It’s been months — maybe years — and you still haven’t managed to finish your screenplay. Why?
This doesn’t just happen to newcomers. Sometimes seasoned screenwriting vets fall into these same, dark traps. It happens to the best. But don’t fret. We’ve got seven possible reasons why you can’t finish your script and seven solutions to those problems so you can.
1. You’re Not Focused
This is perhaps the most obvious of the bunch, but it’s also the easiest to solve.
If you want to focus on something, you have to make it the center of activity. And it’s challenging to do that when you’re distracted. You’re either writing in a location with too much noise and visual stimuli or you’re constantly checking your email and social media.
Distractions are easy to come by in this day and age. But if you want to get that script done, you have to take specific measures to ensure that your focus remains on where it should be — your script.
Find a writing location that doesn’t have too many opportunities for interruption. It may be as simple as choosing that table in the back corner of the coffee shop or bookstore that doesn’t have as much noise or visual stimuli.
And when you’re deep within your writing session, turn your phone off or mute all of your notifications.
2. You’re Not Prepared
Trying to do that vomit draft, where you just spew things out at a rapid pace to get to the end of the script is often counterproductive. It leads to what some refer to as writer’s block, which for most professional writers is hogwash. You block yourself. There’s no syndrome.
Preparation is key. Some writers love the analytical approach to screenwriting preparation and prefer to write outlines, beat sheets, and character backgrounds. Others prefer to visualize their scenes, sequences, and moments — seeing the movie within their head before they type a single word.
Whatever you prefer, you have to go into the writing process with something locked and loaded in your imagination to write. You can’t just wing it.
3. You’re Not Inspired
Writing a script can take its toll on your mind and body. When your mind and body have exhausted all forms of inspiration, it begins to shut down as soon as you sit down to write.
The antidote to this is to fuel your imagination with content. Read books, read scripts, binge television series, watch movies, and experience life. Go on long walks, runs, hikes, or bike rides. Sometimes you have to find inspiration.
When you do these things and ingest visuals, emotions, sounds, and words, your imagination finds its way back into gear.
4. You’re Being Lazy
Just calling yourself a writer isn’t enough. You have to write.
Inspiration won’t always come to you. As we mentioned before, you have to go find it. And that means that you have to take action and do the work. Too many screenwriters wait for their scripts to write themselves. It’s never going to happen. You have to keep those fingers moving. And to do that, you have to stay focused, do the preparation, and find inspiration when it’s not coming to you.
If laziness is your writing vice, maybe you have to ask yourself, “Is this what I really want to do?”
If you’re in it for the money and fame, stop now — that’s a fantasy.
Most writers need to write. In fact, they can’t live a happy life without it. If you don’t feel the need, then maybe you can’t finish that script because you’re trying to tell yourself something. If this notion pisses you off, then you’re likely meant to be a writer and the fire has hopefully been fueled.
5. You’re Being Complacent
Complacency is defined as a feeling of calm satisfaction with your own abilities or situation that prevents you from trying harder.
If you’re used to writing horror, you constantly write horror scripts. If you’re used to writing comedy, you constantly write comedy scripts. When you’ve been stuck in your own wheelhouse for too long with too many scripts, you’re a victim of complacency. And complacency is a screenwriter’s worst enemy.
Is the script you’re trying to finish just an example of more of the same from you as a writer? If so, maybe you need to reconceptualize the script that you’re writing.
Perhaps you can turn that comedy into a straight action flick. Perhaps your second, third, fourth, or fifth horror script should be dropped in favor of a comedy or science fiction thriller.
You can choose to alter your script by creating a hybrid of the genre you’re used to writing within, matched with one that you have yet to tackle. That can often get those creative juices flowing enough where you breeze through this rebooted concept.
And if that doesn’t work, maybe this isn’t the screenplay you should be writing right now. There’s nothing wrong with putting something on the shelf for a while. You can always come back to revisit it when your mind is where it needs to be.
6. You’re Suffering From Paralysis of Analysis
Paralysis of Analysis is defined as the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome.
You’ve done your preparation. You’ve written your outlines, beat sheets, and character backgrounds. You’ve visualized every scene, sequence, and moment within your script. You’ve plotted out every detail. You’ve read countless screenwriting books instructing you to do a wide variety of different things to write the perfect script. You’re finding yourself confused and overwhelmed by it all, forcing you to shut down.
Over-thinking your characters and stories can overwhelm the creative side of your brain by over-utilizing the analytical side. Your imagination shuts down. And because of that, you can’t finish your script.
The most natural remedy to this paralysis of analysis is to take a break. You need to free your mind and take a mental vacation from your screenplay immediately. Take a few days or a couple of weeks off. Go somewhere. Do something. Relax. Get away from the screenwriting grind.
This is often enough to reset your mind.
But know that you can avoid this problem by backing off on the preparation work. Some screenwriters use research and preparation as a defense mechanism. They don’t want to write the script because they’re intimidated.
To avoid eventual paralysis of analysis, do your best to leave room for creativity and epiphany. Don’t know your story from Point A to Point Z and every point in between. Leave some room open for discovery. Know where your characters begin, where they need to go, but not how they’re going to get there. Whatever it takes for your mind and imagination to avoid being overloaded.
7. You’re Not Giving Yourself Deadlines
Deadlines are a must. And because you’re going to have to abide by some pretty stringent deadlines if and when you get hired for a professional assignment someday, it’s best to get used to writing under the most strict deadlines that you’re brave enough to conjure.
Instead of an open-ended time frame for your script, give yourself just ten weeks (give or take) to finish it from beginning to end. That’s the average amount of time allotted for contracted screenwriters to finish the first draft of their assignments.
If you’ve already started your script and just can’t get to the end, give yourself a final deadline.
Sometimes there’s nothing more “inspiring” than a ticking time clock messing your pride.
Stay focused. Be prepared. Find inspiration. Don’t be lazy. Don’t be complacent. Don’t overanalyze. And remember to give yourself deadlines.
Everything else will work itself out. Keep grinding. Keep writing.
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