How to Finish a Screenplay: Your 2020 New Years Resolution

Have you always wanted to finish a screenplay? Why not do it in 2020? It’s a new year, a new decade, and a fresh start for your writing goals. We’re not saying it’s easy – but it IS possible. Here’s how you can finish a screenplay this year.

Finished is better than perfect

Are you putting pressure on yourself to create a masterpiece? Let yourself make mistakes. Write a crappy first draft. To finish a screenplay, remember that ANYTHING is better than an unfinished masterwork. Because once it’s finished, you can start rewriting and making it better.

You don’t have to write the whole script in order

Every time you get stuck, just keep going with SOME kind of placeholder, even if it’s “funny joke here” or “I’m not sure what this scene will be yet.” Keep writing the rest of it and come back to your placeholders later so that you’re still getting pages done.

You can also write the scenes or lines you’re most excited about first. “Absolutely eat dessert first,” says Avengers writer Joss Whedon. “The thing that you want to do the most, do that.” Of course some days are better than others, but writing doesn’t have to be a constant torturous process.

Set realistic goals

Goals are important – maybe joining a writer’s group with a weekly deadline for pages or entering the Nicholl fellowship can motivate you. But let go of the idea that you’re going to crank out 10 pages a day and finish a script in 12 days. Maybe you WILL have a 10-page day! But if you pressure yourself to make all your days like that, you might be setting yourself up for failure. 2 pages a day is actually a perfectly fine goal. Think about this: If you write 2 pages a day, 5 days a week, for a whole year, you’ll have 520 pages. That’s 4-5 features, or maybe 1-2 features that you rewrite 1-2 times. Either is an amazing start.

If you’d prefer to think in hours (which works better for rewriting), think about clocking 2 hours a day, either before or after work. Or maybe 1 hour at lunch and 1 hour before or after work. Or maybe just a total of 10 hours a week, whenever you can. But expecting yourself to write 6pm to midnight every night when you work a full time day job is just too much. You deserve to get sleep, see your friends and have a life.

Try different methods

Do you struggle with focusing on your script instead of looking at social media or watching videos on YouTube? Try something like the Pomodoro Technique, which requires that you work uninterrupted for 25 minutes before giving yourself a break. You might also want to go somewhere without access to wifi (or block your internet yourself with something like Freedom) while you work. Even the pros do it: writer/director Nancy Meyers once said she has to shut off her internet while writing so she could focus.

When you’re constantly getting interrupted, it takes time for your brain to scrub away “attention residue” and get back into deep work. If you can, try to give yourself truly dedicated writing time. Maybe for you this means only 3 days a week of really solid work instead of 5 or 7 days a week of haphazard work.

Set aside time for researching and outlining

Another problem with the “Write a script in 10 days” idea is that it doesn’t allow for outlining or researching. At some point, yes, you do just have to start writing pages. But take your writing prep seriously so that you don’t waste time on a script that needs more planning. Prep is real work, too.

Get a collaborator

Not all screenwriters work well in rooms by themselves. It’s okay if you try writing a script and realize you need some help or input. You might consider writing the script with a writing partner. You might also just need notes from a friend or creative producer. If you know of a director who needs a script to shoot, that could also be a motivating partnership!

How are you going to finish a screenplay in 2020? Let us know in the comments!

Lessons and Tips

Leave a Reply