What screenwriting resolutions can better your screenplays and writing for the year to come?
Everybody has grown to hate New Year’s resolutions. Diets and workout routines are too complicated. Major renovations you’ve meant to undertake are too much work. Let’s keep things simple for you and help make you a better writer without any major planning, preparation, or muscle necessary.
As we look ahead to the New Year, here are 19 simple screenwriting resolutions that can make you a better screenwriter!
1. Take an Extra Month to Visualize Your Script First
Writing is more than just typing words. You can write on the road, during runs, during walks, during bike rides, on your lunch break, while waiting in that DMV line, or while daydreaming before, during, and after school or work.
To write the best possible cinematic screenplay, you have to see that movie in your head first. While you may be itching to start that new script, take an extra month to see that movie through your mind’s eye. Play scenes over and over in your head. Add more scenes and continue on until you have upwards of 75% of your story created from within. Then you’ll be typing like a maniac once you start.
2. Set More Strict Deadlines for Yourself
Instead of a few months, give yourself just ten weeks to start and finish that screenplay. Ten weeks (give or take a couple of weeks) is the general Hollywood contract deadline for the first draft. When you learn to write under strict deadlines, your creative mind adapts and figures out those plot holes and characterization issues much faster. And you’ll be preparing yourself for success too.
3. Plan Ahead to Stack Your Deck
When you do get the chance to be invited to Hollywood general meetings, you can’t go in with one script. Map out the three or four scripts you’d like to write this year, pencil in deadlines into your calendar, and stick to them.
4. Take a Year Off of Marketing to Focus on the Screenwriting
Write a script. Submit it. Rejection. Write a script. Submit it. Rejection.
Screenwriters tend to fall into a pattern of unsuccessful efforts. Yes, it’s good to get your work out there. But perhaps the reason nothing has hit so far is due to the writing not being ready. So much time and effort are wasted going through the seemingly endless marketing phase. Perhaps it’s time to step back, take the year off from marketing, and just enjoy the process of creating.
5. Cut 10 Pages From Every Script You Have
It’s always nice to take the time to go back and revisit the screenplays you’ve written. A majority of them will be overwritten. Take some time to go through each and cut at least ten pages. If you have a script that is 120 pages, cut it down to 110. If a script has 110 pages, cut it down to 100. If you have scripts that are 130-140 pages, get them down to at least 120 pages and then try to cut some more.
A tighter script is a more cinematic read. A cinematic read is a fast read. A fast read reads fast because it gets to the core elements of your concept, story, and characters. And that is good.
6. Take Some Time Away from Writing
If you’ve been working hard the year prior and have a stacked deck of great scripts, consider taking some time off from writing. Yes, that’s counterintuitive, especially when you’ve likely been told to never stop writing, but sometimes your imagination needs a break.
Get some life experience under your belt. Or maybe dive into the research for your next project. Or shift your focus to the marketing if you feel you have enough scripts to showcase a solid resume.
7. Attend Some Film Festivals
It’s always good to meet like-minded individuals, and where better to do so than film festivals? Festivals are fun and exciting. And it’s often not about the actual films at the film festivals (although it’s great to watch as many movies as you can). The panels are perfect places to learn from the masters. The social events are ideal places to network and create some potential lasting Hollywood relationships.
8. Attend Writers Conferences
Writers conferences are like film festivals but without the movie screenings. The panels and Q/As are usually excellent, depending on the venue and Hollywood insiders present. And you’ll be surrounded by screenwriters that are on your level.
9. Read More Screenplays
Some of the best education you can receive as a screenwriter is by simply reading screenplays. While it’s nice to read the classics, the better opportunities to learn are through the contemporary hits. Post-Awards Season usually leaves behind a trail of online PDFs of box office hits and acclaimed features.
10. Read More Books
It’s difficult to find the time to commit to a whole novel, let alone multiple novels throughout the year. However, it’s so important to ingest as many stories as you can. And it’s always nice to venture to the literary platform as a screenwriter. Start by finding a single novel in the 300-page range and read for 20 minutes or more before bed (or when you wake up). Add another 20 minutes during a lunch break. Before you know it, you’ll be flying through that first book and onto the next.
You can plan ahead and roll this into your research for the next script too. While nonfiction is important for research, it’s also smart to read fiction that is somewhat connected to the topic or world that you’ll be writing in. Inspiration comes from everywhere.
11. Analyze Movies
We could have written watch more movies, but analyzing sounds more like you’re working — which you really are. Screen as many films as you can and wrap what you choose into what scripts you have planned. View movies in the same genre, in the same world, with the same character type, etc. Analyze what works, what doesn’t, and why those elements work or don’t work. And then discover how you’re going to tackle those things differently in your script.
12. Try Writing in a New Genre
If you usually write comedy, do something different and write an action film. If you usually write drama, take those skills and apply them to a horror story. It’s easy to stick to our wheelhouse, but when you take on something new, you’d be surprised how your imagination responds.
13. Take a Break from Social Media
You get up, check your Facebook, check your Instagram, check your Snap Chat (if you’re younger), and check your Twitter. You return to social media like this throughout the whole day. That could be the time you need to read a script, read a book, or even analyze a movie.
If you’re on social media, you’re not writing. Not even in your head. If you’re taking a break from writing, you’re not researching, marketing or living life to gain those life experiences for your next batch of scripts.
14. Get Some Exercise
No, we’re not forcing you into the New Year’s Resolution trap of losing X amount of weight by summer. We’re just talking about getting off of the couch, coffee shop chair, or office desk for a little while to relieve that unavoidable stress you can get while studying, working, researching, marketing, or writing. You’d be surprised what a 30-minute walk can do for your system.
And as we mentioned above, when you’re exercising you could be writing at the same time in your head.
15. Proof Read All of Your Past Scripts
It doesn’t matter if they’re a year old or five years old. It’s always good to go back and read your scripts cover-to-cover. You may think you’ve caught all of those spelling, grammar, and format errors in the past, but you’d be surprised what surfaces during that most recent read.
16. Go Make a Short Film
While making a short film (or any film) is no easy task if you want to do it right and well, this process can feed your cinematic soul, and it can become a way to test your work.
It’s one thing to hear the words you’ve written in your head and a whole different thing to actually see them come to life before your eyes.
17. Gather Actors Together for a Table Read of Your Script
You’ve got some time. You’re either taking a break from writing or taking a break from marketing. Get some actor friends together for a casual read of your script. Throw some beer, wine, and food into the mix. Have fun with it. Hearing your written words come to life is exhilarating when those words have proven to work, and they are eye-opening when they’ve proven not to work. Plus you’ll have a room full of actors to give you feedback on your characters and the dialogue.
18. Take an Acting Class
If this terrifies you, do it as research to better understand how actors perform characters. Film is a collaborative medium. What you write doesn’t just exist in your head. It has to be performed. What better way to write better characters than knowing how actors work and what they look for. This will allow you to write characters that will attract those necessary actors needed to package your film.
19. Tackle the Script That You’ve Been Terrified to Write
“It’s too complicated.” “It requires too much research.” “Nobody will want to produce it.”
Everyone has that one script idea that continues to haunt their imagination but is far too intimidating to take on — for whatever reason. Just do it. Throw caution to the wind and just write the damn thing!
Tackle all of these screenwriting resolutions or just a few. It’s up to you. No pressure. And remember, it’s supposed to fun too. Enjoy yourself in whatever you choose to undertake.
Happy New Year! You’ve got this!
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures. Make sure to read his growing archive of posts at ScreenCraft for more inspiration.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies