10 Ways To Finally Finish That @#$%ing Screenplay, Play, Novel, or Whatever It Is You Want To Write
You’ve got an idea, don’t you?
It’s a story you know in your gut would make a great movie, musical, novel, or play.
Now . . . you just have to write it.
And that’s the hard part.
As a Broadway Producer, if I had a dollar for everyone who told me they had an idea for a musical or a movie, I wouldn’t need any investors for any of my shows.
Now, if I had a dollar for everyone who had one of those ideas but never put keys to the keyboard and actually wrote it, well, I wouldn’t need any investors for any of my shows . . . and could fund all of Broadway and a small European nation as well.
Why is that?
Because the idea is the easy part. The execution is what’s hard.
But don’t worry, the writing process can be hacked as easily as Facebook’s user data.
I’ve spent the last few years collecting tips and tricks to help my clients (and me!) write faster (and better!), to guarantee that we actually finish our @#$%. Because an unfinished script of any kind has zero value, whereas a finished one can be what changes your life.
So whether you’re a seasoned writer or looking to finish your first project, use these 10 tips to help get that idea on paper . . . because then and only then can your idea realize its true potential.
1. Treat your writing time like a doctor’s visit.
If you had a doctor’s appointment tomorrow at 2 PM, you’d show up, right? You’d probably even go early. So set a time tomorrow to show up and write. Right now. Seriously! Open up your calendar and make an appointment to write. I’ll wait.
When people with authority (a Doctor, Boss, etc.), want us to do something, we do it. Well, YOU have the highest authority of them all.
You need to make time for your writing. Schedule it like any other important event in your life and then show up for it. Because it could be the most important appointment you ever have.
2. Your accountability buddy.
It’s hard to do anything alone. You’re the coach and the player. Keeping yourself inspired is challenging, which is why it’s best to find a friend who can help keep you accountable. My recommendation is to find a fellow writer. Have them call you when you’re supposed to be writing to make sure you’re at the computer. Set a time when you have to turn in your work for their review. And do the same thing for him or her! Writing does not have to be so lonely. And you’ll write faster (and better) with someone by your side and on your side.
3. Give yourself a paycheck.
That’s right. You heard me. I want you to actually pay yourself. Like writing is your job. Because don’t you want it to be?
Set aside some cash from your day job and give it to yourself to blow on something you love . . . but only after you hit your deadline. Treating your writing like a profession helps make it feel less like a hobby and more like something that can make a significant difference in your life. And a cash reward can be one of the best motivators of all.
4. A great excuse to cheat on your diet.
This is one of my favorites. What’s your guiltiest, most gluttonous pleasure? Donuts? Cream cheese? Cream cheese on donuts? Get your hands on whatever makes your mouth water and munch it while you write. Writing can be hard for so many people that it can begin to feel unpleasurable. Linking it with a pleasurable action like eating your favorite food can help you in the moment and also help change your permanent feeling about the process. Now if only they let you eat while at the dentist . . .
5. Get outta here!
Writing where you live or work can be hard, especially if you’ve struggled in that same spot day after day. Changing your location can help break the pattern that you’re stuck in. So, find a brand new writing spot. And make it somewhere you only go to write. Maybe it’s a Starbucks, a park, or your parent’s house. It doesn’t matter. But go to a new, special place and you’ll find your mind goes to a new, special place as well.
6. Write first thing in the AM.
Did you know your brain is literally bigger in the morning? Even though we all love the idea of sleeping in, you’re actually much more likely to get something done if you get up early and tackle it first.
So remember in Tip #1, when we talked about setting a time for your writing? Make it early in the AM . . . preferably before the rest of the world wakes up and starts bothering you!
Celebrated author John Grisham (The Firm and so many others) started his first book by writing one page at 5 AM every single day. Eventually, he had a novel. And eventually millions and millions of people bought his books. John is the perfect example of what a simple, calendared, daily, early morning routine can lead to.
I wake up at 4:45 AM every day and part of my morning routine for years has been writing a new post for my blog, theProducersPerspective.com.
7. What and WHEN.
This is one of those “duh” tips that is so easy to do . . . that most people don’t actually do. Set a deadline! Know what you want to accomplish (a scene, an act, a whole play, etc.) and then set the WHEN.
A couple of tips about setting deadlines. First, make them what I call “A-Squared”: Ambitious and Achievable. Make it a challenging deadline, so that it makes you sweat a bit. But don’t make it so difficult that you’re setting yourself up for failure. Because it’s much harder to pick yourself up after you miss a deadline.
Second, set deadlines for chunks of whatever you’re working on. Sure, you want to finish that screenplay this year. But what do you to want to finish by the end of the month? And what do you want to finish by the end of the week or even the day? Mini-deadlines make things easier to achieve and add up to the same result!
8. Short and sweet.
The cliché of setting out to write “The Great American Novel” just sounds so looooong, it’s no wonder so few people finish their work! Great books, plays, screenplays don’t all have to be long. Write a one-act, or a short film, or a short story, or a 10-minute play, or a poem, or a greeting card even!
This strategy is especially important for new writers out there. It’s important to finish things at the beginning of your career, not only because everything you finish is another opportunity for you to be discovered, but because the feeling of finishing helps you realize that you can finish. And that makes it easier to start the next project.
9. Forget about what’s good. See something bad.
I’m always inspired when I see a good film or play or when I read a great book. But I’m twice as inspired when I see something bad! Seeing work that actually got up and produced or published will make you think, “If they can do that, so can I!”
What’s the big difference between that writer and you? They finished their project.
10. Enter to win.
Contests are terrific motivators because they have built-in deadlines, rewards for the winners, and everyone, everyone has a competitive part of their brain that wants to win.
That’s why I encourage all writers to enter as many contests, festivals, and competitions as they can.
And if you win a contest, or even become a finalist, you’ll have a good housekeeping seal on your project which could help attract producers, investors, and more. Everyone likes an award winner, even if they don’t know what the award is!
There are tons of competitions, contests, and festivals around the world. I encourage my clients to submit to a minimum of three a week.
If none of those work, here’s a bonus hack that anyone can do, whether or not you’ve ever written a word.
11. Don’t write it. Do this instead.
This could be the absolute fastest way to finish your project . . . do NOT write it.
Turn on that recorder on your phone and just speak whatever you want to be written. Just talk. Then, jump on a site like Fiverr or UpWork and find a freelancer who will transcribe your recordings and send you the transcripts. You’ll have some editing and reorganizing to do, for sure, but you will have the beginning of a rough draft.
I call this the “lump of clay” strategy. A sculptor can’t start on a new piece without a lump of clay in the middle of the room. And at the beginning that lump looks nothing like what the final product will be. But it’s a start.
Writers need that too. So just throw a big blob out there and shape it, mold it, cut off chunks, and eventually, it’ll take the shape you want.
But without the lump at the beginning, you won’t ever get to the end.
I hope these tips help you get that idea of yours down on paper because I bet it’s a good one. And do you really want to be ten, twenty, or thirty years older, wondering where you could have been if you had actually written that great idea?
Or worse . . . what happens if someone else writes the same idea, and it’s a big fat hit! How will you feel then?
Don’t let that happen. Use these tips. Or come up with your own and share them here.
But finish your project.
Because the world is waiting.