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Writing Your Screenplay: Starting the Process

By Patrick Kirkland · March 17, 2012

It all starts with these words: I'm going to write a screenplay.

Knowing that these words mean roughly a 6-month commitment from first draft to final. Knowing that if the film gets picked up, you could be talking about 3 years of development. If it gets developed, you could be talking about another 6 months of production, and after production, assuming it hits Awards season right (maybe you've finished it in the summer and the studio decides it's really a fall picture), you're looking another 3-6 months of screenings, marketing and Q&As before you're finally done. Also, let's not forget that after you sell a script, you're more likely to get on the writer-for-hire market, so you'll be doing all of this while working on another draft of another screenplay.

When I start any idea, I go through a process that may or may not be familiar to you. That process is this:

I'm going to write a screenplay.

Shit. I'm going to write a screenplay.

Okay, it has to be good.

Crap, I can't make it good.

This is going to suck.

I shouldn't do this.

What the hell am I thinking?

What's the idea? Oh God, I don't even have an idea. How do I write a screenplay without an idea?

How am I supposed to make any money? I can't make money writing a script. Wait, I don't live in Hollywood. This is pointless. I can't do this.

This was stupid of me think it. I can't write a script, I'm such an idiot.

I'm going to write a screenplay.

I think this is my own mind trying to talk me out of it. You've heard me talk about Steven Pressfield's The War of Art, and how he calls this Resistance- it's personified. It's an active force that keeps you from doing what you want to do. Ever say you're going on a diet, only for your lover to show up with homemade cookies? Resistance.

Why does it show up? Because that's it's job- to point out to me that even though I may be excited, above all else I'm afraid. Writing a screenplay will change my life. Even if it just sits in a drawer or on my computer and never sees the light of day, I will be a screenwriter. And that one word- that one title- has the power to change everything.

So as we go along this journey of putting together a screenplay, think about it: We're going to write a screenplay. Good or bad, at the end of this stretch, there will be 90-100 pages produced using all the things we've spent the last year talking about. It will be the story of a Protagonist searching for something he or she wants, thwarted by the Antagonist that doesn't want them to succeed.

Now the good thing about TheScriptLab is that we can really take advantage of the comments section. So, I'd like to hear how you handle starting a screenplay. What tips or tricks do you use to get yourself in the mood? Or is it even a mood? Do you just have it set in your mind that it will happen, and so you sit at the desk and write without question?