How do you get started? When everyone’s saying ‘Just Fucking Do It’ but you feel completely overwhelmed and panicky, and it’s just not that simple, what’s the first step?
How did I write my first script? I was in that place, wanting desperately to write but feeling as though there was a HUGE barrier of doubt and fear in front me. I’d written short stories, poems even, and endless longform stories when I was younger, but now I wanted to try a screenplay. I loved watching TV drama and going to the cinema, and felt an itch to tell a story visually and dramatically. But where the hell to start?
It felt like another world, one that professionals knew about but in which I was a complete novice. And yet I’d seen stories played out on screen – they were just as touching, powerful and moving as anything I’d read in a book. So what was the problem? We’re all familiar with dramatic storytelling – how many times have you predicted how a drama was going to end? Shouted at the telly because you knew what was coming? Told yourself you could have written it way better?!
Well, you can. There’s no reason why anyone shouldn’t tackle scriptwriting without fear. It might be an unfamiliar world, but it’s really very accessible. This is what I did to get me off the blocks:
I started reading scripts
To get a sense of how they flow, how the words are laid out on the page, and how they created images in my head. I got used to not worrying about the technical details (which are minimal anyway) and starting to roll the film in my imagination. And that pile of pages started to feel exciting and full of promise. They weren’t daunting anymore. (There are loads of online resources for published scripts: The BBC Writers Room is great for television, and LA Screenwriter has tons of Hollywood films.)
I got myself a deadline.
A small competition (ideally a free one!) gave me a hard, indisputable deadline to aim for. Of course, I spent the three weeks leading up to that date procrastinating and frittering time away, telling myself I probably wasn’t going to bother as it wasn’t worth it, my idea was pretty rubbish anyway and I’d be up against hundreds of much better writers. Sound familiar?! But as the day got closer, I found the idea that I’d kept shoving to the back of my mind starting to pop up towards the front, poking at me. The negative voice that had told me I shouldn’t bother was gradually being replaced by one that said ‘Go on … why not? What have you got to lose? That’s idea’s not bad, you know … ‘
I really believe that if you sow the seed of an idea, no matter how much your doubts crowd in and tell you to walk way from it, at some point the wholehearted writer in your soul will take your hand and lead you to where you want to be.
And the deadline helped!
I wrote ten pages.
Just that. It was the beginning of something longer, but all I had to submit was ten pages. And that was SO freeing! I don’t have to send in the whole thing, it doesn’t have to be finished, it just has to make sense for ten pages. And be as good as it can possibly be. Now, if I’d left myself a bit more time, I could have edited and improved for longer, but the main thing was it was written.
I saved it as a pdf and sent it off.
And that’s it. Whatever happens after that doesn’t really matter. There’s plenty of time to worry about rejection, rewriting, chewing your nails off waiting to hear back and wishing you’d changed practically everything – but the point it, it’s done. It’s a massive step forward and there is nothing like printing out those pages and looking at your words in black and white.
You’re off the blocks, you’ve completed a short project and hit your deadline.
If you’re nervous about writing, or blocked, or finding it hard to put it first, even these small steps are a huge achievement.
Now, onto the next one …
If you’re tempted by the idea of writing a script but feel confused and overwhelmed by the idea of formatting, there’s an Easy Guide and Video Tutorial you can download below.