You can’t be a writer if you never finish a script. This might sound like common sense, but far too often writers get distracted or discouraged and abandon their drafts, leaving them half-formed. This is unfortunate, not just because of the unrealized potential of an unfinished story, but also because screenwriters cannot improve their proficiency with screenplay structure and pacing without writing drafts all the way from “FADE IN” to “FADE OUT”.
The following list is a highlight reel of reasons writers want to quit writing and give up on a story or a draft. Each entry includes a reason why you shouldn’t give up, with advice on how to keep going.
“They Stole My Idea”
Being original is hard. When we come up with something wholly unique, or a take on a concept that hasn’t been seen before, we feel a rush to get the idea on paper. This rush of adrenaline tends to fade away if we discover someone else is working on the same idea. Or worse, we can write a script packed with original ideas and then feel crushed when a movie comes out with the same story. This kind of disappointment is different from the usual anxiety that comes with comparing your work to other people’s. Feeling like your great idea was just ripped out of your head feels personal. The secret to getting back on the horse is realizing that execution is everything, and usually, the thing people like about an idea has more to do with the emotional story being told through the action than the action itself. Push through the surprise of your idea appearing somewhere else and finish what you started. You’ve got another chance to be original with every page you write.
“It’s Taking Too Long”
Writing takes a while. Whether you’re working on a feature spec, a pilot, or even a short film, it can feel like you’re not making much progress as you inch closer to the finish line, word by word and page by page. This is one of those irreparable truths. Writing takes time. The only way to overcome the malaise of gradual progress is to accept it. Learn to love the process. Writing is a marathon, not a sprint, so treat it like one. Give yourself the time you need to train and don’t blow your kneecaps out by pushing yourself too hard.
“I’m A Bad Writer”
We all have those days where we beat ourselves up because we think we should be doing better. Negative self-talk is tough to avoid but try not to indulge in it. Berating yourself never helps. If anything, it interferes with the writing process, either by temporarily halting it or by tempting you to quit a project completely. You wouldn’t trash someone else’s work with no regard to constructive criticism, so don’t do that to yourself. Just remember that you’re way ahead of anyone not writing at all, and even the pages you don’t like are getting you closer to a finished product. Anything you don’t like can be edited later. And be careful not to generalize your criticism about yourself or others. Writing a bad scene doesn’t make you a bad writer. Chances are you’re a writer who needs to keep writing.
Shiny New Project
You can’t stop thinking about the next thing you’re going to write. Even in the midst of a fight scene on page 37 of your current project, you’re thinking about how cool page 1 of the next project will be. This happens. Don’t feel bad about feeling excited. Remember that the new project will still be there after you finish the current one. And if none of that works, realize that the idea of a script can be more exciting than the actual process of writing. One is quick and feels perfect, the other is slow and has glaring imperfections you’ll need to address later. Some people are so excited about the next project they never finish one. This means you won’t have the writing samples you need when the time comes. By all means, if you’re bored with your current project and you truly don’t think it’s worth continuing, feel free to take a break and write something else. Once you have some perspective, look at the projects again. You should follow your passion, but without a commitment to completion you can’t practice writing endings or polishing a draft.
Hopefully, the above points will motivate you to fight off the negativity and distractions that can make you want to quit writing. It’s clichéd to say, but we’ve all been there. Take comfort where you can and try to fall in love with the process. Your writing will thank you for it. And once you finish a project, take a moment to celebrate how good it feels to write the final words: “FADE OUT”. You’ve earned it.
Shaun Leonard is an experienced writer, editor, and assistant. He is available for story consultation and script editing. Follow Shaun on Twitter @shaun_leonard