5 Tips To Staying in Screenwriting Shape
December 22, 2022
It’s not always easy to stay inspired and maintain a creative mindset on a regular basis. Many times screenwriters feel burnt out or spent after an extended period of writing. They’ll stare at an empty page and not feel the same excitement they initially felt. The ideas and words don’t come as easily as they did before. You might think you’ve reached your limit and it’s time to throw in the towel.
You shouldn’t give up because there’s a good chance you haven’t reached your limit.
Maybe you just didn’t stay in screenwriting shape.
Professional athletes stay in shape to maintain their prowess. In addition to regular practice of their chosen sport, athletes maintain a daily routine and lifestyle that keeps them fit and helps them to stay strong and focused. Many musicians do the same, referring to their process of staying in shape as “keeping their chops up.” They’ll practice or perform regularly in order maintain their skill and edge as a musician. Regardless of your field, if you expect to sustain a career, it’s vital to stay sharp and always be at your best.
Screenwriting isn’t any different and there are many ways for writers to keep their chops up and stay in shape as well. I’ve been writing for over fifteen years and, on average, I write one script a year (sometimes more if I land an assignment job). In addition, I write these articles for the Final Draft Blog, and I make it a point to always be writing something whether it’s a spec script or an article. My scripts haven’t always sold, but I always finish them and they usually get their day in court (i.e. my manger goes out with them). This is simply the life of a screenwriter: you keep writing during the lean years and often with little or no encouragement. You keep doing it because it’s what you love to do and maybe it’s also what you do best. It’s during times like this, it’s most important to stay inspired and maintain a creative mindset.
Believe it or not, I’ve never had writer’s block and I always get new ideas. The words keep coming, day in and day out. This is largely because I’ve kept my chops up over the years. It’s a discipline and like all disciplines, it can be taught.
Below are 5 tips to staying in screenwriting shape:
Always Be Writing
Just like the phrase “Always be closing” from Glengarry Glen Ross, a writer should always be writing; daily if possible. Easier said than done, right? Well, like any skill, the more you do something, the easier it gets. Ideally you should be working on a script any day you can and try to average 3 to 5 pages. If for any reason, you’re not able to do this, at least you should try to work some kind of writing into your day: write a blog entry or post a comment in social media or even just write an email! Whatever the capacity, writing should be a part of your daily existence. After awhile, it should become as natural as walking and breathing. When you’ve reached this phase and writing becomes natural, keep it up. Otherwise you’ll go backwards and writing will become difficult again. Think of it as an athlete who has to keep going to the gym or else they’ll physically regress.
Be Selective with What You Watch
There’s a screenwriting adage that you can learn just as much from a bad movie as a good movie, which I used to buy into when I was younger. I don’t anymore. In fact, I’m now convinced if you’re not more selective with what you watch, it’ll have an adverse effect on your writing. After I had sold a couple scripts, I started to watch every new comedy that came out to keep up with the competition and after awhile my writing became more conventional and less distinct. In short, I had lost my edge. And as a result, people weren’t responding anymore to my writing. Subsequently, I became more selective with what I watched — like I used to be before I broke into the industry — and my writing improved and people started responding to it again. Obviously we all have different taste and art is subjective, but you should watch what you genuinely like and not just what you think is popular. You shouldn’t be viewing content to copy it, but to be inspired by it.
Read Scripts and Books
It’s important for a screenwriter to read other scripts — and per my above advice, they should be well-written scripts — but a writer should also be reading books. That’s right: good, old-fashioned books. The more your mind takes in different types of writing, the greater creative prowess you’ll develop. Admittedly, after writing all day, I find it difficult to read fiction. However, I don’t have the same problem with non-fiction, and I read as much of it as possible. I’ve talked to other writers about this and a lot of them agree it’s easier to digest non-fiction on a regular basis than fiction. Regardless, you’re taking in information and another writer’s voice — even if it’s not a fictional narrative — and this can only broaden your knowledge and keep your mind working. Once again, it’s like a muscle that needs constant flexing.
In addition to creative and mental workouts, you should also be literally working out. Not just because it’ll keep you healthy, but it’s also good for your creativity and overall mental state. Writers spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer; this can have adverse effects both mentally and physically. After awhile, you’ll start feeling sluggish, and let me tell you something: the ideas don’t flow much when you’re feeling sluggish. Not only should a writer take periodic breaks and stretch their legs and pace around their home office or wherever they write, they should allot at least thirty minutes a day to taking a walk outside. Not only will it keep you healthy, it gives your mind a chance to decompress and reboot. Many times I’ve solved narrative problems while on one of my walks. In addition to walking every day, I do a little bit of exercise every morning; nothing too strenuous: push-ups, sit-ups, and hand weights. I’m a writer, not a bodybuilder. But just this little bit of exercise every morning gets me into an energetic state-of-mind. I’m eager to sit down and get to writing afterwards…!!
Create a Personal Work Routine
I expand on this in another article, but it’s important to discuss here as well because it’s a vital component to the above four tips. In order to stay in screenwriting shape, you have to create a personal work routine. Consistency is what you’re aiming for here; the more routine you make your writing and the things you do to maintain your creativity, the more skilled and productive you’ll become. The goal is to not even think about it: it’s just what you do. Think of brushing your teeth as a little kid: wasn’t it a drag? Now you hardly think about it as an adult: it’s just what you do. As I wrote before, when you reach this stage — when writing everyday is just what you do — you don’t change your routine. You keep doing it. Day in and day out. Wax on. Wax off. This is how screenwriting becomes more than a hobby.
This is how you become an artist and a professional.
Written by: Edwin CannistraciEdwin Cannistraci is a professional screenwriter. His comedy specs PIERRE PIERRE and O’GUNN both sold with more than one A-list actor and director attached. In addition, he’s successfully pitched feature scripts, TV pilots and has landed various assignment jobs for Universal, Warner Bros, Paramount and Disney.