A screenwriting professor once told me: “There’s no secret to writing, you just have to sit your butt down at your desk and do it.” That often sounds easier said than done since there are so many other responsibilities all adults have. Even if your bills are paid and you have nothing but free time (and, let’s face it, most people don’t have that luxury), the process can still be daunting and the amount of vulnerability that it takes to write something can be overwhelming. So, what’s the secret? Writing rituals.
Here is what some of the most successful writers in Hollywood have had to say about their writing rituals:
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See Yourself as a Storyteller First
The Oscar-winning writer of Thelma & Louise, Callie Khouri had this to say about her writing process:
“Your goal is to get a movie made, and you may get a movie made or you may not. But if your goal is to tell your story, the story that you want to tell, then you have a much better shot at having that happen, because it’s a much more specific goal. There has to be a single-mindedness about it.”
Most of us are very results-oriented and goal-oriented, and that can be a bonus when having to meet deadlines, but if you are in the creative stage, getting too caught up with getting the film made might blind the writer to the beauty of the story and how to make it the best story possible. Nailing the story should be the goal first.
Learn to Take Feedback
Oscar-nominated writer of the blockbuster film Erin Brokovich Susannah Grant said:
“I learned how to throw something out if it isn’t working. Or if someone very powerful doesn’t think it’s working.”
Again, the story should be your main concern. It’s easy to get attached to characters, scenes, and plot lines, but if it’s not working, or if the person in charge doesn’t feel it’s working, listen.
Learning to take feedback is a very important skill for any writer. The life of a writer is learning to take feedback and rewriting stories. It doesn’t end when you are in a position of power or success as Susannah Grant herself has also said:
“Success feels better, but doesn’t necessarily make you better.”
Create a Daily, Weekly, or Monthly Writing Routine
Most successful writers advise others to create a daily writing routine and make sure they write every day. Oscar-winner writer and director Spike Lee has said:
“I have to write consecutive days, I can’t skip. I have to write every day until that first draft is done.”
I’m someone who doesn’t always get to write every day. I mostly have a schedule in place but with different jobs and deadlines as most freelancers, I don’t always get to work on a passion project every day. And that’s okay. As long as I can stick to a weekly routine where I might have to make up for missed writing time on nights and weekends, I still consider it a win.
So, create a routine that works for you and one that you can follow. Nothing frustrates a writer more than setting up screenwriting goals that are hard to attain and watching yourself fail at them.
Write for Yourself
Oscar-winning writer and director Jordan Peele said:
“First off, write your favorite movie that you haven’t seen. Don’t worry about whether it is going to get made. Write something for yourself. After you have that draft, then worry about what you need to do to sell it.”
He also has spoken about the need for the writer to have fun. It’s always an important component of any creative process. The more you love a project, the easier it can be to get it done. The less a writer worries about getting it sold or made, the more freeing the process can be. Write the movie you’d like to see and don’t limit yourself, at least at first. There’s always an opportunity to refine your work as you write the next draft.
Make it Personal
Television writer and showrunner Gloria Calderón Kellett wrote a great piece for Medium where she talked about how often she gets asked out for coffee by other writers who are hoping to get a magic formula for writing success. She affirms that there’s no roadmap to success, but getting personal about your writing is a way to make it come alive.
“Write about your dad, your mom, your sister, your favorite teacher, your best friend, your neighbor, your ex. Write and write and write and write. And don’t give up. Then once you write it, get it out there. Make your own magic. And one day, if you’re lucky, someone will be buying you a coffee.”
Create Your Own Writing Rituals
This has been said by different writers and as I started with the advice I received from a screenwriting professor, the trick to getting writing done is to write. Nobody can do it for you and there’s no life hack or magic bullet. You just have to sit down and do it.
Experiment with different times of day, with different mediums, with different tools. Sometimes writing by hand will trigger something new in your brain. Sometimes sitting outside will help you concentrate. Or maybe you’re the kind of writer who enjoys sitting in a crowded cafe with a laptop. There’s no one way to do it, so find what works for you.
And, above all, keep writing — regardless of what your writing rituals are.