Are You The Cliche Of An Aspiring Screenwriter? Follow These 5 Steps So You're Not.

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We’ve put together 5 ways to avoid becoming the cliche of an aspiring screenwriter who doesn't actually do much writing. Or marketing of their script.

5 ways you can start to slowly make the transition. Starting today!*

1. MAKE THE COMMITMENT

Once you make the commitment to be a writer, everything else falls into place.*

If you’re still working that 9 - 5, coming home from work and watching TV rather than writing, you haven’t made the commitment.**

Michael Arndt was working as an assistant to Mathew Broderick when he made the commitment to be a screenwriter.*

He decided that if he was going to ever become a screenwriter, he was going to have to make some changes to his life first. So he saved up a substantial amount of money and quit his job.
*
Then he gave himself one year to just sit down and write. Every day for as many hours as possible. One year later, he had finished six scripts, one of which was called Little Miss Sunshine.

Below is a list of the four best ways you could change your life to refocus it on screenwriting:*

Quit Your Day Job

If you’re young and without any big time commitments, save up some money and spend all day writing. Give yourself a set amount of time. You can always get another job afterwards.*

Or move back in with your parents and write. If this is what you really want to do and you’re in your 20’s or 30’s with no real commitment to anything else, just do it. Or you may look back and regret it.*

Take An MFA In Screenwriting

Enroll on a screenwriting degree and completely immerse yourself for two or three whole years in the world of writing. Or, take a part time screenwriting course.*

Move to LA*

Moving to LA is probably the single best thing you could do to further your career.

This is where it’s all happening and you’ll feel inspired just being here. Plus, you’re much more likely to meet people in the industry who can help.

Again, if you’re young enough, another option is to actually get a job in the industry as an assistant or intern.*

Okay, you’ll be working like a dog for five days a week and not feel like writing when you get home, but you’ll also be in exactly the right place to give your scripts to important people for them to take a look at. *

Now, we realize that not everyone can make these kind of decisions, but even if you’re a stay at home mom of four, or have some kind of hot shot job, you can still make a commitment to screenwriting.*

Finding the time is not impossible. All it takes is some creative planning.*

2. SET GOALS*

Firstly, start big. What’s your overall goal for the year? Where do you want to be with your writing twelve months from now?*

Write them down — an overall career goal, monthly goals and day-to-day goals. It’ll help give a sense of structure to your writing so you’re not just cranking out material “blind.”

Be specific. Aim to have written a certain amount of screenplays. Compiled a database of agents and managers. Sent out X number of query letters etc.*

A good way to help focus your goals is by setting yourself deadlines. You can use competitions as deadlines. Or book an appointment with a script doctor in X number of months.*

Give yourself day-to-day goals too. Some writers love setting themselves word and page counts while others just write until they drop. Whatever works for you, use it. And stick to it.*

3. MASTER THE CRAFT

Read Screenwriting Books

There are certain screenwriting books for which it should be a federal crime for an aspiring screenwriter not to have read, such as “Save the Cat”* by Blake Snyder, or our own “Master Screenplay Sequences.” (Just kidding.)

Some writers, such as Craig Mazin, scoff at the idea of reading books to help master the craft of screenwriting. They say “Don’t bother with books, just watch movies. And read scripts.”*

While there is obviously value in watching movies and reading scripts, what is the harm in reading a few books as well?

It’s like saying “The best way to become an architect is by watching other architects build houses and poring over building plans.”*

Okay… but if that aspiring architect then goes home at night with a copy of “Towards a New Architecture” by Le Corbusier, that’s somehow not helping?*

Don’t listen to Craig Mazin. Make a big list of screenwriting books you want to read and cross them off as you go.*

Read Screenplays

Craig Mazin and co. are right about reading scripts though. This is by far the most important thing aspiring screenwriters should do outside of writing.*

You should be reading at least one professional script a week. Otherwise you’re just attempting to do something without really mastering the craft from those who do it best.

Immerse yourself in professionally written scripts and you’ll learn a ton about characterization, structure, how to write a scene and writing style. *

Most importantly you’ll learn how to create emotion in the reader from using only words on a page. This is what screenwriters live by, and there's no better way than learning from those who obviously know how to do it.*
And read bad scripts too. You should be offering to read the script of every screenwriter you meet. You’ll probably learn just as much from these as the professional ones.

You’ll learn what not to do pretty fast, and that’ll help you no end in your own writing.*

Write Outlines

The days of just sitting down to watch a movie are over. If you’re an aspiring screenwriter and serious about breaking into the business you need to be writing outlines of films as you watch them.*

This is a great exercise, primarily in helping understand and master structure, but also helps with character and scenes as well.*

So, here’s what you do:

Simply sit down with a laptop and write exactly what happens on screen as you watch.*

Each scene in a film fulfills a specific function, and it is this that you need to capture in your summary.*
Sentences should be short and to-the-point, describing only the basics of what happens and avoiding extraneous details.*

It’s a good idea to start with a location, as in “Outside the gas station” to set up the scene. Then, only the major beats need writing down. So you should never say how someone’s dressed, for example, unless it’s important.*

At the end of the movie you should end up with a four to six page long outline. The next step is to break this down into its relevant acts and sequences. And that’s it.*

By breaking down dozens of movies into outlines you’ll really get a sense of how your genre works. Build a database of outlines and you’ll also have a great reference point for when you’re writing your own screenplays.*

4 DON'T SEND OUT YOUR SCRIPT UNTIL IT'S READY!!!

This is probably the single biggest mistake aspiring screenwriters make. Save yourself a ton of money, heartache and rejection by only sending out your screenplay when you’re sure it’s good enough.*

How do you know when it’s good enough? When you’ve sent it off to an unbiased professional screenplay consultant like ourselves for notes and got at least a “Consider” but
preferably a “Recommend” on it.*

If you send your script off to a consultant or receive notes back from someone in the industry and get a “Pass” you know you need to work some more on your craft before approaching agents, managers, producers or even sending it off to competitions.

Once you’ve got one solid script that’s received favorable feedback from a working professional, you’re going to need
to repeat the process with at least two more scripts.*

Never go out into the industry claiming you’re a
screenwriter “with a great script” unless you have at least two other great scripts sitting on your laptop as well. People in the industry want to discover great writers, not great scripts.*

They want to see that you’re in this screenwriting thing for the long term and not living a 90’s fantasy of selling a million dollar one-off spec.*

Aim to create a portfolio showcasing your best work. We advise sticking to one genre so people know how to place you in the industry.

Positioning yourself as a Thriller Guy, or a Comedy Girl is much more beneficial than as a jack-of-all-trades with a Thriller, a Comedy, a Horror and a Reality TV show.

Most importantly, though, don’t send out a terrible screenplay into the industry.

Hollywood agencies and production companies log the scripts they receive and so by sending something to them you’re leaving a permanent reference point for them to be able to look you up as a writer and see what you’ve already submitted.

And that’s not good if it’s a script in which nothing happens until page 59.*

5. ONCE IT'S READY, MARKET YOUR SCRIPT TO DEATH

Many aspiring screenwriters have done much of the above. They’ve made the commitment to write. They’ve mastered the craft of screenwriting and finished eight or nine scripts. They’ve even received positive feedback on them.*

But then they’ve just entered a few contests. Shown it to a friend of a friend who works at CAA. Maybe joined The Blacklist promotion service. And that’s it…*

Well, this may work if you’re lucky, but chances are it won’t be enough. In order to give yourself the best possible chance of going from aspiring screenwriter to working screenwriter you need to market the hell out of your screenplays and yourself as a writer.*

Now, turning into some kind of Glengarry Glen Ross type sales character is probably not the most natural thing for a screenwriter, but it’s one of the most essential.*

Everyday, writers with half of your writing ability are getting signed by agents, managers and getting their films produced. Not because they’re better writers than you, but because they’re better at selling themselves.*

Once you have a portfolio of work, you need to become just as aggressive in your marketing strategy as the less talented writers who are getting deals.*
This means actually devising a marketing strategy in the first place. Again, you need to write down your goals and organize your contacts.

Research all the places you could possibly send a script in your genre. Build up a spreadsheet of possible contacts to approach. Set goals and cross them off.*

Your script may be the next Pulp Fiction, but if you don’t actively get it out there (in the correct manner) who’s going to know about it?*

If you need guidance with all of this, a good place to start is hiring a screenwriting career coach such as Lee Jessup.*

* * * ** * * **

Well, that’s our five point plan on how to avoid becoming another aspiring screenwriter cliche. We hope it’s provided some inspiration.*

Let us know what you think!
 

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