’ll be hard at first, but the longer you maintain a routine, the easier it’ll become. After awhile, you won’t even think about it: it’ll be just what you do.

Stay Inspired

Sometimes inspiration tapers off when writing for an extended period, and it can become mentally or even soulfully exhausting to keep coming up with ideas, dialogue, etc. In my article “5 Tips To Staying in Screenwriting Shape,” I outlined various methods to staying inspired during the writing process. Just like with sticking with a routine, consistency is essential; whatever things you do to stay inspired — watch certain movies, play certain music, take long walks — keep doing it and make it part of your work routine. Once again, the more you do this, the easier it’ll be to stay inspired while writing. 

Keep Thinking Rough

When starting a script, I suggested a writer “Think Rough Draft” and this should remain your mantra throughout the initial writing period, especially if you’re new at it. Like most things in life, you’re not going to be an expert right out of the gate; it takes years to become a skilled screenwriter.  Not only does it help you later on to have realistic expectations, this “Think Rough Draft” mindset keeps you more focused on finishing your script than perfecting it. As I also once wrote, there isn’t a perfect screenplay; industry professionals view screenplays as fluid and malleable documents and you should as well. A large part of screenwriting is rewriting: a skill you will also hone in time. The most important thing is to get that first rough draft finished. Afterwards, you can rewrite it and make any necessary improvements.

Reward Yourself

In general, it’s healthy to embrace the victories in life no matter how small they appear. Did you reach your daily page quota? Good job! You’re off the clock and you should treat yourself to something you enjoy whatever that might be. I myself enjoy a glass of scotch, and when I’m done work, I feel like I’ve earned it. At each stage of the writing process you’ll reach a new milestone and you should indeed view them as milestones. Finished the first act? Buy yourself a Blu-ray or vinyl. Finished a rough draft? This is a major accomplishment, especially if it’s your first screenplay. Have a celebratory dinner with your partner. Obviously our tastes and financial situations will vary, but the point I’m making is reward yourself for the little victories and milestones. It’ll keep you motivated and in a positive frame of mind while writing.           

Don’t Get Discouraged

Regardless of your writing prowess, there will be some setbacks. No endeavor is without a few bumps and hiccups along the way. Life sometimes will get in the way and you might not be able to make your daily quota or possibly even your weekly quota. Depending on your living or work scenario, you might have obligations that sometimes keep you from writing. The important thing is not to be discouraged. You shouldn’t overcompensate either. For example, if you miss a week of writing, don’t  combine two weeks worth of writing in a single week to make up for it. This can burn you out quickly and it might have an adverse effect on your writing and morale. Simply get back on track and back to your regular routine. Once again, consistency is the most important thing here. I’ve known a handful of people who go off and try to pound out a script in a week at a writer’s retreat. It almost never leads to a finished script or, at very least, a good one. Thinking long term rather than short term will not only result in stronger writing, it’ll lead to a healthier spirit and state of mind.

Even after you read your finished script, you might be discouraged. Rough drafts are usually called “rough” for a reason, and if you’re new to screenwriting, there’s a good chance what you wrote isn’t all you hoped it to be. This is perfectly natural, and if you’re being critical of your own work, it’s actually a good sign: it means you’ve grown as a writer. And now that you’ve finished your rough draft, it’s finally time to be critical and improve your script. If you have indeed grown as a writer, you’ll likely spot flaws with your earlier writing at the beginning of the script. Smooth out the clunkier moments. Make the dialogue flow more naturally. Clarify important plot points and character revelations that need clarifying. Omit anything that doesnt move the story forward or add anything significant to your characters. You might want to do a few passes focusing on different aspects of the script (e.g., a description pass; a dialogue pass). Once youre satisfied with your script, show it to close friends or family members for feedback. After receiving their feedback, do another pass addressing their notes.

Whether or not your first screenplay or pilot gets you traction within the industry, its a necessary first step to becoming a screenwriter. You might have to write a couple scripts before writing the one that moves your career forward. Just like any skillset in life: the more you do it, the better you’ll get.

The most important thing is to keep writing and always finish what you’ve started writing.


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