5 Ways Screenwriters Can Be More Productive
Screenwriting productivity is notoriously difficult to define because being a screenwriter can’t always be measured by the number of pages written. Writers are known for being distracted by “research” on the internet or watching content for several hours.
Some screenwriters are not only more prolific than others, but they are also more productive. Aside from practicing your craft, having a successful screenwriting career comes down to commitment and discipline. If you say you’ll write for three pages do not leave your workstation until you complete three pages of your screenplay. Be bound to your word. Show up and form good habits. Careers are forged through action not dreaming about the said action.
Productivity = Commitment + Discipline
This is easier said than done. Being creative is incredibly memory-hungry, so it is difficult to write consistently well for prolonged periods of time. It’s important to honor your non-writing time as much as your writing time.
Here are some ways to keep your writing on track and become a more productive screenwriter:
1) Create Lists
Start with a broad task list such as completing a draft in two weeks. Contest deadlines are an effective way to stick to a schedule.
Add extra tasks to your lists of what you can reasonably accomplish in a given timeframe. Prioritize these lists. You can add proposed completion dates or not. It all depends on your work style. Don’t add ‘maybe’ tasks to this list. If you don’t think you can execute a writing task in the foreseeable future, leave it out. A cluttered list is too daunting and creates unnecessary anxiety.
Complete the most important tasks at the start of the day. This is the “magic hour” when many psychologists argue your mind is at its most creative. You are waking from your sleep, so your mind is in a residual dream state.
The magic hours may mean different things to different writers. You may need to check your emails first as you prime your mind with your first coffee of the day; or maybe not. Don’t leave your most brain-intensive tasks until the evening when fatigue sets in. Writing pages doesn’t equate to writing good pages when you’re tired. Try and keep a routine every day as best as you can. Give yourself a day off. 24/7 workaholics aren’t nearly as productive as people who take well-timed breaks.
Create a TO DON’T list
After your TO DO list, generate a TO DON’T list.
Don’t waste time on tasks that don’t yield results or potentially help you in the long run. If you need to do some research on how a typical courtroom scene sounds or specific medical terms for your hospital procedural, set strict time limits. You are not earning a degree in these disciplines.
Your job is not to become an expert legal or medical expert, but rather to learn just enough to make your screenplay feel believable. Your time is better spent focusing on the emotional interactions between the characters.
2) Set Priorities
Divide your day into things you MUST do and things you’d LIKE to do.
They don’t need to be screenwriting related. Make time to meditate or take a walk every day to help remove mental detritus.
Figure out your dealbreaker events – things you have to do before you return to your writing.
Many time-poor professionals insist on being home for dinner every night or putting their kids to bed.
Create balance in your life. Understand the difference between good and bad distractions. Doing some gardening or visiting the gym are activities that honor your self and will boost your productivity in the long run.
Demand your ‘me’ time. When your office door is closed it means no interruptions.
Take care of your body. Eat good food, take enough rest, exercise regularly, and drink a lot of water. Visit nature even if it’s watering the pot plants around the house. Grabbing a bite when you can fit it in, or only eating if it’s at a meeting won’t cut it.
Don’t try to do two equally brain-intensive tasks on the same day.
Writing a first draft requires a different skill set to writing a polish or an outline. One requires more analytical skills and the other more creative. Don’t try to write two first drafts on the same day. One is more taxing on the brain than the other.
Despite what some time management gurus tell us, our minds aren’t created to multi-task. Juggling tasks is a sure way to dilute your energies and produce substandard work. By all means, break your day into chunks so you can focus on the memory-hungry first draft in the morning and a polish in the afternoon.
Know when you’re tired. Don’t force yourself to write pages when you’re yawning. They won’t be any good.
Learn to say NO. Many successful people swear by this rule. Unclutter your world. Being busy is not always the same as being productive. You don’t need so many zoom chats, phone calls, or emails in your life.
4) Mix It Up
At first, this might seem like a bit of fun, but it really works. Reframing your headspace can unleash hidden creativity.
It could be as simple as having themed days dedicated to outreach, research, or reading. You could try other forms of writing such as a play or prose. Or perhaps you can take an acting or stand up comedy class?
Some high-level screenwriters have reverted to writing on paper or on a typewriter. The act of filling up a legal pad with scene descriptions or dialog prevents your mind from going into auto-pilot mode as you would do if you typed directly onto a computer. It literally uses different neural pathways to create an iteration of your screenplay and edit it before it gets transferred into your computer.
5) Reflection And Strategy
This is your unstructured time away from your workspace. Think about your achievements. What went well for you and what didn’t? What would you like to achieve over the coming weeks or months? What can you do to stay inspired and motivated in this world where so much is out of your hands? This is the time when you might think about potential stories you want to write than aren’t yet in your task list.
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