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10 Inspirational Tips for Your Morning Screenwriting

By Martin Keady · October 30, 2014

“Morning – the birth of each day’s life,” as Shakespeare almost put it.  But morning can also be the death of each day’s hope, especially for writers, who often prove themselves uniquely skilled at wasting the precious first few hours of the day.

Here is an inexhaustive list of 10 tips to get you up and writing…

1. Keep a dream diary

In his seminal TV series, “The Story of Film,” Mark Cousins said of movies, “They look like our dreams!” They do, and we should never forget that. That is why it is particularly important for screenwriters to keep a dream diary: a notepad (paper or computer) beside their bed in which they can immediately jot down notes about any dreams they have had during the night. And obviously, the point is to do it immediately, almost before you fully wake up, so that you can still remember those remarkable images, stories and, well, dreams that only the unconscious mind can produce. You never know when, or how, they might prove useful in a script – and at the very least, it means that you literally start the day writing.

 

2. Keep a “waking” diary

It is also extremely useful to keep what I call a “waking” diary: another notebook in which you can jot down the thoughts that come to you as you finally, fully awake. This is particularly useful for making a record of breakthroughs: the kind of sudden epiphanies or revelations about the particular script you are working on (particularly the long-standing problems of that script) that, again, only the unconscious mind can produce. I am sure most writers would agree that often the best ideas come first thing in the morning, after sleep, and it is vital to capitalize upon that time and record those early and often extraordinary powerful thoughts.

 

3. Extend the morning, if necessary

Don’t be afraid to extend the morning, if necessary, by which I mean: don’t be tied down to the simple, binary “am/pm” structure of the day. For many, often good reasons (notably, getting children and/or parents up and ready for school/hospital visits, etc), it can be difficult to start working on your script immediately. If that is the case, don’t be afraid to extend your morning so that it runs, for example, from 11am to 2pm. The key point is to get a jump-start on the day: those first few hours, whenever they come, are usually more productive than any other time of the day.

4. DON’T read

We are writers, not readers, but it is incredibly easy to forget that basic fact, largely because reading is so much easier, and therefore more enjoyable, than writing. Unless you have something absolutely and genuinely urgent to attend to (e.g. a morning e-mail from a boss, co-worker, school, etc.), try not to read anything at all. Free up as much of your brain as possible to concentrate on the task at hand, i.e. writing.

5. Eat

You don’t need to read, but you do need to eat (i.e. eat food). Food is literally the fuel for the body, and the mind, and you need rocket fuel in the morning to get you going.  So don’t skip breakfast, as people are often tempted to do, but make sure that it is a healthy, high-energy, low-fat breakfast. This is when you discover that fruit really is nature’s snack-food, and unlike almost all man-made snacks it’s good for you. Fruit of any kind, even dried fruit, is the perfect food for a writer first thing.  Bananas are particularly good, because they’re easily digestible. That’s why tennis players, especially the mighty Federer and Nadal, are always eating them, even during matches. So, learn from the (tennis) pros and nosh a nana!

6. Drink (particularly water!)

Similarly, make sure you are properly hydrated before you go to work. This is absolutely vital, especially if, like many writers throughout the ages, you have spent the night before getting dehydrated (i.e. drunk!). Water is absolutely vital for writing: regular intake of it is as vital for a writer as it is for any athlete (again, learn from the mighty Roger and Rafa). You may well need another drink to go alongside it – something on the spectrum from industrial-strength espresso to herbal tea – but make sure you have lots of water to go alongside it.

7. Exercise

It may seem like I’m overdoing the writer-as-athlete analogy, but it is important to get just a little exercise in the morning, and that can be as simple and easy as just stretching your fingers (curling them into a fist, gently releasing them until they are fully outstretched and then repeating), if only to try and fend off RSI (the most common writing injury). I promise that this is the final athlete analogy, but just as you would never see a professional sportsman take to the field, court or pitch without warming up, you the professional writer should never take to the keyboard without having done even a little physical warming up (You’ve already done the mental warming up, by making notes in your “dream” and “waking” diaries.).

8. Write (Finally!)

And now, finally, you’re ready to work on your script. So…write! (Yep, that simple.)

 

9. But Be Realistic

Oscar Wilde famously said of one particular day’s work: “This morning I took out a comma and this afternoon I put it back in again.” But that can be enough for a productive morning’s work. While the aim might be to produce five to 10 pages of a screenplay in a morning (or an extended morning – see point 3 above), if ultimately all you achieve is that all-important punctuation breakthrough, à la Oscar, then that is enough. Quite simply, just as some people are bigger than others, some days (and mornings) are more productive than others. As long as you produce something, it’s been worthwhile.

 

10. Finally…Hone in on what works for you

This final point is the most important one – the most obvious, and the most important. What I have outlined above is an overview of my idealized writing morning, which, like all ideals, I rarely stick to in practice. So, once I’ve cursed my failure to stick to my nine-point plan, I get on with it and make the most of whatever is left of the morning (or the entire day).

So, With That Said…

The fact is that plenty of the greatest writers ever wrote their best work whenever and wherever the mood (and muse) took them: at night; in the very early morning (before the rest of the world, even children, awake); even in prison. This truth is perhaps most famously captured by Tom Stoppard (our greatest living playwright and screenwriter) in his play, Arcadia, where he recounts the story of how Byron wrote his most famous poem:

“She walks in Beauty, like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies, and all that’s best of dark and bright meet in her aspect and her eyes…” 

There you are – he wrote it after coming home from a party! And “there you are” – proof, if it were needed, that morning is not just a time of day, but a state of mind. So, hop to it!