Weekend Writing Inspiration: 5 Steps to Choosing Your Next Script
November 30, 2018
“I have so many ideas, I don’t know where to start. Can you help?”
Writers tend to have an abundance of ideas. But when we don’t know where to start or we work on multiple screenplays at once, we tend not to finish and get frustrated or lose heart, discouraged by our lack of progress.
In my last article I shared strategies for coming up with ideas for new screenplays, especially when you’re feeling run dry or burnt out. But what can you do when you’re overwhelmed with ideas and can’t decide which one to focus on, or feel like all your concepts are equally important and interesting to write and that you’ll be “giving up” on any one of them to focus on another.
Here are some strategies to help you choose among the ideas you have.
Step 1. Start by making a list
First, begin by making a list of all the ideas you have swirling around in your head. You may want to type them so you can easily cut and paste to change their order in the subsequent steps, or you might prefer to sit with a notebook and list them one by one.
You’ll use a simple method to make this list — write down your working title for each concept plus a concise logline. This method will help you stay organized and keep the list from becoming overwhelming.
I recommend having a place to keep your list, like a physical file folder or notebook, or a file folder on your hard drive. I personally use a Scrivener project file named “Writing Projects” to organize and track my various concepts and writing undertakings.
Step 2. Use decision criteria
For the next step, you’ll begin sorting your list into order, where the first screenplay on the list is the first one you’ll focus on (though you won’t be done till Step 4).
You’ll use “decision criteria” to begin the sorting process, which are a set of personalized litmus test questions you’ll use to evaluate and prioritize your concepts.
Here’s how it works: Create a set of three to five questions to assess each concept against what you, as the writer, to want to achieve. You’ll want to take your career goals and current writing level into account as you generate your questions.
For example, you might create a set of criteria like this:
- Am I inspired to write this script? (Or am I writing it because I think I “should”)
- Does this concept align with and further my screenwriting brand or genre?
- Does this script fill a void in my screenplay library? (e.g. It adds a low budget concept into an otherwise high budget slate.)
- Is this a high concept script?
- Would I go to see this movie on opening day?
You don’t have to use these decision criteria, but they’re a good place to start from and fine tune. Your list will evolve over time as your career and writing goals do.
Go through your list and compare each concept to the questions. Those that meet the most criteria will move up to the top of the list.
Step 3. Trust your gut
Next, use a more intuitive set of tools to refine your ordered list.
For example, you can use the “light/heavy” test, where you quickly run down your idea list and jot down an “L” for every concept that feels light, fun, and exciting to you, and an “H” for every concept that feels heavy, burdensome, or obligatory to you.
Then, shuffle the lighter concepts to the top of your life and the heavier ones to the bottom.
As another alternative, you can use resistance as your guide. As Steven Pressfield says, “Figure out which one scares you the most, and do that first.”
These intuitive methods help you bypass your thinking mind and tap into your own deeper instincts and wisdom. Remember, the market can’t be the only driving force behind your writing. The Muse plays a role in guiding you, too.
Step 4. Create a screenplay “queue”
Once you’ve sorted your ideas into order, the list becomes your screenplay queue — ideas waiting in line for their turn.
A benefit of this kind of line up is that it calms the fears of “giving up” on any idea, and instead organizes an approach focused on which concept to work on first, then second, then third, and beyond.
It’s perfectly okay to adjust and refine your queue as you go along. New ideas will come up, writing assignments will appear, your own inner guidance may shift, and you’ll want to and need to reorder your queue accordingly.
Step 5. Start writing
Now that you’ve created your list, you know on which concept to focus your time, attention, and energy until that screenplay is done, before you move onto the next one. And when you’re ready for your next concept, revisit your list and run it through this process again to help make sure the next one on the list is the right one for you, at that time.
Your Weekend Writer’s Assignment
This weekend, sit down and make a quick list of the current screenplay ideas that are vying for your attention using a working title and concise logline for each one to help you remember which is which. Then create a set of decision criteria to evaluate your concepts. Also experiment with some more intuitive methods of discernment (for more on this concept check out my free guide, “How to Choose Your Next Book (Or Script)” which you can find here). See where it takes you!
Got Questions You Want Answered?
After working with hundreds of writers over the last seven years, writing coach and Called to Write Founder Jenna Avery has answers for you about how to balance your life and your screenwriting, trust yourself more as writer, fulfill your call to write, and more. Submit your most pressing questions to email@example.com or via Jenna’s online form at https://calledtowrite.com/final-draft and she may choose your question to answer anonymously in a future article.
Written by: Jenna AveryJenna Avery is a screenwriter, columnist, and blogger who redesigned her life and career to support her calling to write. She specializes in sci-fi action and space fantasy, and her most recent project is a post-apocalyptic coming-of-age story for a Canadian producer. Jenna is also a writing coach and the founder of Called to Write, where she has helped hundreds of writers overcome procrastination, perfectionism, and resistance so they can get their writing onto the page and into the world where it belongs. Jenna writes about writing, creativity, and calling at calledtowrite.com, for ScriptMag, for Final Draft, and teaches for Screenwriter’s University. Download Jenna’s free guidebooks for writers when you join her mailing list at https://www.calledtowrite.com/mailing-list