Semi-professional screenwriters have some crazy schedules…
Some work full-time jobs and squeeze in their writing hours (hour?) after work, or early in the morning. Others have found a way to work part-time, or split their week up into “work” days and “work work” days. And others still live off their savings, their grandparents, or their unemployment checks.
Whatever your situation, every Monday morning presents a question: How on earth am I gonna balance the requirements of life with the time needed to get my script written?
It’s tough. But having an approach – a PLAN – for time allotment can make a huge difference in ticking off those pages.
Some writers that I know are able to set aside a RIGID SET OF HOURS per week – say Monday 8am-9am, Wednesday 7pm-10pm, and Saturday from 10am to noon. During these hours, their phones are turned off, email remains unanswered, and everyday stresses are held forcefully at bay. If this plan works for you and your life, I say go for it. But what doesn’t seem to be accounted for in this plan are the real-life SURPRISES that will undoubtedly upend the well-meaning scenario, and send your writing to the back seat. Family sicknesses—flat tires—obligatory office parties—snow days. Any of these common events will unavoidably bump your writing-slot to the undesirable status of “I’ll make it up later,” and when those I-O-Us start stacking up, it becomes harder and harder to recover from your personal writing deficit. Some people will simply STOP WRITING at this point, essentially breaking under the weight of their broken self-promises.
Don’t let that happen!
Another method used by semi-professional screenwriters is the HOURS PER WEEK plan. Writers who ascribe to this self-motivating scenario take a look at their weekly load, then decide upon a doable number of hours to dedicate to their screenplay PER WEEK. I have friends who even keep a chalkboard or homemade calendar-like-thing in their apartment, then carefully check off the total hours they’ve fulfilled toward their weekly quota.
This method is less set-in-stone than the time-slots plan above, but loans itself toward a scenario in which a crushing backlog of hours can pile up by weeks’ end, and ultimately overwhelm a person’s ability to make up the time. I also know people who set PAGE QUOTAS for themselves instead of an HOURS QUOTA, but the risk here is that you crap-out a bunch of mediocre pages at the last possible minute just to satisfy your own goal, then ultimately have to go back and rewrite all of those pages from scratch…
For me, I’ve found the most useful method to be a balance between the plans above. My weeks fluctuate. I work several part-time jobs, and sometimes take short-term editing jobs, rewrite work, or production jobs to make ends meet.
At the start of each week, I begin by assessing how busy I think I’m gonna be, then decide upon a REALISTIC NUMBER OF HOURS that I can spend writing for THAT SPECIFIC WEEK. Then, I split up the amount of hours between the five, six or seven days that I will have a flexible enough schedule to write, and decide upon a DAILY QUOTA, say 3 hours of writing per day. Each writing-day of that week, I then make sure that hell-or-high-water, I fulfill my preset writing goal.
And it doesn’t need to be 3 hours straight through. Often times, I’ll write for 1.5 hours in the morning, then go to work or do whatever chores need doing, then re-group and write for another 2 hours that afternoon or evening.
The best part of this plan is that it is highly flexible, but still gives me a structure for putting aside time to write. Sometimes, a day will be especially busy, and I’ll end up writing from 10pm to 1am – and that’s cool. My writing may not be as focused or polished on those days, but at least I am able to think through problems, and get a first-version of scenes down on paper.
Whatever your approach to writing is, I can’t stress enough how important it has been for me to put together SOME KIND OF PLAN, then stick to it. I used to be someone who simply wrote when I felt “the urge” or found myself with a free morning or afternoon. But I gotta say, I just wasn’t getting the work done. Scripts that I could have written in two months were taking six or eight months, and I spent almost as much time re-reading what I’d already done and getting back to speed as I did writing. Ultimately, getting myself on a writing plan made me more productive and more focused, but more important than anything--it also made me a better writer.
So try it out! Honestly, TIME SPENT WRITING is the only real divider between an amateur penman and a bonifide almost-professional. :)