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Tuesday 25 September 2012

30 Tips To Get You Writing Your Screenplay

1. Set a timer on your phone. Let's say an hour. Sit and don't do anything for that hour. Don't look at your phone again, don't turn on the TV. Don't tweet. It's just you and the chair. Don't write down ideas that come to you, don't do anything. Sit, think, dream. But no action. 

As creative people we often snap into action the second we feel we have a seed of an idea. So often, it's a false alarm, a restless brain. Take the time to sit with your ideas. If you want to write them down, tough. Not during this hour. 

2. Write a feature film in less than an hour, by outlining it scene by scene as it comes into your brain. Like this:

MARK is at the office, bored and depressed. 
SALLY is working a double shift at the cake shop. She hates it. 
MARK walks into the CAKE shop. He's depressed. SALLY tells him to buy a cake. He does so.
MARK walks out of the store, wishing he'd got her number. 
The cake shop EXPLODES. 
MARK sprints inside, he hunts for SALLY in between the flames. 

The example above is me being silly -- that wouldn't make a good film at all. But a good shortcut with writing is just to outline ideas as they come to you. To throw caution to the wind. Don't write a masterpiece, just find the next sentence. 

Before you know it, you've outlined a whole movie. If it sucks, who cares? You've lost nothing but an hour or two. If it's good? Go back to it and build from it. 

3. Write a bad script. Even if your ideas are AWFUL, or NON-EXISTENT, write it anyway. You'll learn from it. Some people spend five years writing no scripts because their ideas aren't good enough. But in fact, if you wrote 15 bad scripts in that time, you'd learn so much about yourself and your writing. 

4. Quit. Go do something else. Become a shepherd, get into a relationship with a trout. If you quit for good, then it probably wasn't for you -- but if you come back to it some day, then maybe the break is exactly what you needed. Some people write their masterpieces in their 70's. Some people have great talent, but have nothing to say. Rather than sitting in your room trying to force a script out, go volunteer in Africa. Go visit a friend in France. Anything is better than sitting around not writing

5. Be around people who make you laugh. 

6. Do things that make you uncomfortable. Just past your comfort zone is where you have the interesting experiences, and meet people that you didn't think you'd ever come across. 

7. When a friend asks you to do something that you don't want to do --- instead of making the excuse that you're tired, or have work in the morning, say 'yes' to the offer and go and do the thing you don't want to do. 

8. Work on the script that's been circling around your brain since you were 13. You know the one; the script you've been destined to write because it's so personal yet have always stayed away from because you don't have enough clarity. Attack it like you know exactly what to write. And guess what, you do know how to write it, you're just a scaredy cat. That's right. 

9. Realise your inner-critic has absolutely no jurisdiction over your life. What has it ever done? All it does is shout at you from some self-righteous position within your own brain. Tell it to go for a long walk. You can actually train yourself to listen to your inner-critic. You'll actually hear that voice in you that says, "you suck, you're a fraud, you have no talent", or maybe it's worse, maybe it says, "your parents were right, you're a waster, and your girlfriends that dumped you had the right idea too....". 

Stop and think for a minute. With that voice in your head, you'll never get any work done.

You have to understand that the inner-critic is there to save you from perceived threats, from embarrassing yourself. But when you're 89 and dead, you won't regret being embarrassed. But you will regret not writing a script because some bitch on Facebook thought you had no talent, and you'll regret not sending your script to a producer just because an inner voice said you're talentless. 

Get your act together and stop listening to that bullshit. It's nonsense. 

10. Take a moment to look around, breath; and realise that it's only screenwriting. It's make-believe, a bit of fun. 

11. If you're stuck on a particular script, then write some random scenes for fun. For example, if you're writing a tense FBI thriller; write a scene where your characters are at the zoo for no reason. When your FBI agents and detectives are taken out of their context, and find themselves at a zoo for no reason other than to look at penguins, you'll find yourself amused by them, and you'll see them in a different light. 

It doesn't have to be the zoo. It can be anywhere. Just take your characters out of the story and write a random scene for fun. 

12. Stop asking for people's opinions every five minutes. A lot of people out there will stop you from writing. Sometimes it's jealousy or competitiveness, but mostly it's because --- all people have different ideas. Writing is about having your own ideas, your own vision. EVERYONE THINKS THEY KNOW what a good story is, EVERYONE. Why? Nobody knows. But people will talk you out of anything. 

I want to write a story about two guys in a prison called Shawshank. It's about hope, and friendship.

I can't see how that would work.

It'll be great. 

No Stephen. A story needs something more interesting -- like a love interest, or maybe a conspiracy at the prison --- maybe, I know, maybe one of the inmates is a former boxer with a drug addiction who wants to join the CIA. 

This is what people are like! They're mental! They think your ideas suck. And even when they think they're good, they'll still offer suggestions! And these things throw you -- because some people can speak so authoritatively. 

Stop asking for opinions and get writing, get it done. 

13. Shut up. Sit down. Write. 

14. Write about the personal stuff. The insecurity you feel when you're around people who intimidate you, or the confidence you feel when you're doing what you love, or the heartbreaks you felt when people left you. I know that stuff is painful, but it's where the gold is. It's where you have to mine for insight. Your experiences are PERSONAL. They're YOUR OWN. But they're also universal. 

If you're not sharing who you really are, then you're not doing a good job. 

15. Get dumped. 

16. Dump someone. 

17. Dump someone. Get back with them. Dump them again. Get into an argument. Propose to them. Make them cry. Get beaten up by their family. 

All that stuff helps. Creativity comes from chaos. 

18. But you can't be your most creative in the midst of chaos. You need to find your place. Your room. Your ocean. Your garden. Wherever it is. You need to find your place where the omens are good, where the world says "Write, and be yourself!" Stop making excuses and make sure you go there to do your work. 

19. Come on, get off of Twitter. Leave Facebook alone. 

"@kidinfrontrow is five pages into my screenplay, YAY."

Who cares? No-one. Don't go for short and quick gratification. Save it for when you can say "I WROTE THE WHOLE BLOODY THING! YEAH!"

Social networks are a distraction. They have their purpose, sure, but they don't help you get into your imagination. Study after study has shown that these distractions stop us from focusing. Neuroscience has proved that we can't multitask, that it takes 25 minutes to refocus after a distraction. 

You can be the exception to the rule if you want, but instead I think you should shut out the distractions and focus on your writing. 

20. Think about dying. Will you say "I wish I had tweeted more", or maybe, "I wish I had done more browsing on the internet of a morning". Or will you wish you had spent more time on your passion, writing? 

21. Realise that your script doesn't have to be perfect. People get huge writers block due to perfectionism. Some of the most imperfect things can be perfect. The mistakes can resonate with people. Don't waste your time fearing it's not the best it can be. Just do what you can, then let go. 

22. Reconnect with an old friend. The one you haven't seen in seven years, who six months ago you emailed about catching up. There's something in those old friendships that, when you re-connect with them, they open up parts of you that you forgot about. There's something warm and exciting about rediscovering who you were and where you've come from. Again, this stuff is a Godsend, writing-wise. 

23. Read/Watch/Study your guilty pleasures. Because they're the things you really love. They hold the key to who you are and what you want to write about. 

24. Use a pen and paper. 

25. Go for a run. Do it regularly. It's good for your health, good for your memory, good for creative ideas, good in every single way. 

26. Get a pad and paper and just write. Write nonsense! Write anything. Just make sure words come out. It's like clearing out the trash --- eventually patterns will form, things will link up -- within the randomness, there'll be a message. 

27. Surround yourself with positive influences. Hang out with friends who love that you're a writer, watch YouTube videos of people who inspire you. Watch movies that you love. Have adventures with people who make you laugh. 

Writing is tough. It's hard work. It's gruelling and there will be so many things in the world that say "you're not good enough", and "you'll never make it!" You have to overcome these by yourself, but it helps to be surrounded by good people who believe in you. 

28. Figure out when you write the best. Is it early in the morning? Is it at night after everyone is asleep? Is it in the afternoon when you're fully awake? 

Think about your eating habits too. Does caffeine make you more, or less creative? Does pasta make you tired? Do you keep getting ideas after eating chocolate? 

Don't get too obsessed with this stuff, but look for patterns. 

29. Find your own voice. 

You do this by writing. A lot. 

And don't be afraid of your influences. Embrace them. You'll sound like them at first, but eventually you'll find your own way. It's all part of the journey. 

30. Realise it's a journey. A long and winding road, full of ups and downs. You have scripts you haven't written yet that will ABSOLUTELY SUCK.

But that's what it is to be a writer. 

Sometimes nobody believes in you, and your shitty writing proves them absolutely right. 

Until you get up again, write something new, and improve a little. 

Bit by bit, day by day. You keep writing. 

You keep finding your voice. 

Write, write, write. 

And enjoy it. Because, as I said, it's a journey.


  1. Beautiful, grand, generous, incisive, glorious insights! I wish I had this to work with 30 years ago; I might've had the guts to do what I was supposed to do from the beginning. Thanks, Kid!

    1. Kevin, thank you so much for your kind words! Don't worry about the past 30 years, now is the time. It's all a journey :)

  2. Bookmarked. Thanks for the push!

  3. Needed this. Heck, I need this every day. Thank you so much for the time you devote to this blog and encouraging all of us to get down and do the things we love, and want to do. It means the world.

    Would have made this longer, but I gotta feature to finish writing.

    1. Thanks The Director; really appreciate it. Now get back to writing ;)

  4. This is getting printed out (in larger font) and posted right above my computer.

    1. Take a picture of this and send it to me, I wanna see :)

  5. Glad I read this. Now, I'm getting off the internet because I have writing to do.

  6. Also try what Ben Stiller did: lock yourself into an expensive hotel in the same city you stay. You cannot get out until you're done writing!

  7. Facebooked, favourited, engrained into my subconscious after reading it 10 times with a vow to read it every morning for as long as I need it and longer... Thanks, Kid. You just saved my life... again. You're not a real person. Can't be. You must be some kind of angel.