Even for screenwriters who write professionally at a day job, learning how to grow as a screenwriter is essential to both career and personal success. Growth keeps things interesting, adds challenges, and helps us feel more fulfilled as creatives. At work, it helps us land newer, bigger, or better opportunities and keeps our day jobs from feeling monotonous. Is your creative hobby feeling stagnant? It may be time to give yourself a manual push if your regular writing practice isn't cutting it.
Lucky for you, breaking out of a writing rut is easy if you put a little effort into it.
We asked professional screenwriter Ricky Roxburgh how he keeps things interesting while writing in his personal time since he already writes all day long at his day job. He's currently a story editor for Dreamworks and was previously at Disney Animation Television writing for shows such as "The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse" and "Rapunzel's Tangled Adventure."
After spending time with his family in the evening, they're off to bed, and he's off to his laptop to challenge himself in his personal writing time.
But how exactly do you know if you're doing enough to improve your skills and expand your horizons? There are some tried and true techniques outlined below.
How to Grow as a Screenwriter:
- Make a schedule and stick to it
It won't be easy to measure your progress if you're not sticking to some routine. Create a schedule that lists your writing goals (enter a contest, find an editor, produce a short film), and break those goals down into actionable steps. What needs to be done, and how often, to reach your goal by your desired date? Now, add in once or twice weekly writing exercises that have nothing to do with that goal, so you don't get too focused on one particular task. Having these exercises listed on your calendar takes the pressure off to develop new ideas every time you sit down to write because you'll already have something to write about based on that exercise or prompt. A writing schedule will help you develop writing discipline.
Now that you have a schedule, you can build on it with additional ways to grow as a screenwriter, such as reading! Reading lots of scripts is integral to your growth and learning. Depending on how much time you have, add one or two scripts to read per month to your schedule. Line them up for 12 months in advance and track down the scripts online, so you can't make any excuses. Make sure the screenplays are varied by genre, so you learn something new from each one.
- Focus on and Perfect One Area of Your Screenplay
Morning or night, before and/or after you write, take an extra two minutes to write a little more by hand. How are you feeling going into this writing session, and how did you feel coming out of it? What worked, and what didn't? What else was on your mind? This doesn't have to be perfect. It's just a chance to put your thoughts down on the page and write differently.
- Read past work
One way to see how far you've come is to look back. Grab some old screenplays or other writing work and take a look at where you've improved – and where you haven't. Focus on practicing in the areas where you could still use some work.
- Find an editor
Get someone else's opinion and feedback on your work, no matter how hard it may be to see your work critiqued. The only way to grow is to learn and improve – and that is difficult to do in a silo. You will probably have to pay a screenplay editor to consult you on your screenplay. Still, you will get valuable tutoring from a professional that you're not going to find from a family member or friend.
- Share your writing
While their advice may not be as constructive as a professional editor or screenplay consultant, it is free to share your screenwriting work with a friend, family member, or acquaintance in a writing group. It also requires more vulnerability, which requires practice. It's not easy to hand over our hard work to people whose opinions we admire, but the more you do it, the less painful it will become. Do this early and often, so you don't get too far down the road on your project before anyone has seen it.
- Take a writing course
Think you know everything? Think again! Sometimes, it takes someone explaining a screenwriting lesson in a different way to make it really click for you. Try on different instructors – or even screenwriting books – for size. There are plenty of free screenwriting courses out there, and you can hone in on specific elements of your screenplay that you want to improve.
- Try a different kind of writing
Like journaling – trying a different kind of writing removes some of the pressures specific to traditional screenwriting. When you can throw formatting aside, your ideas will flow differently. Poetry anyone? How about an article based on a current event? Get out of your screenwriting rut by trying something totally out of your comfort zone.
- Publish your work online
If you've protected your screenplay through WGA registration or a U.S. Copyright, post it! There are different schools of thought on this, and many screenwriters like to keep their work close to the vest. But if you've protected your work through legal means, I think you should share it. Let others read it, let it be discoverable, let it change based on others' feedback. Otherwise, it might just sit on that shelf forever. How cool would it be to have a personal website that features your screenwriting portfolio? I wish more writers would do this instead of working in a vacuum. I understand the fear of plagiarism, of course, but many industry pros will tell you that it is an improbable scenario in the current age.
Lastly, don't forget to have fun. To grow as a writer, we need to push ourselves, but writing should not feel like a chore. If it does, perhaps it's time to pick up a new hobby for a while! Writing will always be there, but sometimes exploring our creativity in other ways gives us a fresh perspective on our screenwriting projects. The best creatives are the ones who get out there and live!
So what if these growth tactics don't produce your best work?
Time to grow up,