In many ways, the first draft is the vomit draft, the “just get it done” draft. It’s the part where you stare at a blank page and fill it with words. It’s definitely daunting, but there are certain things you can do to help make the process easier.
It all comes down to taking out the guesswork and setting yourself up for success.
No matter what your story is, do some research. This is a no-brainer if your script will take place in another time period or a specific world such as a hospital or a police department; but even if you’re writing a sitcom set in your hometown, research means learning comedic formulas and reading other successful sitcoms.
Take the time to imagine your characters with great detail. You should know intimate minutiae about them and their motivations, but you should also think about how they will speak — and how their speech patterns and mannerisms will be different from the other characters in your script. Brainstorm actors you’d like to play your characters to help you get specific. This work may feel tedious, but it will make your dialogue come to life early on.
This is perhaps the most important thing you can do before you begin your first draft. The more you flesh out your outline, the more solid your blueprint will be when you actually go in to write. At a minimum, you should have story beats, but a healthy outline will go so far as to describe the emotional beats of each scene and include snippets of dialogue. You can even create an outline with your slug lines and descriptions for each scene.
Every writer is different, but I am a big fan of daydreaming before a writing session. Go for a walk and listen to music that is tonally similar to your script, then play out your scenes in your mind. When you return, sit down immediately and write.
I find that walking helps ignite my imagination and excitement for my project. It also gives me time dedicated to problem-solving any obstacles I’m having. Finally, it’s exercise…and a lot of writing is sedentary. Get that blood flowing!
KEEP TO A DEDICATED WRITING SCHEDULE
One of the most important things to do with your first draft is finish it. Do this by deciding how much and when you’ll write and then stick to it. Whether you’re writing for one hour per day, five pages per day, or every Monday-Friday from 11 am to 1 pm, pick a goal and then get really disciplined about keeping that promise to yourself until the first draft is done.
The nice thing about having a dedicated writing goal is that when you accomplish it you can let yourself be done for the day. You wrote your pages, now take a break and let yourself focus on other things. If you constantly feel nagged by the need to be writing you can get fatigued half-way through and abandon your project.
Finish first, then revise later — remember, no matter what, when it comes to that first draft: done is better than perfect.
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Shannon Corbeil is a writer, actor, and filmmaker in Los Angeles with recent appearances on SEAL Team and The Rookie. An Air Force veteran, her articles have been published in Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, and Military.com. She has written and produced hundreds of digital videos with millions of views. You can read more about her on her website or come play on Instagram and Twitter!