Screenwriting is a Decathalon

By Michael Schilf · October 11, 2010

The modern decathlon is a set of ten athletic disciplines, testing an individual's strength, speed, stamina, technique, and endurance. Now when it comes to screenwriting, we certainly aren't sprinting, jumping, or throwing our way to the podium, but it does take a plethora of skill sets to secure success.

Strength: Launching a shot put 22 meters is a feat of physical power, but that's only part of the equation. Any athlete will agree that the difference between good on-the-field performers and the truly elite has everything to do with mind over matter. And for the screenwriter, it is no different. Mental muscle is key – because screenwriting is a thinking profession that just happens to use a very specific form of writing to illustrate great thoughts.

Speed: Breaking ten seconds in the 100 meters is a feat, but it takes practice to perform at that level. And as a screenwriter, you have to work hard to work fast. The more scripts you get under your belt, the more you'll appreciate the importance of speed because, simply put: writing is rewriting. It can take ten or twenty drafts. So write fast and fight the temptation to revise as you go – you might not know the beginning needs to be thrown out until you get to the end.

Stamina: Ten athletic events in two days – now that's toughness and tenacity, or what some might call true grit. And like the decathlete, the seasoned screenwriter understands that it takes ten years to have overnight success. If you want to be good at something, you just have to do it – everyday, and for a long time. This is no secret and definitely not rocket science. So if you want to be a screenwriter, create a daily writing schedule and stick to it like crazy glue. Writer's block is no excuse.

Technique: Why is it that the stronger decathlete can't throw the javelin as far as his competitor? Simple: technique. Screenwriting first and foremost is a trade – with specific rules of structure – but the art in screenwriting comes down to the voice of the writer, or in other words, his or her technique. And you don't need an original idea to be successful, just a different world, different characters, or different execution. Remember, it's your voice. Your stamp. Your brand. Make it original.

Endurance: With ten events, the probability of the decathlete making a mistake – bad jump, poor vault, horrible throw – is high. But it's the athlete's capacity to persevere after the mistake that is key. Screenwriting works the same way. You will fail, and fail, and fail again, but it's your ability to overcome adversity and focus on the next script that will be your greatest ally. The possibility of breaking through the wall of Hollywood is small, but without perseverance, it's impossible.