As you travel along on your screenwriting journey, you’ll discover that time bends and burns quickly in Hollywood. The best discipline you can master early on is being mindful of time and your writing schedule. It can be your friend and many times your enemy—it all depends on how you use those precious hours, days and weeks. As screenwriters we must regard our writing time as precious and do everything in our power to protect our working time from the forces of interruption and procrastination. I know many non-writers who do not regard writing as real work and believe it’s just playtime because it’s creative. As we know—it’s work and hard to do well.
An ex-girlfriend used to tell me that I could “always write on the weekends” as if writing was not part of my daily routine or schedule. If I have a writing deadline and friends invite me out and I turn them down, they always think I’m making up excuses when in reality—I’m actually working. I recall once that I had to work for twenty-four hours straight to complete 26 pages to finish a script as the producer notified me the investors were in town and wanted to see a draft the following day. I carved out my writing time and protected every moment by not answering the phone or spending time on the internet. I focused, sacrificed and completed the assignment as asked.
As a screenwriter, you must consider writing a job and this helps you to think of yourself as a professional. This is true even if you’re working on a spec. It’s good practice and prepares you for the time when you do get paid to write and the producer requires you to complete the script on a deadline. You’ll already have this priceless experience if you stick to your own schedule by protecting your writing time from interruption and distraction.
When I’m working on a screenplay assignment, it is a job and I try to write six to eight hours a day—every day. That’s the type of schedule it takes to complete a script by a set deadline and dabbling a few hours here and there will not do it. Screenwriting is all about routines and schedules and when the writing gets difficult, I know writers are easily distracted. I’ll admit it happens to me often. This is dangerous because when distracted, writers tend to procrastinate and ultimately stop writing. This is the time when others chip away at our precious writing time and can lead us astray. We actually do want to go out and have a good time, it’s just we have work to do. It’s simple—pages do not appear by magic, but from writing.
Choosing the right place to write will also help you to protect your precious writing time. If you’re constantly interrupted as you write at home, consider working at the library, a coffee shop or even renting a small space to write. As renting an office can become pricy, many paid work-spaces have sprung up where you can buy membership access to a quiet working environment.
When a producer hired me last year to write a screenplay, he bought me a month membership to a writer’s workspace appropriately called The Office in Santa Monica, California. I was extremely productive every day as a result. The Office specifically caters to screenwriters who take their writing time very seriously. They even enforce a no cell phone or talking policy for all members. It’s a terrific spot for hard-core writers who take their craft seriously. If you’re there—you are there to write. As a result, I completed the script in four weeks because I was able to work uninterrupted.
The longer you write the more you’ll get to know about yourself as a writer. You’ll discover your strengths and weaknesses, if you can write fast or slow, and if you’re easily distracted or if you can work in a crowded coffee shop. When the writing gets difficult, and it will, time becomes your enemy as you never know each day if your creative juices will flow or dry up.
Do yourself a favor and always protect your precious writing time from the forces of interruption. You’ll keep on a schedule, your writing will become a habit, and you will be more productive than ever before.
“Work every day. No matter what has happened the day or night before, get up and bite on the nail.” – Ernest Hemingway
“When I’m writing, it’s all the playground, and the worst three hours I ever spent there were still pretty damn good.” The work starts by finding a door… you are willing to shut, avoiding distractions such as telephones and video games. Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”—Stephen King, On Writing
“The time we have alone; the time we have in walking; the time we have in riding a bicycle; are the most important times for a writer. Escaping from a typewriter is part of the creative process. You have to give your subconscious time to think. Real thinking always occurs on the subconscious level.”—Ray Bradbury
“One of the things that young writers falsely hope exists is inspiration. A lot of young writers fail because they aren’t putting in the hours. I had a great, great editor, Hiram Haydn, who had many children and was a novelist. Toward the last years of his career, the only time he could write was Sunday morning. He would write four hours every Sunday morning. And he would get books done. It would take him years, but I think it’s crucial that we have some kind of rhythm. Whether you can write all day every day, or whether you can write four hours on Sundays, whatever it is, you have to protect that time.”—William Goldman
“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”—Joseph Campbell