Creating a Personal Work Routine For Your Writing
November 16, 2022
Like with any kind of writing, it’s important for a screenwriter to create a personal work routine.
From my experience the hardest thing about writing is starting to write. Once I get into a creative groove (a.k.a. “the zone”) the words come easy to me, and I’m usually able to knock out several pages within a couple hours. Starting to write, however, has always been a little trickier. I’ve heard this from many other writers as well: there’s just something about human nature that makes us want to push off work if we’re able to. This characteristic is likely ingrained in us at a young age when we didn’t want to go to school, do homework, etc. As we get older and enter the workforce, many of us take jobs we don’t love or might even hate, but we do it in order to make a living. As a result, there’s an additional reason for our psyches to be averse to work if we’re not put in a position where it’s essential to do so.
Obviously, if you’re a working screenwriter and getting paid to write or rewrite a script, you’re given monetary and contractual motivation and, as a result, it’s much easier to start writing. You have no choice: you have to do it! But as most professional screenwriters will tell you, only a handful of A-list writers are constantly working on paid assignments. Most of us have to jumpstart our career every few years with a new spec script. Aspiring screenwriters are likewise writing on spec (i.e. no one is paying you to write your script). Of course it’s unlikely you’ll have a screenwriting career — or jumpstart one if you already have one — if you don’t have a finished spec script or even a few under your belt. Still, it’s sometimes difficult to muster the necessary will power to start writing when you’re not contractually obliged or financially compensated. This is when you have to discipline yourself.
Every writer is different and has different habits: some writers need isolation to write; others can write in a busy coffee shop; some writers need music playing for inspiration; others prefer silence or ambient sound; some writers like to exercise before writing; others like to exercise afterwards (or not at all); some writers are most creative in the day; others are most creative at night; etc. Ideally, if you’re able to, you should choose the time of day you’re most creative and schedule your day around it. For example, I’ve always been most creative between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM and every day I make it a point to write within this time frame. So in my case, my writing is a 9-to-5 job. Regardless of when you clock in and out of work, treating your writing like a job, even if it’s a spec script, is the key to finishing a screenplay.
Having a scheduled framework keeps your days from escaping from you, and they will escape from you if you let them. As mentioned earlier, human beings are wired to push off work if they’re able to. Many times, procrastination is a writer’s greatest obstacle to overcome. You’ll find many things to distract you from writing, but these days the biggest is probably social media. Between Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and a 24 hours news bombardment, it’s very easy for your morning social media check-in to transform into hours of wasted time. This is where some self-discipline is required and you have to create boundaries for yourself. For example, I make it a point to only check-in on the social media platforms I belong to at designated and finite periods. Social media is essentially my “morning paper”; I check out what’s going on in the morning as I wake up and keep my eye on the time. If there was anything interesting going on, I’ll allow myself another check-in around lunchtime and one more after my writing is done for the day. This works for me. I’ve known others where they have to be stricter with themselves or else they’ll spend hours scrolling and commenting away. In such a case, this person shouldn’t connect to any social media until after they’ve reached their daily page count quota.
Regarding a page count quota, this is also contingent on the individual. Ideally, I like to get in 5 pages a day, but this isn’t set in stone. Some days I might just write 2 pages, but they were important pages and/or I came up with additional story beats. On other days — if I’m especially inspired or caffeinated —I can knock out 6 or 7 pages. But generally, I find a consistent 5 pages a day is the way to go, and consistency is definitely the key. You’ll find you’ll finish a script quicker with constant daily writing than going weeks without writing and then giving yourself a few weeks or a month to write en masse. Of course sometimes people don’t have any other option and have to work this way. Likewise, if you have a day job, you’ll have to write at night or on your days off. Ultimately, you write when you can if you’re an aspiring writer. However, the more consistent and routine you can make your writing, the better. It can be a specific routine customized for your life and responsibilities, but it should still be a routine nonetheless, and you should still be giving yourself writing goals and a personal deadline.
Creating a personal deadline is another way to help you finish a script. I know many aspiring writers — and even a few professional ones — who sometimes take a year or more to complete a spec script. If they were writing on assignment this simply wouldn’t fly and depending on the details of the contract, they’d be forced to turn in a finished script within a few months or a few weeks (if it’s a rewrite or polish). Again, people tend to procrastinate if they’re not obligated or bound to do something, and this is why some writers take a year or longer to finish a spec script. I’m not saying a writer should rush the creative process, but from my experience, catching lightning in a bottle happens quickly and not slowly. The screenwriting marketplace is constantly changing and what might be a fresh concept one year is likely to be “familiar” the following year. Screenplays aren’t novels; they’re blueprints for potential movies. The more a writer thinks of screenplays in those terms, the less they’ll labor over every line and word.
When I wake up every morning, I skim my “morning paper”, exercise and take a walk around a nearby park, make coffee or tea, eat breakfast, select the right music, and I make it a point to write regardless of how inspired I’m feeling. Eventually, inspiration takes hold if I keep slogging away at it. And whether it’s five pages of a Final Draft document or 1,221 words of a screenwriting article, I don’t clock out of work until I’ve reached my daily writing goal.
This helps make writing more than just a hobby.
It helps make it a career.
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.