Today we’re going to be talking about creating a writing routine that will keep you motivated and growing in your writing career. Most screenwriters have an overwhelming sense of dread that washes over them when someone gives them notes on a script or when they face the prospect of starting a new screenplay. This feeling is nothing more than a result of a lack of confidence in one’s own writing abilities. If a writer is at the mercy of a creative muse and cannot sit down to write on command than sooner or later that writer will find themselves painted into a corner with a producer breathing down their neck as they wait for a new draft.
The idea that creativity is a fleeting muse that comes and goes on her own volition is a total lie. While great ideas may only come so often, the execution of ideas should be a skill that you have sharpened like the fine edge of a samurai sword. The truth is that creativity is a finely honed skill that you have to exercise just like any other muscle.
The best and most prolific writers have a writing routine
The best writers make writing a fixed part of their lives. Writers like Stephen King and Neil Simon write every day of their lives. Looking at their daily routine you might be shocked to find out that they actually don’t write nearly as much as you may imagine.
Stephen King has said many times during his lectures that his goal is always to write six pages a day. Sometimes he writes a little more and there is a rare occasion that he writes less but writing six pages a day gets him a new novel every 60 days. Neil Simon only wrote 3 pages a day. It doesn’t sound like much when you really think about it. How does someone go from writing 3 measly little pages to having a pantheon of Broadway hits and Oscar nominations? The secret is in the consistency.
Writing whether or not you feel like it or are in love with what you’re writing. Writing whether you are sick or healthy. Writing whether you have a job, a family obligation or any other excuse you may have. You have to be so confident in your ability to sit down at the keyboard and go that the idea of not writing feels foreign, scary even.
Commit to a fixed amount of time
Like anything in your life worth developing, you have to commit to a certain fixed amount of time. It’s amazing to me when people are shocked to hear how much I suggest a writer should work on his craft. If told a personal trainer that you were looking to get in shape as a bodybuilder but insisted that you were only going to go to the gym when you felt inspired and then go on a gym sprint for three weeks straight you’d be laughed at and dismissed as delusional. Why would it be any different for a mental skill than a physical skill?
Now you don’t have to be a bodybuilder writer, spending hours and hours a day at his keyboard pounding with hopes of churning out twenty pages in a twelve hour period, but writing at regular intervals to keep your mind in shape is something that is crucial to your development as a writer.
Don’t be too ambitious
So how much time should you spend writing? It’s really a question only you can answer. I would say that regularity is better than longer endurance writing sessions. In other words, I believe it’s better to write for thirty minutes a day than to write once a week for four hours. There’s something magical that happens when writing becomes part of a daily routine or something you at least come back to several times a week. I do think that writing for shorter than half an hour (or at the very least twenty minutes) is a bit ineffective though. There’s a rhythm that your mind tends to click into when you have a decent stretch of time to write and I think the minimum amount for most people is around 20-30 minutes.
The worst thing you can do is over-commit on how often or how much you will write. If you set out to write every day for an hour and only manage to get in one day of writing in on your first week the amount of disappointment that might befall you could very easily spiral you into a negative mood of self-doubt that would prevent you from returning to your computer.
I would suggest starting with a modest goal of 2-3 times a week for 20-30 minutes at a time. If you can’t commit to something that small then writing is most likely not something that fits into your life at this time and if that is something you can keep up for four weeks it’s very likely that the addictive nature of writing will take hold and you’ll find yourself writing for longer stretches or squeezing in more sessions throughout the week.
If you’re not working on something, have exercises ready
It’s not difficult to work on the same screenplay for weeks and sometimes even months before getting to a draft but you’ll quickly find that waiting for people to read your screenplay once its finished is a painfully slow process. When you’re done writing your script, I think it’s totally appropriate to take a week off but anything more than that and you might find yourself having a hard time getting back into the rhythm of writing.
To get back on track after finishing a large project you can either start a new screenplay, work on a short film for fun (they can be pretty cheap and exciting to produce these days) or simply warm up with some writing exercises. I plan on writing up a whole blog post on some great writing exercises but for now, I’ll just give you a simple one that is always fun:
Imagine you are sitting down for a therapy session with God. Write out your therapy session with God and see what he says about your life and how he would guide you in this part of your life. If you’d rather not make it personal feel free to do the therapy session for a character on a project you’d like to develop.
Work on your weakest areas
The last thing I’ll say is that the whole point of writing regularly is to strengthen your skills as a writer. If you happen to be great at structure and outlining then working on outlines constantly isn’t really going to sharpen your skills that much. The idea is to work on the things you need to improve. If you’re lacking in authentic dialogue, you might want to set aside time at least once a week just to writing conversations without writing any prose or narrative, conversely if you struggle with structure (which I did for years) you should work on outlining for a few weeks until you become confident in that skill set.
While writing is not always fun or easy when you make it a daily routine, it quickly becomes second nature and you’ll find that you feel like the best version of yourself when you can find that chunk of quiet time to stare at your blank screen and create worlds with your fingertips.