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12 New Year’s Resolutions for Screenwriters

By December 28, 2023No Comments

12 New Year's Resolutions for ScreenwritersSeveral studies have shown that between eighty and ninety percent of New Year’s Resolutions fail. People have a tendency to fall into some understandable traps such as trying to do too many things at once or dreaming of a result without creating a plan to achieve it. 

So what are we doing here with this article? I’m going to offer twelve different writing resolutions for you to adopt or dismiss at your pleasure — and talk a bit about how to accomplish each one (and why you’d want to).

I’ve divided them into months of the year. Instead of starting with twelve things you must do in the first week of January or else, these resolutions will guide you through a more disciplined, productive, and creative screenwriting year.  

WeScreenplay Feature Screenwriting Lab

January: Join or Create a Writers Group

Your screenwriting network consists of the people who will help you set the pace for your career. They will read your scripts, give you notes, introduce you to other industry professionals, recommend you for jobs, and hire you. An accountability partner can help you focus your goals and keep you on track. And a writers group is an amazing resource for giving and receiving feedback.

You can join an existing group or create one yourself. My favorite system is to activate a group of 4-6 people for about two months. We convene weekly in a timed, moderated meeting where we have ~20 minutes to share — generally, 10-15 minutes to read new material then 5-10 minutes for feedback. 

By hearing your pages read out loud and receiving feedback from trusted peers, you’ll get a great sense of what is working in your draft and what needs to be changed. 

By reading other people’s scripts, you’ll be exposed to new ideas, dialogue and speech patterns, and worlds that will influence and develop your own skills. 

Writing itself is solitary — but that doesn’t mean it has to be lonely. Gather your community and invite them in. High tides lift all ships.

How To Build Your Writing Community Through Screenwriting Labs_Featured

February: Explore Your Passion Project

The percolating stage of writing may not look productive, but it is. This is the season of daydreaming while on walks, watching comparable material, reading scripts, researching the world you want to live in, and enjoying the blue sky of that project that you just can’t let go of.

Do you want to write a vampire story? Watch some True Blood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Interview with a Vampire to see how others have approached the genre. 

Do you want to write a series about Cleopatra? Head to your local library and do some research on the Ptolemaic Queen; Ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece; and the history of female leadership.

Here are some actionable steps you can take in the exploration phase before writing a first draft:

  • Do research and take notes
  • Break down the structure of comparable screenplays
  • Name your characters, write their bios, and dream-cast them
  • Create a beat sheet of things that happen
  • Flesh out the beat sheet into an outline
  • Create a playlist or mood board that thematically matches your project

Writing Rituals of the Most Successful Writers in Hollywood_person typing on laptop

March: Overcome One Bad Habit

Identify the one thing that really holds you back or challenges you in your career. For me, it’s procrastination mixed with perfectionism. I want my project to be perfect which overwhelms me so I put off doing it. In order to combat this, I give myself a deadline and structure baby steps that will help me meet my goal.

Instead of simply setting a goal of “I want to write a first draft,” I give myself actionable tasks such as “I will write for one hour every day this week.” The writing doesn’t have to be good. The writing doesn’t even have to meet a page count. I just have to sit down and write. There’s a whole other set of actionable tasks for revisions — Future Shannon will figure all that out.

So what bad habit is holding you back? Do you have twenty pilots in your portfolio but no reps or sales? Maybe you need to improve your writing craft. Sign up for a reputable class or a community college course. 

Do you get overwhelmed with wanting to move forward on eight amazing ideas? Pick one and see it through with actionable tasks. 

James Clear wrote an excellent book called Atomic Habits that illustrates how complex it is for humans to change their behavior with helpful tools and resources to build better habits and keep them. It’s recommended reading for sure. Identify what is holding you back and take action to improve your own behavior, discipline, and skill level. 

12 New Year's Resolutions for Screenwriters_laptop

April: Assign Yourself a Deadline

If you’re not working for a showrunner or a studio, then chances are you have to create your own deadlines. This is where discipline comes in. And if discipline doesn’t work, then I’ve got you covered there as well. Here are a few deadlines you can use to motivate yourself to meet your goals:

Launch your writers group. If you meet on Mondays to share ten new pages, then chances are you’re gonna have ten new pages written by Monday.

Plan to submit a draft to someone. This could be your reps, a trusted friend, or a paid coverage program. This is helpful especially if you know you’re likely to break a promise to yourself but will be more reliable when someone else is waiting on you (or you’ve made a financial commitment).

Pick a competition, lab, or fellowship to submit to. There are free TV Writing Fellowships, the Academy Nicholl Fellowship for feature films, and any number of screenwriting labs for shorts, pilots, and features. Having an external deadline is an excellent motivator — but be warned! If it’s your first deadline, then you might be backing yourself into a corner where you’re forced to submit essentially a first draft to a very competitive program. It’s a lovely luxury to give yourself the gift of time and work on other deadlines before the big one comes up.

12 New Year's Resolutions for Screenwriters_calendar

May: Write a First Draft of Something New

You’re a writer! Time to get writing! 

If you’re starting with a blank page, that’s alright. Break down what needs to be done in actionable steps — for example: beat sheet, outline, and one hour of writing per day. Share your goals with a colleague and ask them if you can update them on your progress. Invite others to join you in creative writing sprints online. Publish your page count to your social media stories each day until you have your first draft. Whatever it takes, dive into your creativity and write a fresh new draft of the story that has been calling to you. 

June: Revise Your New Draft

Here’s the process that I use to edit my drafts — take what works for you and leave the rest. First, I read the dang thing. If there are spelling or grammatical errors, I tidy them up. If there’s dialogue I want to adjust, I do. It’s just a rough pass to see what I’m working with. Then I start doing very focused revisions.

First, I make sure the story works — sometimes I will even chart it. What are the A-story, B-story, and C-story? What emotions exist in the scenes? How long are the acts?

Next, I examine my locations. Most of these were the first thing that came to mind — but what are some alternatives? Can I make any of the locations more interesting? Can I give the characters something else to do?

Ask a Reader: What's One Note Readers Give the Most During Script Coverage?

Then I do a pass for each character. I focus on reading only their lines. What do they say? Do they only ask questions? Do they sound unique? How can I elevate their dialogue?

By focusing on one component at a time, I allow myself to get very clear about who the characters are, what they want, and why they are compelling or entertaining. 

July: Give Your Draft to Someone Else to Read

I recommend having a few trusted readers you can give your “first draft” to — I used quotations because ideally, you will have already done multiple passes on your “vomit draft” before arriving at a first draft. Don’t waste your readers’ time with spelling errors. Your readers will give you notes that may help you do more revisions. 

When you’re ready, get your script up on its feet, either through a writers group or, ideally, a table read performed by actors. Hearing your script and dialogue out loud will help you hear what’s working — and often the people cast in your script may pick up on nuances for your characters that you’ve missed. 

You can also give your script to your reps or submit it to a trusted coverage program for professional feedback. The idea is to get feedback from someone other than you who can pick up on things you can’t.

collaboration laptop meeting

August: Take a Replenishing Vacation

When you’re a creative, it can be difficult to separate your mind from work. There’s always a nagging voice urging you to write or sell or pitch or network or or or…

Plan breaks. Do this throughout the year by setting specific work hours, but definitely also give yourself vacations. Go somewhere grand or plan a staycation. Go camping. Turn off your devices. Turn off your mind. You need to be replenished if you want to be creative and if you want to enjoy that creativity.

September: Create a Holiday Short Film

Why? Because it’s fun. There are horror shorts festivals year-round. The holiday season is rife with opportunities for heart-warming or satiric content. Tis the season. Lean into it. 

Shorts are great exercises in brevity, tone, and structure. They are also cheaper and easier to bring to the screen than a feature film. You can produce your film as a proof of concept, a calling card, or just a fun reel to share online. You don’t have to write an Oscar-winning feature screenplay to be a successful writer and you don’t have to wait for someone else to give you permission to do what you love to do. Make a short film and send me a link to it.

October: Attend a Film Screening

Film festivals screen year-round so you can go anytime. The end of the year also arrives with awards season screenings and For Your Consideration events. Screenings, particularly those with filmmaker panels, are a great way to watch inspiring content and hear from the people who made it. They’re also an opportunity to meet and connect with the other people in attendance. 

November: Read Five New Screenplays

In addition to For Your Consideration screenings, the year’s most acclaimed screenplays are often available online for the public to read. If you’ve admired a film from the year, read the screenplay. Study it. Read screenplays of your favorite films from the past — take notice of how screenwriting has evolved over time. 

If you want to write screenplays, you should also be reading screenplays. It will help you become a better writer. It will keep you up to date on trends. You’ll get a feel for how other writers structure things like pre-lap dialogue, montages, flashbacks, time jumps, intercut scenes, phone conversations, and more. Read, read, read. And take some downtime for the holidays.

December: Look Back at Your Year

Every week I keep track of two things: what I accomplished the week before and what I will accomplish in the coming week. 

I then move those accomplishments to a monthly tracker.

At the end of the year, I tabulate all of those accomplishments into a list of what I accomplished that year. It includes items like screenplays written, competitions entered, films produced, meetings held, website or resume updates, screenings, festivals attended, and so on. 

Keeping this kind of tracker gives me actual statistics of my accomplishments and progress. It illustrates my improvements and achievements — especially when I feel frustration or fear about how my career is developing. It helps me see where I faltered or can improve. 

I Was a Diverse Voices Finalist. Now My Script Signed Under a Shopping Agreement_laptop

I maintain this accountability list in a Google Doc and I have one for every year. It began as an exercise with my accountability partner (we emailed our lists to each other every Monday) and now I continue the habit myself every Monday and every December. 

You don’t have to use this method, but I highly recommend creating some way to look back on your year and praise yourself for your accomplishments. The business of screenwriting is a marathon, not a sprint. It can feel frustrating and lonely and dispiriting. Keeping track of what you have achieved is a great way to remind you that you’re already living your dreams.

Read More: How to Set & Keep Screenwriting Goals

Shannon CorbeilShannon Corbeil is a writer, actor, and U.S. Air Force veteran in Los Angeles with appearances on SEAL Team and The Rookie. She was also a 2023 DGE TV Writing Program Finalist and her screenplays have placed in various contests. You can read more about her on her website or come play on Instagram and Twitter!