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Write every day: How to write your first screenplay

It’s done! I wrote a full first draft of my first feature-length screenplay in preparation for the ScreenCraft April summit in Chicago. It feels amazing to have done this. Now it goes away for a few weeks before editing begins.

Here are some thing I learned about screenwriting during this process:

1.) The months of research, reading, storyboarding, visualization, and treatment writing were incredibly helpful. More so than any other kind of writing, the planning and organization of a screenplay is critical. It makes the actual writing easier, clearer, cleaner, and faster.

2.) I wrote the first draft of my screenplay in two days, and not because the story poured out of me. It absolutely didn’t! It was the months of pre-work, that was actual work, that made all the difference.

3.) Dialogue is the main vehicle in live-action screenwriting. The look and feel of the live-action film is the director’s domain. The story and dialogue, not the visual rendering, is the domain of the writer, and the screenplay respects and reflects that.

4.) I watched Aaron Sorkin’s excellent Masterclass on screenwriting. He said that most of screenwriting is not writing at all, and that jumping in to writing too soon can complicate a screenplay in problematic ways. I had to fight the urge to jump into writing. I had to force myself to do all the upfront work before I put down a single word. I’m grateful for his advice, and though it was difficult to follow it was absolutely worth it. You can free write for a novel, short story, or journalism piece. Screenplays need a plan.

Have you written a screenplay? What did you learn in that writing process? 

Write every day: Advice on achieving goals from Sara Blakely, Founder of SPANX

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SPANX

MasterClass recently had a Q&A on Instagram Live with Sara Blakely, Founder of SPANX. Sara offered up practical, immediately-actionable advice for anyone who is an entrepreneur, freelancer, or has goals they want to meet. I took notes and posted them over on Medium. If you like this post, please hop over to Medium, and give it some claps!

  • Bucket your days of the week by type of work
    Sara tries her best to reserve whole days of her work week for different types of work: marketing, product, future planning, etc. It doesn’t always work out perfectly but bucketing them helps her to make sure she’s hitting every part of the business each week and also giving herself the room to devote her attention to each one.
  • Write down your goals and post them so you see them every day
    There’s so much research about the value of not just having goals but physically writing them down and posting them so that you see them every day. It keeps you accountable and focused no matter how busy life gets.
  • Have one word for the year as an overarching goal
    It doesn’t matter what it is: peace, love, rest, self-care, travel. Have a theme for your year. In 2020, mine is Productivity. It’s posted on my front door so I see it every day.
  • Visualize your goals
    Right down to what you’re wearing when it happens, visualize what you want to happen and then use your waking hours to take that visualization from your imagination into reality.
  • Regularly try to fail
    There’s a lot of talk about celebrating your failures. Many times we’re so busy building ourselves up to succeed that we don’t reach as far as we could. We don’t take risks. We don’t take chances. Sara’s not saying to be reckless; she’s saying to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. The fear of failure is really the fear of embarrassment and the concern about what others will think of you. How can you begin to put that concern aside and go after what you really want, the dreams so big that you’re much more likely to fail than succeed? What would that look like?
  • Own your ideas and don’t be afraid to stay small to be self-sustaining
    Sara owns SPANX 100%, and has from the beginning 20 years ago. She doesn’t have investors. She never took a business class. She never worked in fashion. She just created a product to solve a problem she had: she wanted to wear white pants to a party without having anything show underneath. She never got ahead of herself. She was okay staying small, running the business out of her apartment for two years by herself. She built a great product and then promoted the heck out of it. Once she was profitable, she didn’t need investors. She didn’t waste her time chasing investment money. She went out and got business to support her product.
  • People care much more about the why rather than the what of your product
    Ask yourself “Why is my product or service different? Why did I start this?” That’s the story to tell to customers, partners, collaborators, employees, and to anyone and everyone you meet.

Thank you to Sara and to Masterclass for organizing this Q&A. It’s exactly the shot in the arm I needed today. Sign up for Masterclass at https://www.masterclass.com/ and follow Sara on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/sarablakely/

Write every day: Make time for reading

This year I’m working on better tracking the books I read. I created a year-long list on Goodreads and every time I hear of a book I want to read, I add it. This tracking is helping me to intentionally set aside more time for reading. If you’re interested in joining me, you can find my Goodreads profile here: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17028034.Christa_Avampato

Do you intentionally put time into your calendar to read? Do you have any reading goals for 2020?

Write every day: The future’s up to us

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Rose Eveleth

“I have a healthy relationship w/ the future. The future hasn’t been written yet…Remember we can do something. People need to show up. You feel terrible about climate change? Then do something about climate change.”

Have anxiety about the future? I’ve got something for you that will help. Listen to this Ologies Podcast episode about futurology with Rose Eveleth of the Flash Forward podcast. She is realistic and optimistic, and I love her message of empowerment and action. You will feel better after listening to this episode. Given the state of the world right now, we have to do everything we can to pick up ourselves and pick up others so we can all keep working together toward a brighter future.

Link to the podcast episode: https://www.alieward.com/ologies/futurology

 

Write every day: Are you in the messy middle?

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John Bucher

Are you in the messy middle, at the gateway of contemplation (which is my tattoo!), in the space between “no more” and “not yet”? Then listen to my brilliant and inspiring friend and writing mentor, John Bucher, on the Story Gatherings podcast. Link to podcast episode here: http://storygathering.libsyn.com/a-conversation-with-john-bucher-on-liminal-space

Write every day: My favorite Walt Disney quote about creative work and dreams

I’ve been a huge fan of Walt Disney’s tenacity ever since I first learned his story. Of all his marvelous quotes about creativity and creative work, this one is my favorite. May you sleep to dream.

“And just like that, after a long wait, a day like any other, I decided to triumph, to look for the opportunities, not to wait. I decided to see every problem as the opportunity to find a solution. I decided to see every desert as the opportunity to find an oasis. I decided to see every night as a mystery to solve. I decided to see every day as a new opportunity to be happy. I stopped caring about who was the winner and who was the loser. Now I care only about knowing more than yesterday. I learned that the best triumph that I can have is to have the right of calling someone ‘my friend’. I discovered that love is a philosophy of life. That day I stopped being a reflection of the few triumphs in my past, and I started to be my own tenuous light of the present. That day I learned that dreams only exist to be made to come true. Since that day I don’t sleep to rest. Now, I dream just for dreams.”

Write every day: The West Wing and Hamilton taught me about the rhythm of dialogue

As I’m working on my screenplay, I’m listening to the language of The West Wing and the Hamilton soundtrack. The rhythm and beat of the words, and the power of that language, are inspiring. Not a single word or line is wasted. They all matter. It’s writing we should all aspire to as writers and seek out as audience members.

What do you watch and listen to when you want to be inspired to write dialogue?

Write every day: Agent queries

Yesterday was the first true workday back after the holidays so you know what means—many agents are open for queries again! I started sending queries for my second Emerson Page novel. Here are some tips for those new to queries:

– Check out the hashtag #MSWL and this website: https://mswishlist.com. You’ll find what different agents are looking for right now and you can search by genre and age range of your manuscript.

– Follow every single guideline to the letter. Agents are flooded with queries so make yours stand out by following all their specifications. That might sound like a no-brainer but the number one complain I hear agents make is that people don’t follow their guidelines. Follow them, and you’re already ahead of many other submissions!

– Remember every query you send is one step closer to your dream agent. Querying can absolutely get discouraging. The process alone can be exhausting. And yet, unlike many fields, it’s the defined road to an agent which could lead to a possibility to get published. Do a little at a time. A few a day or a few a week. Whatever you can manage. It’s a long road so keep your spirits high and stay positive. We’ll get there.  

Write every day: The compost pile of writing

Neil Gaiman often talks about the compost pile of writing, bits of information and small stories we collect even when we don’t know what we’ll do with them. I’ve got whole Trello boards, post-its, emails, file folders, and cut documents (documents where I place cuts I make from larger pieces of writing) filled with these.

These compost components hit me at the strangest times and in the strangest places. Sometimes, I dream about them and wake up in the middle of the night to scribble them down. This is the main reason that I have a notebook and pen on my nightstand.

Many times it takes years for these bits to become anything. Sometimes they end up strung together with other fragments. Many I’m still waiting to see if they become useful at all in any way. If everything I have in the compost pile now were to become something, I’d have enough material to last a lifetime, maybe two.

Do you have a compost pile of content? How do you sort and organize it? Have any of those fragments been turned into something larger you never imagined you’d write?

Write every day: The single best tool if you’re writing a screenplay

One of the most informative actions I’ve taken as a beginning screenwriter is to watch movies with their screenplays in my lap. I read a scene, watch that scene, and read it again to see how it translates from the page to the screen. Here’s what I’ve learned in this process:

  • The final screenplay and the final movie often look very different. Scenes are reshuffled or cut altogether. I watched one of my favorite movies and saw that an entire storyline had been cut from the final movie. Lines and words are different, too. Unlike a book or short story, the final screenplay is nowhere near final.
  • Screenplays are short compared to most books. A two-hour movie is ~120 pages (~25,000 words). That’s half the words of even the shortest novel.
  • Every single word in a screenplay counts. There is no room, or interest in, excess description. No inner thoughts. If it can’t be said or shown on screen, then it doesn’t belong in a screenplay. Writing has very few hard and fast rules, but in screenwriting brevity is one of them. Eliminate the unnecessary so the necessary can speak and be seen.
  • Scenes are Lego blocks. One thinks to the other in sequential order. In novels, you have rest scenes. In screenplays, you don’t. The question “And then what happened?” is crucial to ask at the end of every single scene. The answer to that question is the start of your next scene.

If you’re writing a screenplay, reading screenplays and then watching their corresponding movies is the single greatest tool you can utilize. Are you writing a screenplay? Which screenplays do you recommend reading and watching?

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