I get asked all the time about writing. It’s weird that anyone should ask me, in my opinion. I’ve had some minor success, but nothing that should make people seek out my advice on the art. I think it has a lot to do with me being the only person they know who had any luck.
Whether it’s friends or strangers, they all say the same thing: I’ve always wanted to write. From there it takes a usual turn on two corners. I’m asked if I would like to collaborate or I am asked if I could write the idea they have. The answer is almost always no on both requests.
As someone who writes for a living, meager as it may be, I have several projects in the queue. My projects range from short stories to novels to screenplays and teleplays. I plan out the next five years of projects. My time is accounted for and I cheat myself if I step away from my plans. There are exceptions. I have one writing partner and our writing schedule isn’t mapped out; however, our projects are usually exploratory. Most recently, though, I had to turn him down due to my current writing project. It’s difficult to switch gears from one story to another, especially when writing a book.
So, instead, I give advice. Most want to write a screenplay. It is the rare individual that wants to write a book. But the advice I’m about to give can be used for both.
- Outline your story. Map it out. Know the beginning, the middle, the end, and all the meaty morsels in between. Outlining will save you from “writer’s block”. It’s, as I said, a map to where you’re going.
- Research. Yes, I’m sorry to say, but you will need to research. You can never have too much research. You decide how much you need. Research gives you that little extra something something that you’ll only notice, but that your reader, viewer, or whatever will appreciate without really knowing why. Besides, it’ll keep you from looking like an idiot.
- Outline your story. Hey, you already said that! Yes, I did. After you research, you’ll have notes and scene ideas. Do your outline again.
- Sit down, shut-up, and write. Quit talking about it and sit down and write the thing. Do not daydream, wish, seek people out to write it for you. Just sit down and write the story. A typical screenplay is about 20,000 words, give or take. If you write 1,000 words a day, you’d have a finished 1st draft in less than a month. A novel is typically 75,000 to 110,000 words. A thousand words a day is not a lot. If you cannot write 1,000 words a day then find something else to do.
- Read your script or manuscript. After you write it, read it. Read it straight through. Don’t give it to someone else to read. You read it. Then take note of how it makes you feel at the end. You’ll know if it sucks or if it’s worth chasing after.
- Read your script or manuscript again. This time take notes.
- Rewrite. Time to fix things! I recommend retyping each page, adding your changes or fixing your problems.
- Give it to someone you trust. They say that giving it to your friends or family is bad as they won’t tell you the truth. My question is, what kind of relationships do these people have that they can’t speak plainly without flipping out? If you don’t have friends or family that will give you an honest assessment of your writing, then stop what you are doing right now and do a little self-examination. You’re broken.
- Rewrite. Assuming that you took all the advice from your readers and evaluated it, now is the time to make some more changes. Then after that, you’ll rewrite it again and again until you think it’s perfect.
- Edit. Edit for content first then typos, spelling, and grammar. Then you’ll proof read and do it again and again. Editing seems to never end. If you’re writing a book, you’ll do this forever and a day. If you can afford a real editor, then do yourself a favor and hire one. If you’re editing a script, it won’t take as long.
Once you are satisfied, you can give it to people to read as a final draft, shop it around, or throw it away. Congratulations, your work has just begun. Since this is a blog about writing and not marketing, I won’t go into that spiderweb of misery and pain. I’ll save that for another blog.
Of course, I give this advice assuming that you know how to write. Not sure if you know how to write? Take some creative writing classes. Learn how to tell a story. Learn about language. I don’t recommend you taking a screenwriting class. The biggest problem I see with screenplays is not that the writer doesn’t know how to write one, but that the writer doesn’t know how to tell a story. You can learn about structure and act breaks with the thousands of books on screenwriting available on the market right now. Make that a thousand and one… two… three… four! There are a lot of books on the craft.
Good luck and write!