And why it’s good for writers by Jacob Harpel.
Writers are often chastised for putting things off, but have you ever thought that diving headfirst into your screenplay might not actually be the best way to get the party started?
Being creative means looking at screenwriting in new and inventive ways. In this article, we are going to do the same thing with procrastination.
Sometimes it’s better to lean into procrastination because it allows you an opportunity to complete tasks that at first glance might not seem important, but in the long run, it will give you more tools to make your first draft the best as it can be.
So, without further ado or ahem… procrastination, here’s a list of productive tasks you can perform while procrastinating your screenplay.
Make a list of what you want to accomplish.
You’re staring at a blank page. You have the concept in your mind but aren’t sure where to begin. That’s perfectly okay. Don’t worry if you can’t vomit out your first few scenes. That works for some people, but it might not work for you.
Instead, jot down your goals or what you’d like to accomplish. Break them into small tasks. They may range from planning out your first act to writing down the themes you want your story to convey. Ask yourself what kind of story do you want to tell?
Once you’ve made your list, you’ll have a plethora of smaller goals you can easily cross out once completed. You’ll find yourself in a more positive mindset after accomplishing a task, no matter how small. As writers, we’re so quick to punish ourselves for not writing, but why not do the opposite? Be proud of everything you accomplish. It’s all part of the bigger picture.
Create your world.
That might sound like a big ask. You want to start your story, but aren’t quite sure where to begin your outline? Then start small. Spend time creating the details that will build to make up your world and your characters. Write down your characters’ goals, fears, guilty pleasures, and bad habits. You’ll walk into your first draft with a clearer sense of who your characters really are, and this will make your story that much more developed.
You can also create the soundtrack of your movie on Spotify or YouTube. What songs do you think best express your characters and screenplay’s tone? Afterward, you’ll have the perfect playlist to write your script to.
Utilize the Internet to develop structure and avoid predictability.
The internet is an amazing repository of knowledge…when used correctly. Sure, it’s easy to distract yourself with the endless rabbit hole of pimple popping videos, but instead, try to direct your attention to some of the many valuable resources for developing your screenplay.
A site that many professionals will point you towards is Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. You’ll find an unbelievable amount of resources, but the one I’d recommend the most is the popular beat sheet. By no means is it a structure that you should limit yourself to, but you’ll find that it’s extremely helpful with brainstorming the narrative arc of your story.
Or maybe you want to know more about genre. Are you looking to write a horror or romcom, but worried about falling into clichés? Another website I’d recommend would be TV Tropes. It may not be as helpful with structure, but you’ll find that it’s an entertaining and helpful database of popular genre tropes. Spend some time exploring and laughing at the recurring tricks that many stories use and think of the ways that your screenplay might defy expectations and come through with a fresh perspective.
And of course, there is our own articles and downloads – Shore Scripts. Not only will you find informative and helpful articles to guide you through the dark uncertainty of writing, but Shore Scripts also has Script Analysis for popular movies like Drive, Network, and the Big Lebowski. Take the time to study the structure for these movies and what makes them work. Find ways to insert that into your own writing.
Consume what motivates you.
Whenever writers feel stuck or frustrated, thoughts of doubt may start to creep in. Maybe you’re just not cut out for this? Maybe you should just stop? These are all normal emotions to have. You’re not alone.
Instead of forcing yourself to write and risk growing more frustrated or confused, sometimes the best way to solve a problem is by taking the time to walk away. Give yourself time to relax and think. It’s in these moments that it can be good to watch scenes from some of your favorite movies. Not only are you relaxing but watching your favorite movies or series will remind you of why you are writing in the first place. Because you love it.
Find your motivation, whether it’s a scene from a movie, a speech from your favorite writer, or even just an inspiring YouTube video. Let it revitalize you and remind you why you’re pursuing this crazy dream in the first place. Then direct that passion into your writing.
There isn’t a clear path to success. What works for one person might be impossible for someone else. Hopefully, these tips help set you up for a positive writing session but don’t be discouraged if they aren’t for you. Be open to different strategies when figuring out your own process. Being a productive screenwriter means finding a way into the right mindset for writing. Set yourself up for success and learn from the failures if, as and when they come.
As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.”
Jacob Harpel is a writer and producer who worked for AMS Pictures in Dallas before making the leap and moving to NYC. Jacob Harpel is best known for his work on The Price of Fame (2018), Scandal Made Me Famous (2016) and Murder Made Me Famous (2015).