Networking and writing craft tips, screenplays and novels. Find writing links and advice here. Lucy V Hay is a script reader/editor and writer living in Exeter, UK. She is represented by Julian Friedmann at Blake Friedmann, London.
There’s not a writer alive who feels they have all the time in the world to get their next piece written. It’s a constant battle between the need to put in the hours on the one hand, and the fact that you can only be creative for so long on the other. The secret is to really make the most of every single minute of the day and make the smart choices that allow the words to flow effortlessly onto the page.
Let’s take a look at a few of the secrets the very best writers use and then see how to put them into action.
1) Embrace the art of ‘deep work’
‘Deep work’ is the term for any cognitively demanding task that requires intense focus — writing be a great example. If you want to be able to write, then that’s exactly what you need to do. That means no checking Twitter every 10 minutes, no chatting to your friends whilst you brainstorm, and no editing in front of the TV. If you want to get the most out of your day, follow these 3 simple tips:
Note down all of the possible distractions that surround you when you write
Commit to developing your concentration by treating it as a skill
Record how long you’re able to go deep each day and try and beat yesterday’s score
2) Keep your phone in a different room
The prime suspect that’s responsible for distracting you will likely be your phone. It’s a constant source of stimulation and it’s primed to grab your attention at every waking hour. The moment you glance at it to check a message you’re breaking your concentration. You may think it was only a couple of seconds, but it can take minutes for your brain to get fully back on task. Ignore the productivity apps that are out there and go back to basics by leaving it in a different room.
3) Make sure you’re working solo
When you’re writing you need to be nothing other than focusing on your thoughts. Don’t meet up with friends to chat. Don’t see it as a chance to catch up over a coffee. Don’t work in groups.
If you want to really put in those hard creative yards you’re going to have to isolate yourself for a couple of hours and really get down to it. You’ll probably find it a little intimidating at first, but the results will be more than worth it.
4) Plan more, edit less
You can’t just decide to write a novel and cruise through with no plan. The secret to improving writing productivity lies in planning. Put the work in before the writing starts so that each session has a clear focus. It’s what will enable you to make the most of every minute. It’ll also give you a well-defined direction and way forward. MORE:Why Planning Beats Seat-of-Your-Pants Every Time
5) Take time off when you’re not writing
Every writer thinks they don’t spend enough time putting pen to paper, but often that’s just not true. Spending 10 hours a day at your desk isn’t the way to get creative, it’s the way to burn yourself out.
If you want to be as productive and creative as possible when you’re working you need to make smart choices outside work:
Take a break from your phone this evening — read a book instead
Leave the TV off and go for a walk with the dog
Go to the gym and then meet a friend in town for a coffee after work
Activities like these will allow your brain to recover from the day’s mental exertions so that you’re full of new ideas tomorrow. Ideal if you want to make more progress than you ever thought possible.
6) Find a place and stick to it
Finding the perfect place to write can be a tricky process, but it’s certainly worth it when you consider the upturn in productivity and creative output. Coffee shops are the clichéd place to find a writer, but the open-plan nature can be just a great way to drain your ability to concentrate.
Ideally, you want a room on a quiet street, plenty of natural light, and quiet neighbors. There’s no real secret here, you just need somewhere with the absolute minimum of distractions.
7) Establish a natural daily rhythm
There’s a lot to be said for a routine, and rhythmic working is perhaps the best example. If you get used to writing at the same time each and every day, you’ll soon fall into a pattern of subconsciously gearing your entire day around it. This instantly removes the constant overthinking about when and where you should write today. You can then use all of that spare mental energy to focus on finding the words that bring your script to life.
8) Understand where your time is going
Ask any of the world’s most successful professional writers how they manage their time and they’ll tell you to first understand where your time is going. It’s a great point because if you don’t know where the waste is, how are you going to correct it? Here’s how you can easily figure out what’s going on:
Work a standard day just as you always have done
Time block your activities in 15-minute intervals
Add up the wasted time and productive time at the end of the day
9) Set a daily word count to aim for
Having a target to aim for is important. There will be days when you don’t meet it, but the point is you need to have something to focus on. Start off with a modest goal you can easily accomplish, and then gradually increase the difficulty level. You’ll find that you naturally discover ways to adjust your approach to scheduling and freeing yourself of distractions so you can meet the harder word counts.
Managing your time as a writer is really about managing your attention and focus. If you’re constantly distracted during work it doesn’t matter how long you sit there for. Work on freeing yourself from the distractions that reduce your creative output. Your phone is the easiest place to start, so try leaving it in a different room and let the creativity flow.
Kids are great. We need them to carry on/fix the planet. They also give purpose and meaning to life for a lot of people, me included. Obviously not everyone wants or even likes kids, but I do and I cannot imagine my life without my beloved spawn.
But kids are also the absolute worst, because they take up loads of time you could be writing. Arf, seriously like I said … I lovelovelove my kids, I would literally die for them. But they’re also annoying and selfish and loud and oh, just like me. What a surprise. NOT!
I get a lot of emails from Bang2writers fretting about writing whilst also raising kids. They often want my ‘top tips’ because I’ve been a parent for over twenty years now. I was also a parent BEFORE I was even a writer, yet I still managed to ‘make it’ (Pssst: I prefer to call it ‘creating my career’).
First Things First
You should know that writing with kids is hard. Le duh. Lots of people think parents like me who write are somehow magic, but this is not true. Writing when you have a full-time job or other commitments (or both!) is also hard. In other words, whether you’re a parent or not, you will struggle to get it all done. That’s just the way of it. There’s only so many hours in the day!
Plus writing is just hard. There is no ‘perfect’ or ‘right’ time to write, nor is there any ‘perfect’ or ‘right’ way to do it either. As soon as you realise this, you also realise that getting your spec screenplay or novel or blog written is just about time management.
Luckily, there is always time. Time will never run out. (Unless you die, but then you won’t care about writing, because you will be dead. Truth).
Strategies For Writing With Kids
Here are some of the strategies that have worked for me as a parent-writer. I have written and created multiple books, articles, scripts, etc this way. In all honesty though, most of them could work for just about anyone with lots of demands on their time. Ready? Let’s go …
1) Writing on pen and paper
Going to the park? Great. Let your kids go nuts on the swings and writing notes to self about characters, storylines, etc for later. Get into this habit and it opens up so much in your mind. That means, when you get time at the computer – boom! You write a stack of words. Words add up.
2) Getting up 1 hour earlier
Your kids get up at 7am? Right. Get up at 6am and …
Novelists – try for 300-500 words. Do this 5 days a week and you could have approximately 1500-2000 words per week of your novel done. By the end of the year, you will have about 70K words. A short novel, but a novel nonetheless and a foundation draft. You can add to it after that. If you don’t like early mornings, do one hour in the even after the kids are in bed.
Screenwriters – try for 2 pages. Do this 5 days a week and within that time you will have 10 pages. Within six weeks, you will have the foundation draft of a TV pilot. Within 9 weeks, you will have a first draft feature.
Bloggers/ platform-builders. Try and write at least one 500-800 word article on your website a week and support it with approximately 15 social media posts across the week. Here’s more on building an online platform.
Like I said in step 1), it all adds up!
3) Cut something out
How many hours of Netflix do you watch a week? How many hours on social media like insta? Do you go out a lot with friends?
Find out. Then decide which you like the least and cut it out, replacing it with writing.
Do you have a partner or a mum who will take the kids? Do the kids go out with their dad at weekends? Do you have friends who will take them, especially if you take their kids in return? Negotiate/swap with these people. They will definitely have something THEY want … So swap **that** for writing time.
To illustrate, back in the day, I would watch the kids when Mr C went fishing … IF he kept the little blighters away from me whilst I was writing. So maybe your Mum might take your kids for 2 hours on a Sunday afternoon if you help her in her garden or similar. (But make sure you stick to this and don’t take the mickey).
Everyone always has something they want. Realise this and suddenly whole chunks of time open up.
Even the most epically needy kids have times they do specific things, like nap or watch their fave TV show. My middle child was stupendously challenging, plus I had zero childcare at the time, so I did the following …
Got her up at 6-7am
Took her to the park at 9am for 1.5 hours
Made notes while she slept 11am-midday
Other stuff in the afternoon such as shopping, cleaning etc. I’d also make more notes when she was watching telly when her bro came from school
Bed by 8pm where she would have a meltdown non stop for at least an hour
Writing 9.30-11.30pm (which was easier for me, because I made notes early in the day and had been thinking about it all afternoon)
Basically, whatever works for you. This may take some fine-tuning, but don’t give up. Obviously if your family has added challenges like disabilities, you will need to factor this in too. Figure out others’ needs as well as your own, then plan around this. It can help you grab even the most tiny windows of time.
One Last Thing
Don’t worry too much if sometimes kids end up watching a bit too much telly (or similar) some days. It’s not the end of the world. As long as they get out in the fresh air once a day, telly or iPad time won’t kill them. Nor will eating too many chocolate spread sandwiches or whatever they can get themselves while you work. Honest guv! I watched hundreds of hours of television as a child because my mum was always working and it didn’t harm me one bit. In fact, it literally helped me become the writer I am today.
Also my own son is nearly 21 now and probably lived on way too much television to be honest. Again, he is fine and at university studying music production. He saw me following my dreams and is now following HIS dreams!!! He is happy and creative and an independent thinker. I believe more young people should be doing what he’s doing instead of working in dead-end jobs they hate or doing uni degrees their parents picked out for them. MORE:2 Secrets To Unstoppable Productivity
Good Luck! Don’t forget too to join us in the B2W group at or on insta at @Bang2write. Oh and here’s a pic of the B2W Franchise – the original, plus the two gender-flipped sequels. Yes I did make them all myself. (Mr. C helped a little bit).
Bang2writers have been asking me how to analyse a story to help their writing. It’s something I recommend, because it gets us into the analytical frame of mind. This in turn helps us think about our own stories and what they need. You can read all my #B2WReviews here.
But how do we get into this mindset? It’s worth remembering that emotion and anticipation go together. This means, the more you know (or thinkyou know), the more likely you are to be disappointed by a story. It’s just the way it goes.
Disappointment can breed negativity and that’s rarely productive for our writing. Analysing a story is neither about emotion or anticipation. Here’s the dictionary definition:
Analyse (verb): to study or examine something in detail, in order to discover more about it.
There are some obvious key words there, in bold. Analysing a story is to look at all its parts and make a decision on how successful it is, based on the evidence available to us. Let’s go!
Obviously in the age of social media this will be more difficult for some stories than others. But don’t forget you can ‘mute’ key words and users. I do this all the time. I must have had about 100 social media accounts and sites muted in the months running up to Avengers Endgame being released!
2) Engage With It Alone The First Time
Lots of writers watch or read stories ‘for work’, then don’t actually do any work.! They let the story wash over them while they’re on the phones, talking, eating etc. They don’t give the story their undivided attention. OI, WRITERS, NO!
But we need to concentrate if we want to analyse. It helps then if you engage alone, at least until you get into the swing of analysing stories. If you really must go to the cinema or stream something with a friend or partner, make sure they know you’re working.
By the way, on social media watch parties, tweet-alongs and book debate threads are a thing. These are fun and the discussion they create can be really useful … IF you have watched/read the story before. Try not to do them the FIRST time, though.
3) Watch/Read In One Sitting
If you’re watching a movie or TV episode, this is obvious. Try and stay ‘in the moment’. That doesn’t mean peeing your pants if you’re desperate, but try not to leave the cinema or pause your Netflix.
The same goes for reading screenplays. Books are more of a challenge. Most need between four and six hours’ reading time, sometimes even more. If you can dedicate that amount of time, great. Do it. If you can’t, that’s obviously okay, but do try and keep your reading bursts close together so you can stay as connected to the story as possible.
4) Make Notes
I don’t mean write in-depth observations, just reminders. Stuff like:
Character names and role functions
Interesting and impactful scenes or moments
Genre or plotting conventions or twists you notice
Snippets of dialogue
When you feel bored
Whatever you like. The key is not to get carried away, just write ‘notes to self’ for later.
5) Initial Thoughts
With the story still fresh in your mind, take another look at your ‘notes to self’ from watching. Now is the time to write down any strong emotions you feel about the story, positive or negative. I like to do this straight after finishing the movie, TV episode, script or book. Some people like to wait an hour or two. Try not to leave it any longer than this though, so it doesn’t affect the next step.
6) Revisit Those Initial Thoughts
Any strong emotions you felt about the story have probably dissipated by now. You may have changed your mind completely, or you still like or dislike it. You may discover you feel neutral. Ask yourself WHY your feelings may have changed, or stayed the same. Anything that occurs, along with anything else that may seem relevant now.
7) NOW Do Research
Now is the time to do some research on the story you’ve just watched or read. You may want to consider things like …
Craft. How does it bring concept, character and plotting together? Is it ‘good writing’? If so/if not, how do you know? What evidence can you provide? Maybe it is ‘bad writing’, yet it is still dramatically compelling or interesting. Maybe it breaks those supposed writing rules, but in a good way. Or maybe it appeals to some kind of universal ‘thing’ people can’t resist. What is it?
Who is this for? Perhaps you have watched or read something that is not ‘for’ you. But just because you did not enjoy it, does not mean it has zero value. So consider who it is for, instead. Why would the people in that target audience enjoy it?
Thematics & voice. What is the message, theme or point behind this story, do you think? Why o you feel this way? Is the writer well-known for a particular type of story, style or message and if so, why?
Production /Writing. Were there any problems in the production or audience reception of this story? If you liked it and others hated it (or vice versa), what were their reasons? Are these reasons backed up with emotion, or analysis? Were there any big changes or constraints that meant writers and filmmakers had to go another way from what they first intended?
8) Make Your Conclusion
Those who have taken B2W’s Breaking Into Script Reading course will know I believe there are two essential questions in script reading. These are ‘What’s working?’ and ‘What needs further development?’ I think this is a useful way of thinking about produced and published content, too.
With the above in mind then, I ask myself:
Do we know what this story is supposed to do?
Is it successful at what it’s supposed to do?
Why / why not?
I then utilise my ‘notes to self’ and initial thoughts and research to make my conclusion.
To Analyse = Evidence over Emotion
Obviously I am not saying you can’t get emotional about storytelling. As writers, we love movies, TV and books. It would be nonsensical to say we have to leave our emotions at the door. They are the lifeblood of all good storytelling.
But good analysis is about reason, not emotion. If you want to analyse a story of any kind, you must resist the urge to get angry or squee all over the place. Instead, you must collect the evidence and make a conclusion based on these things. Only then can you analyse effectively.
Here’s some B2W movie analysis to help you get into the swing of it:
Take Your Writing To The NEXT LEVEL!
Radically improve your chances of ensuring your writing craft is super-shiny with my course
We all know format is the LEAST of our problems as screenwriters … but *how* do we improve our writing craft?? My course with LondonSWF, Advanced Fundamentals of Screenwriting at Ealing Studios, London (Oct 19th-20th, 2019). Over two days, we will put writing craft under the microscope & you will learn tricks to elevate your writing to the NEXT LEVEL. Don’t miss out!
CLICK HEREfor full details of the course (or on the pic above). We expect it to sell out , so act now to avoid disappointment. See you there!!!
Grammar purists have always nestled like alabama ticks in every dark corner of the internet. In the past year or so, they seem to be everywhere! These guys police statuses, tweets, threads and then call those out they feel are ‘unacceptable’. (Why anyone who doesn’t like colloquial speak online would follow a platform like B2W, I have no idea. Some people are their own worst enemy, yet point fingers at others as being ‘the problem’. Le sigh).
But this phenomenon is not only related to B2W. It seems internet-wide. It started with basic corrections of typos and spelling. Now apparently informal, colloquial speak on social media is considered WRONG by some writers *full stop*.
Well, you purists better have to time to DUCK … Let’s go!
1) Context is everything
Starting with the obvious. Writing on social media should not be subject to the same critique as a piece of screenwriting or prose. C’mon, this is basic. This is why I don’t accept complaints about typos, grammar or punctuation on the B2W social media. It’s also why I won’t allow ‘helpful’ corrections of other members’ posts in the Bang2writers Facebook group.
Making assumptions about someone’s level of education or competency based solely on their social media posts is absurd. There are some incredible minds out there who may not see the world the same way as you. They may not have had the educational advantages as you. They may have extra challenges, like being a non-native English speaker, or dyslexia. Or maybe they’re just shit at typing. Whatever.
Moving on from social media … Yes, critique of actual writing submissions may include assessment of grammar, spelling and punctuation. Sometimes, this is justified. Sometimes it is not. It depends. Good readers should know how to differentiate (plus they should also be inclusive, see point 5 on this list).
Realising the above and reminding yourself of it is the key. Purists don’t, which is why they are dicks.
2) Understanding counts for something
Who cares, as long as the receiver is able to realise what is meant? Some great writers can’t spell or punctuate for shit. Some can, but just don’t give a shit in various contexts (as above). Others make their writers’ voices stand for something specific. Why not.
Autocorrect is also thing, which can be good but also bad. Many people are writing on phones or tablets with touch-screens. Some creative minds have added learning needs. Others are on medication that screws with their ability to ‘see’ stuff like typos. Or maybe they have vampire fingerprints, like me. Shrug.
REPEAT AFTER ME: ‘if I know what is meant, then meaning is delivered‘.
It is that simple. Or can be. C’mon, why make life more difficult than it needs to be.
3) Language usage is fluid
If you want language and expression to adhere to an ‘ideal’, rigid hierarchy that we ‘should’ all conform to — why would you be a writer??? That’s the very opposite of creative.
Language EVOLVES. There’s no such thing as the ‘best’ language, but English speakers do have an incredibly rich vocabulary. This is not limited to standard English, but regional and subculture dialects. We add to the dictionary at a rate of knots. Many EFL Bang2writers have told me over the years they LOVE English for this reason.
What’s more, check out the infographic below. It’s a bit of fun that mostly delivers on its learning goal EXCEPT for one thing. ‘Oxford commas matter’ it insists. Um yeah, not so much over here in the UK; it can depend. Oops. Because guess what?? Context is everything! Things change, territory to territory, culture to culture, style guide to style guide. Fancy that!
4) Purists’ mythical ‘standards’ are BS …
Following on from point 3) on this list … Every time someone laments standards in writing ought to be ‘higher’, it makes me laugh. Why? Because it’s golden-ager, elitist nonsense.
As an example, Shakespeare is feted as one of the best writers to ever live by the UK Education system. If you’re a trained English teacher (and I am), you will know it is impossible to escape him. He is taught at primary, secondary and beyond. He turns up EVERYWHERE in some capacity.
Yet not a single writer living today writes like him. Not one.
In fact, if we followed Shaky’s lead and made up words and other flowery shit? We would soon get accused of being ‘over-indulgent’ and writing ‘purple prose’. As I mention in point 1 on this list, contexts and audience preferences change. These days, you’re far more likely to see the pared-down, minimalist style of Ernest Hemingway touted as ‘good’ writing. This is why The Hemingway App is so popular in writing circles.
Standards needing to be higher as an indicator of supposed ‘quality’ also has more disturbing ramifications. This leads me to the most important point of all. More, next.
5) … And keep marginalised writers OUT
Look, I get it. I was a stickler back in the day too. But I realised insisting on those mythical ‘higher standards” cuts out SWATHES of marginalised writers. We’re talking poor and working-class writers the most, which in turn impacts on various other communities. After all, intersectionality is a thing and no one exists in a bubble.
If you had a great education? Lucky you. Literally – lucky you!! You never made the decision to go to that great school that taught you the ‘proper’ rules of grammar … Your parents did. They may have paid for you to go; you may have got a scholarship. They may have moved house into a specific catchment area. They may have been able to give you an allowance to stay in college or university. Whatever.
Not everyone is able to do the above, for complicated reasons. Some may be money-orientated; others social. Being born to parents who not only understand the value of education but are able to action it is like winning the lottery. Sure, you may have ‘worked hard’ at school and taken full advantage of the opportunity available to you. Great! You were still handed that opportunity out of blind luck. You could have been born to parents who could not (or even would not!) give you that opportunity.
Seriously, fuck being a grammar purist. It is blaming less-educated people for something that is not their fault. Just as often though, it’s not even relevant. As writers we ought to know better. We should show more understanding of this complex issue. There’s enough rigid-thinking sticklers in the world.
Of course, there are those tedious purists still out there who are also gate-keepers. Until we weed them out, our writing needs ‘reader-proofing’ when we send it out for submission. There’s also the point novels and non fiction generally need to be proofed and copy-edited. It’s just the way of things.
But good news! No one worth their salt in the actual industry is going to put you on the spot about this stuff. Trust me, I’ve been paid for this writing shit a long time. No one has even so much as asked me so much as what a ‘doing word’ is! Surprise, surprise.
So just do what you need to … Which is check over your writing as best you can, utilise the tools available and/or pay a proof reader if possible.
Oh, and don’t forget to tell those grammar purists to go fuck themselves.
Lastly, here’s some linkage To Help with number 1) on this list. Good luck out there.
Every single time there’s a casting outcry, or a supposed ‘ban’ on something, social media goes into meltdown. Writers will make the claim they ‘can’t’ write certain things and this signals the ‘death of storytelling’.
B2W calls BS. It’s time for these writers to face facts. Diversity literally makes storytelling better. Here’s just 5 reasons why.
1) No one Wants ‘The Same-Old, Same-Old’
It’s true that everyone wants ‘a good story, well told’. It’s also true that makes a story ‘good’ is a matter of interpretation. That said, audiences are literally bored with certain types of characters and certain types of stories. Those are literal facts, backed up studies and sales.
Don’t believe me? Then do some research, Google is your friend. Why not start here … I called the below up in less than 30 seconds.
That’s just thinking about films, gender and race. There’s plenty more facts where those came from. There’s also other things to consider, such as novels and TV. Or other communities, such as disabled or LGBTQIA audiences. And beyond!!
Whilst data and creativity can make strange bedfellows, there’s no denying its link to what audiences literally want. It’s our job to entertain as writers, yet huge swathes of audiences have been underserved. Time to change that and the facts back this thinking up.
But where to find all this stuff? Why not start with The Broadcaster Audience Research Board (UK), or The MPAA (USA). For data with a more personal touch, I always recommend the work of producer Stephen Follows. Stephen crunches numbers by the ton and provides fantastic insights for creatives. Check his site out, HERE.
2) It’s Really About VARIETY
When we say ‘diversity’, what we really mean is VARIETY. This means …
Filmmakers & other roles
Variety is literally the ‘spice of life’, so obviously variety is also the same secret ingredient that makes stories better too. That is just common sense.
Switching the ‘usual’ character tropes around is a great start, but it can’t be everything. Doing all we can to amplify marginalised voices has to part of it as well. Think you can’t do much? Think again. Every one of us can do our part to bring people in from the fringes. Even if it’s just a retweet on Twitter for a marginalised writer, DO IT.
3) Hijacking Others’ Stories Is Not Cool
Whenever there’s any talk of cultural appropriation, writers all over social media freak out. What’s more, certain commentators – *coughLionelShrivercough* always get wheeled out to pontificate on ‘the death of storytelling’ (again).
Yet all writers are familiar with the notion of highjacking. The literal dictionary definition is ‘to take over something and use it for a different purpose’. This is how writers might highjack others’ stories:
Via the ‘white saviour’ trope, where a white character helps BAME people in a self-serving manner (especially if said white saviour didn’t exist in a true story, or their actions are exaggerated)
Writers writing stories about people that are especially meaningful to that community (true stories, but also myths and legends), especially without consultancy from said community
The more you are ‘on’ the scale, the more advantages you have. As white people, we must understand the current system was designed with us in mind … It was made by people who look like us, for us. That’s why we are dominant. Again, just the facts of it.
I know all this may seem unfair. I get it. As individuals, it can feel like the odds of ‘making it’ are astronomical … That’s because the odds ARE astronomical. We all have to work for everything we have.
Now imagine working just as hard, but not receiving your due – maybe not even being asked to the table in the first place! – because the system is not designed for you. That’s inequality. So, no writers – you are not being excluded.
Lastly, as empathetic and well-researched as *any* writer can be, we can’t possibly know everything. Sometimes, someone’s POV from a different culture, way of life, or background is a real game-changer for a character or story. It’s exciting when this happens and can bring that *thing* that elevates writing to the next level.
So being aware of your own dominance can actually help you avoid number 1 on this list, ‘the same-old, same-old’ … This can only be a good thing for everyone, writers and audiences alike.
5) Empathy Is The Key
Writers should literally want to walk in others’ shoes. That’s surely the whole point of being a writer in the first place. That can mean thinking about our characters and the communities that inspire them, but can also mean our target audiences and even who gets to tell the stories. Hopefully, it means all of this.
So, you want to become a better writer. Join the club! If you have been struggling to grasp the basics of writing or you think that your craft can be improved, then this article will be very useful to you as outlines how you can do this in just 9 steps. Ready? Let’s go!
1) Ask Yourself WHY
First, sit down, take a deep breath, and ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” Obviously, there must be a reason why you took out your notepad and a pen, or your laptop.
Once you know the answers to those questions, you can start finding the means of putting your idea into words. Remember that the more details you give yourself when answering those questions, the more confident in your writing you’ll be.
3) Understand What You Are Saying
This is pretty simple. If you don’t understand what you are talking about, you won’t be able to explain it to your reader. In the previous step, you figured out what you want, but now is the time to make your reader understand what you want.
Yes, I am talking about your happy place! Your ideal place will be comfortable for you in all senses. If you prefer silence, find someplace quiet. If you like your bed, write in bed. Just keep in mind that you must be able to focus and write, not just relax.
5) Set Deadlines
Deadlines are a great way to make yourself focus. In fact, they are amazing motivators and can really boost your writing speed. You can either set yourself a deadline or a time limit, whichever you prefer.
6) Get A Different Perspective
This is especially helpful if you are stuck and can’t seem to find the right words. Think of people that inspire you. What would they do in your characters’ situation? What would they do? Then, try to write that. Alternatively, if writer’s block really strikes, try THESE 25 PROVEN STRATEGIES to beat it.
7) Close Strong
Lots of blogs insist beginnings are the most important part of your story, but endings are just as important. Mess up the ending and the reader might forget all the wonderful things that came before it. Worst still, they may even put your story down dissatisfied. Close your story with a strong resolution and become a better writer with it.
8) Read Out Loud
As strange as your voice may sound to you when you read out loud, it is still one of the best ways to check if your writing feels good. By reading what you wrote out loud, you can find the places that just don’t work and get rid of them. After all, your reader will not have the perspective of the writer (aka you), so you have to make sure that it sounds good from their point of view too!
9) Be Positive
Last but not least, be positive! You won’t believe how infectious optimism is. No one wants to read stories that are endless downers. Even the most devastating stories have some semblance of hope to them. MORE: Devastating, NOT Depressing – All About Drama
BIO: Frank Hamilton has been working as a translator at translation service TheWordPoint. He also loves traveling and speaks Spanish, French, German and English. Meet him on Facebook.
Last week in Los Angeles, about 100 screenwriters gathered in a Hollywood penthouse bar to celebrate the latest update to screenwriting software Highland. The Mac-based app was created by BIG FISH, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, and ALADDIN screenwriter John August.
Highland counts Hollywood heavyweights among its fans, including Michael Chabon who said: “It is truly such a beautiful app. I have more genuine affection for it than almost any other: the way you love a favorite hand tool or kitchen knife.”
So, what makes this app so intriguing? A few things …
1) It was created by a professional screenwriter
Many of the other standard screenwriting apps were developed by people who were certainly connected to the film industry, but who weren’t necessarily doing the writing for it. Highland’s creator John August is singularly committed to his career as a screenwriter and author first and foremost.
The background of the developers of the other writing apps obviously don’t make their products bad. However, Highland has a specific origin story that creates a connection to screenwriters that other apps may not have. MORE:Which Screenwriting Software Is The Best?
2) It was created with writer personal struggles in mind
Because August spends so much of his career writing, he was able to add features that speak specifically to certain personal writing challenges. When asked what his biggest screenwriting struggle is, August said:
“I think the greatest barrier I’ve always faced as a writer is just starting…Like all of us, I can just procrastinate and find some excuse for not actually getting started. So, a thing that over the last couple of years I’ve taken to heart much more is that idea of announcing that I’m starting a writing sprint. Basically, that I’m committing to one hour of solid writing and I’ll announce it on Twitter.” …And so, we built that into Highland… because it gives you permission to be sort of selfish about writing and to step away from your computer and acknowledge, “I did an hour. That’s good.”
Other features that were developed based on August’s own experiences include the Assemble Command. This allows writers to work on scenes in their own files, separate from the larger script (to lessen the temptation to edit). You are then able to tell the app to assemble all those individual scene files at the end.
There’s also a lack of formatting needed while a writer is writing! Writers can just write and when it’s time to output, the app understands what should be an action block, what is dialogue, etc. This leaves writers free to worry only about words and not how those words look during the writing process.
3) It helps create more informed and balanced scripts
Highland 2.5 has a gender analysis feature that counts the number of dialogue lines spoken by female characters vs. male characters and creates a report for the writer. (The app learns which characters are male and female based on information that the writer inputs). Gender parity is incredibly important in this era and Highland makes it easy to see if one group is dominating a writer’s script. MORE:How NOT To Write Female Characters
4) It has more fun new features for all formats
A Drag and Drop Navigator allows writers to re-order scenes simply by dragging the scene headings around in a navigation bar.
Custom Themes allow writers to change the background colours and the colour of fonts; and to build custom colours and themes to give each writer a fun, individualized writing experience.
A Title Page Builder lets writers enter their information into a form so that the app can format a perfect title page. No guessing as to how many blank lines there should be between the title and the Written by credit—the app fills it in as needed.
And it does all this not just for screenplays, but for novels and stage plays as well. There are many more cool features, which are easy to check out because …
5) It’s free!!
That’s right. No set up fee or subscription needed. Said August: “You can use every bit of it for free. I want to lower the barriers for entry.” MORE: How To Hit The Ground Running
Highland v. 2.5 is the latest screenwriting software update from writer John August.
It was created to challenge specific to screenwriters including (but certainly not limited to): overcoming procrastination, a need for flexibility in writing styles, and formatting issues.
It helps writers develop scripts that are balanced along gender lines.
Highland 2.5 was designed to help writers write in an environment that is as specific as they are
BIO: Former newspaper reporter Aydrea Walden has written for Nickelodeon, Highlander Films, Now Write! Screenwriting Book Series, Makers Studios, Disney, and Amazon. She is a multiple Moth StorySLAM winner, the creator of the solo show, THE OREO EXPERIENCE, based on her blog of the same name, which has been featured in GOOD Magazine and Jezebel.com. She can currently be seen starring in her Webby-nominated, Jane Austen-themed webseries, BLACK GIRL IN A BIG DRESS.
1) Decide what you want out of the competition process
Before you start researching screenwriting competitions, decide what you hope to gain from entering. Do you want a competition that will launch your career if you win? Or, are you looking for a competition that will provide you with detailed insight into how your script ranked and why? MORE: 5 Simple Tips To Help You Break In As A Screenwriter
2) Decide if you want written critiques (and if, so what kind)
The written critiques that are offered in relation to competition entries are many and varied, so determine the depth of feedback you’re looking for in a critique and how much are you willing to pay for it. Often you’ll have to decide at the time you enter a competition if you want the critique offered, so do your research prior to starting the submission process.
3) Research the competition
This might go without saying, but it’s a good idea to only enter competitions that are reputable and have garnered respect from the industry. This doesn’t mean new competitions aren’t legitimate, nor does it mean that a competition that has been around a long time is the right competition for you and your script. But you don’t want to get your script (and your money) tangled up in a scam.
4) Read the judging criteria
Not every competition looks for the same qualities in scripts. Some want edgy Indie scripts. Some want big-budget blockbuster scripts. Reading the criteria a competition uses for judging entries can help determine if your script is a good fit.
5) Eligibility Requirements
Once you’ve narrowed down the list of competitions you want to enter, make sure you can enter them. Eligibility requirements pertain to both the script (it’s format, genre, length, etc.) and the writer (age, writing income, previous competition/fellowship wins, etc.). MORE:5 Career Strategies For Writers
6) Understand what you are legally agreeing to when entering a competition
Always read the fine print associated with the competition you plan to enter. This includes the rules, agreements, eligibility requirements, terms and conditions, privacy policies, etc. — as well as the prizes awarded. Also know that, in addition to reading the fine print for the competition itself, you may also need to read the fine print for the competition’s parent site and/or any third-party submission sources utilized.
7) Protect your work
It isn’t usually an entry requirement to copyright your script with the U.S. Copyright Office and/or register it with the WGA — but, many competitions do recommend that you do at least one (if not both). Personally, I always copyright my work. Just be aware that it can take several months to process the copyright or registration. If you want to have the official copyright/registration confirmation, you’ll have to start the process well before you enter any competitions.
8) Know the deadlines
Some competitions have multiple entry deadlines (the cost to enter increasing after each deadline passes). Other competitions have an incredibly short entry window, lasting only a few days or a few weeks. Keep a record of these deadlines — after all the time and energy you’ve put into researching and selecting competitions (not to mention writing your script!) you don’t want to miss an entry opportunity just because you missed the entry period.
9) Know your script’s main genre
Some competitions utilize what I call “genre-specific judging” (meaning scripts are judged only against other scripts submitted under the same genre — rather than judging all scripts and all genres together). But, even if the competition does not use genre-specific judging, entry forms typically ask for your script’s genre anyway (usually so competition administrators can match your script to the appropriate judges).
10) Write your logline ahead of time
Most competitions require a logline with entry, so it’s a good idea to write this a few days or weeks before you plan to enter. Even if the competition doesn’t use your logline as part of the judging process, the logline could be used to help match your script to the right judges and/or to market your script if you win/place. That’s decent incentive to write a succinct, accurate, and compelling logline, right? MORE: CHEAT SHEET – How To Write A Logline
Remember: one competition is just one competition!
One of my scripts reached the semifinals at Austin Film Festival, the semifinals at ScreenCraft, and the finals at the Nashville Film Festival Screenwriting Competition. However, that same script (same script, same version, same everything) failed to make it past the second round at the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards, or get anywhere at Nicholl, Big Break®, BlueCat, or Script Pipeline.
So, remember, the results from one competition — or even two or three — is not always perfectly indicative of the quality of your writing. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still benefit from the competition process. Entering competitions, reading legalese, learning how to deal with results and analyzing critiques… these can all be great opportunities to improve your script and yourself as a writer. And that can help get you closer to a screenwriting career — whether you win the competition or not.
Thanks for reading! Thanks to Lucy V. for posting! And happy writing!
Feeling excluded from the industry? You’re not alone. It seems a lot of writers feel this way. If you’re part of the B2W Facebook group, you may have seen several mini-spats in there this week. These things always seem to jump up at the same time, because feelings run high and writers have A LOT of feelz.
The purpose of this post is to address why writers might feel excluded, but also why this is not necessarily the issue they think. Ready? Let’s go.
The BBC Drama Writers’ Scheme
The first one revolved around the new BBC TV Drama Writers 2019 Scheme, which requires an agent or a credit to enter. A few B2Wers claimed they were being excluded, since they had neither.
It’s easy to see why on this one. After all, it’s hugely difficult to secure an agent or a credit. That said, it is not impossible. Plenty of writers have set their caps at doing this and they have gone on to do it. Why not you, too?
Also, writers need to be battle-ready. A huge opportunity like the BBC’s cannot afford to hold writers’ hands. Writers have to prove they can hit the ground running. But it’s a sad fact that many new writers just don’t know ‘enough’, whether that means craft or industry nous (sometimes both).
Rightly or wrongly them, industry types need to work out which writers are ‘battle ready’. One way they do this is by insisting writers have agents and/or credits. Whether we think is right or not, we also have to accept not meeting the submission criteria for a job is NOT the same as being excluded.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Keen on getting accepted for schemes like the BBC’s? First you need to work on that credit and/or getting an agent. It really is that simple.
ITV ‘Bans’ All-Male Comedy Writing Teams
The second mini-spat revolved around the ‘banning’ of all-male comedy writing teams by ITV. Instead, to get commissioned comedy writers must have gender parity in their writing teams. This means new teams that get commissioned should be a 50/50 split of men and women. Inevitably, this meant there were some claims male writers are now getting excluded as standard.
First off, as @dtmooreeditor points out below, all-male teams are not ‘banned’, it’s a stupid clickbait headline. Secondly, most people agree that comedy is male-dominated and something needs to be done about the inclusion of female voices … After all, mere encouragement has not done much for female representation the last two or three decades.
On top of all that, dtmooreeditor also posits that ITV has the budget and can set its spending however it wants in this particular round of funding. If that includes a drive towards diversity and inclusion, so be it. Again, not meeting the submission criteria for a job is NOT the same as automatically being excluded. READ THE WHOLE THREAD HERE or click on the pic.
Lastly, politics aside, in this post-Fleabag, Russian Doll, internet-savvy age, how hard is it to find female comedy talent??? If male writers find it extraordinarily difficult to locate them, they’re either not very imaginative or very organised. You need to be both to be a pro writer!
The odds in this writing lark ARE terrible. Add other challenges and grievances and it can feel completely impossible. This is why writers feel excluded.
But let’s set those emotions aside for a moment and think logically. What are YOU doing to ensure you have what the industry wants? And I don’t mean just writing that great script or novel. I mean literal career strategies to ensure you have the goods to make gatekeepers take a chance on you, such as:
We have to remember it’s all about CUMULATIVE build up. We’re in this for the long haul and there’s no short cuts. That’s just the way it is. We can fight this – and lose – or accept what we need to do and get on with it.
Don’t forget, I know where you are coming from. Back in the day, I had no agent, no money, I lived in the middle of a field in Devon. I had no contacts and I was just a teen mum. I couldn’t even drive a car and there were no buses out there.
It would have been easy to express defeat before I even started. Instead, I recognised my career was in MY hands and I had an internet connection. I knew I could make my way into the writing career I’d always wanted via the world-wide web. As a result, Bang2write was born and the rest is history.
Want to be thought of as a GENIUS in this writing lark? Then you need to check out what’s gone before … But also crucially, who’s trod the path before you, too!
Many thanks to Michael for this brilliant dose of inspiration in this very diverse list. Whilst you may not have enjoyed every piece of work these creatives have produced, fact is they’re at the top of their game. There’s lots we can learn from them in our own writing journeys. Enjoy!
If you want to become a genius creative yourself, it’s a good idea to try to learn from the best! I’m obviously not saying that you should flat-out imitate them. Rather, you can learn a lot from studying the work of genius creatives you respect and figuring out how they do things.
That said, sometimes it can be difficult to figure out where to start, especially with so many genius creatives out there to choose from! So with that in mind, I’ve done the hard work for you and listed just fifteen of the best creatives of the 21st century. Ready? Let’s go …
1) Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino is mostly thought of as a director, but he’s also one of the top screenwriters of our modern era. He’s been known to work as just a screenwriter, although in recent years he’s mostly focused on writing and directing his own films. You could learn a thing or two from him when it comes to how to structure a story for the maximum impact, and let’s face it – his films are a lot of fun, too.
Brooklyn-based Spike Lee is an African American film director who’s won a range of awards including an Academy Award, a BAFTA, two Emmys and a Cannes Grand Prix award. Lee also owns a production company called 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, which has produced over 35 different films. The majority of his work investigates race, racism and bigotry, with films including Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, The Original Kings of Comedy and BlacKkKlansman.
Top Tip: You can build recognition and even a career on investigating social justice issues.
3) Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan is so dedicated to his craft that he apparently learned how to grow corn so that he could make Interstellar as realistic as possible. He has a reputation as one of the best creatives in Hollywood thanks to films like Memento, Insomnia, Inception and Dunkirk. Combined, his films have brought in nearly $5 billion in box office sales, making him a household name in the process. If you haven’t heard of Christopher Nolan, I’m not sure how you ended up on this article in the first place.
Top Tip: Pay attention to the details if you want to add a heightened degree of realism to your movies.
4) John Singleton
Singleton passed away several weeks ago, and it was a big loss for creatives in the community. After directing Boyz n the Hood, he became the first African American and the youngest person to have ever been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director. His other projects include Poetic Justice, Rosewood, Shaft, 2 Fast 2 Furious and the television series Snowfall.
Top Tip: Tell stories from the heart and that relate back to the life you’ve lived. In this way, youth can trump experience.
5) William Monahan
William Monahan is one of the best 21stcentury writers, period. That’s because he’s a novelist as well as a screenwriter, starting out as the editor for SPY Magazine while establishing himself as a journalist, essayist and critic. Monahan is mostly known for writing the screenplays for movies like Kingdom of Heaven, The Departed, Edge of Darkness and Oblivion, which he wrote the first draft for. Definitely one to watch and to learn from, whether you’re a fan of his or not.
Top Tip: One way to break into the industry is to start out in more traditional writing roles such as journalism and movie criticism.
6) Ava DuVernay
DuVernay is mostly known for working on the movies Selma and A Wrinkle in Time. She’s the first black woman to win the directing award at Sundance, as well as the first black woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. A Wrinkle in Time also made her the first black American woman to direct a film that grossed over $100 million.
Top Tip: If someone else hasn’t walked a path before you, perhaps you can be the trailblazer.
7) Steven Zaillian
Steven Zaillian has been in the business since the late 70s, where he started out working as a film editor before moving into screenwriting, directing and producing. He wrote the screenplay for Schindler’s List, ultimately winning a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and an Academy Award. He’s also worked on Awakenings, Gangs of New York and a bunch of other well-known and critically acclaimed movies.
Top Tip: Another way to get into the movie business is to start out as something else, even if it’s just by running errands. You have to do whatever you can to get your name out there.
8) Mara Brock Akil
Akil is a screenwriter and producer who’s mostly known for her work on Girlfriends, The Game, Being Mary Jane, Black Lightning and Love Is. A graduate of Northwestern University, she’s based in Beverly Hills and is the older sister of actress Kara Brock. Movies are in her blood, and there’s a certain quality to her writing that has helped her to cut through the noise of a mostly male-dominated industry.
Cody is mostly known for Juno, which was her first feature film script and which won an Academy Award, a BAFTA and a Writers Guild of America Award. Before that, she first rose to prominence because of her memoir, Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper. After Juno, she worked on projects including Jennifer’s Body, Young Adult, Ricki and the Flash and Tully.
Top Tip: Embrace your past instead of being afraid of it. Also, grasp opportunities. Cody never set out to become a screenwriter, but now she’s at the top of her field. It’s no accident.
10) John Logan
Unlike the other screenwriters on this list, John Logan is almost purely a writer and not a writer/director, although he’s acted as a producer from time to time. He’s the brains behind movies like Gladiator, Star Trek: Nemesis, The Last Samurai, The Aviator and Skyfall. He’s also written for the theatre and for television, winning a whole swathe of awards along the way. He’d been writing plays in Chicago for ten years before even starting his first screenplay.
Top Tip: Just because you’re a screenwriter, it doesn’t mean you have to be a director or a producer. Sometimes it’s best to focus on the script and to leave the rest to specialists.
11) Lucinda Coxon
Coxon is a British playwright and screenwriter. Her credits include The Heart of Me, Lily and the Secret Planting, Spaghetti Slow, The Danish Girl, Mrs Gonzales and Wild Target. Her plays made her a success, but it’s her screenplays that have made her a star. She also shows that you don’t have to live in Hollywood to build a career as a screenwriter.
Top Tip: Getting started with plays can help to boost your portfolio and to kickstart your career.
12) Brian Helgeland
Helgeland is an interesting writer because he started out with A Nightmare on Elm Street IV but refused to be pigeon-holed as a horror writer. His breakthrough hit was 1997’s L. A. Confidential. He followed this up with A Knight’s Tale, which he also directed and produced. More recently, he was the writer of Mystic River, Robin Hood and Legend. Definitely one to watch – and it’s worth reading the source screenplays, too.
Top Tip: Don’t back yourself into a corner by focusing on a single genre. Instead, embrace multiple different genres and put your own unique spin on them.
13) Karen Croner
Karen Croner is a television and film screenwriter who’s worked on a range of products including TV’s 101, Scattered Dreams, One True Thing, Admission and The Tribes of Palos Verdes. She’s also written the screenplay for Girl Soldier, which is still in development, and the TV series My Glory Was I Had Such Friends, which has recently entered pre-production.
Top Tip: Being a genius can be about being multi-disciplinarian. In other words, be prepared to write for both film and TV and to seize any opportunities that come your way.
14) Barry Jenkins
Jenkins launched his career with My Josephine. He followed it up with a number of well-received movies. This includes Medicine for Melancholy and 2016’s Moonlight, which delved into LBGTQIA+ issues. His third major feature was 2018’s If Beale Street Could Talk. This is based on the novel of the same name by seminal African American author James Baldwin. He’s also notable for taking an eight year hiatus between movies. He has a well-established reputation despite only being in his thirties.
Top Tip: Take a break or a hiatus if you need to, especially if it means you’ll come back stronger.
15) Mark Bomback
Bomback is a little lesser known than some of the other screenwriters on our list. He’s still worth a look … He’s done a bunch of uncredited work and worked as a co-writer with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Films he’s worked on include Live Free or Die Hard, Deception, Total Recall, Fifty Shades of Grey and The Mummy. He’s also written a book called Mapmaker, which is worth adding to your list of screenwriting books if you’re after some light reading.
Now you know who some genius creatives of recent years are. Your next step is to make sure that you’ve checked out some of their work. You can also take notes and work out what you can learn from them.
Don’t forget though that simply imitating these genius creatives is NOT the lesson. You need to take what you learn and put it into action your own way. You need to develop your own unique voice and style if you want to build a reputation for yourself.
BIO: Michael Turner is a film buff and former screenwriting student. Now self-employed as a freelancer writer, he works for clients like Gradesfixer and predominantly writes about films and television. His favourite screenwriter is Quentin Tarantino.