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Is procrastination a screenwriter’s greatest enemy? In order of most to least detrimental, I think procrastination is up there with self-doubt and creative blocks. But the good news is that we have solutions for all these challenges, and your only job is to implement them. Step one: Create a writing schedule that you can stick to. I genuinely believe all writers need one if they’re serious about getting things done and getting better. And you know what? I have an Emmy-winning expert’s opinion to back me up.
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“If somebody decides today that they want to be a screenwriter, the first thing I would tell them to do is to treat it as if you just got a new job. And I would say, give yourself a schedule."
Ricky Roxburgh is a writer for Disney Television Animation and a recent daytime Emmy winner. He's part of the team that's responsible for shows like “Tangled: The Series” and the movie “Saving Santa.”
“You’ll hear a lot of things like, oh, just ten minutes a day. Five minutes here or there. Don’t do that,” Roxburgh said. “Block out a couple of hours at least and make it a regular thing.”
Ricky revealed to us in a previous interview that he practices writing for more than four hours every day, outside of his regular writing job. And while that exact schedule may not work for you, you should build a screenwriting schedule and stick to it.
No one is going to check on you, especially if you’re not on someone’s payroll. A schedule keeps you accountable. So, your friends want to go to dinner? Sorry friends, I must write. There’s a new TV show on Netflix? It’s on-demand for a reason. A schedule won’t allow you to make excuses, because if you miss work, you miss work. And you know what would happen at a real job if you missed your shift.
So many writers struggle with self-doubt and suffer from imposter syndrome. And while you may feel like you’re not a “real writer,” I’m here to tell you that is a hogwash statement—complete junk. Think about what would make you feel like a professional, and understand that whatever that is – a paid gig, your name in lights – could happen at a moment’s notice if you’re prepared to seize the opportunity. You ARE a real writer, and a screenwriting schedule makes it so. It also helps you prepare for the day that you will be on someone’s payroll.
A screenwriting schedule forces you to practice writing even when you don’t want to, or you don’t feel well, or you’re tired, or whatever other excuses you come up with that day. You’re honing your screenwriting craft regularly while giving procrastination the boot.
Nothing feels better than finishing something you started. Roxburgh rewards himself with three days off from writing when he finishes a project. A screenwriting schedule will help you map out exactly how long your screenplay will take to complete as long as you stick to the plan.
Imagine your friends and family asking you if you wrote anything this week, and you’ll be able to say that you wrote for 20 hours, or five days, or finished 30 pages. You’ll feel proud of yourself for having accomplished your goals, and you’ll find joy in showing that off.
Ok, so now that you’re convinced, you’re ready to make a screenwriting schedule!
Are you a night owl or a morning person, or are you a mid-day writing warrior?
Maybe you can dedicate one hour a day, or perhaps it’s two hours per day, three days per week. Your writing schedule does not have to be the same every day, but if it is, that could help keep things consistent for you. And don’t forget, everyone needs days off. Don’t overcram your schedule, or you’ll be less likely to stick to it, and more likely to suffer burnout.
And don’t let me hear that, “but it’s research!” excuse. It is not research. It’s procrastination disguised as research, and it isn’t productive. If you don’t know the name of something, the time period, or the right word, highlight that section of your script and come back to it later when you’ve made purposeful time for it.
I’m not just talking about hours and days here. You should plan out exactly what you’re going to work on each day, whether it’s research (see above), 20 pages, 1,000 words, notes on ten pages, or rewriting your first act. Make the goal something that you can attain so that you feel accomplished during your planned writing session, and you know exactly what you’ll be working on during the next planned session. Screenwriter Ashlee Stormo is a master at this. Watch her video about a day in her life to see a real-life example of this practice.
Are you trying to complete a short by the end of the month? Or maybe, a screenwriting contest deadline is approaching. If you carefully plan out what you’re going to accomplish on each scheduled writing day, you’ll be able to clearly see when your finish date is, and stick to it.
This is childish, I know. But it works for me for all sorts of things! I give myself a star if I stuck to my workout routine, consumed three glasses of water, or completed at least one task on my side projects. It’s a visual way to see how well you’re doing against the goals you’ve set for yourself, and it feels SO good to see a star on every day of your planner or calendar. Ahh, progress! While I live and die by my iPhone’s Outlook calendar, it’s nice to have a physical calendar to write down your goals and keep it somewhere you can see all the time.
“Treat it like a second job, or a full-time job if you can,” Roxburgh concluded.