Let’s face it. Many aspiring screenwriters have a 9 to 5 and only little time to dedicate to writing a script.
So how do you write a script while you also deal with work, raising a family, chores, and anything else that’s on your weekly calendar?
The good news is, with only a few minutes every day, you can complete a screenplay within a few months.
When To Set Time To Write?
One thing that everyone can agree on is that it’s crucial to find time to write every day, even if it’s only 10 minutes a day.
What I usually see work best for writers is to dedicate 30 minutes to an hour to writing in the morning or in the evening, depending what works best for you and when you feel most creative.
If you’re someone who works out, treat your creative time the same way you would the gym. Some people prefer to do it early in the morning to get it out of the way, others prefer to get deep into writing at night with or without music to set the mood.
Now, if you know you won’t be able to set your alarm an hour or 30 minutes early in the morning and have no creative juice left at night, I would suggest writing 10 minutes during your coffee breaks.
If minutes mean nothing to you, why not think pages? How about writing one page a day, every single day? Like that, you’ll have a screenplay within 3 to 4 months. Not bad, huh?
Successful Screenwriters Who Wrote While Having A 9 To 5
Quentin Tarantino wrote screenplays while working at Video Archives in California. He was making $200 a week. It’s at that job that he met Roger Avary that ultimately became a life-long work partner (they co-wrote Pulp Fiction).
He wrote and directed the short film “My Best Friend’s Birthday” and all the members in the movie were co-workers of his at the Video Archives. That was Tarantino’s first movie he directed and it is available for free on Youtube.
It’s during his time off that Tarantino would write Reservoir Dogs which launched his career and allowed him to leave his job.
Aline Brosh McKenna was writing for several magazines and decided to take a short screenwriting class at HYU. An agent noticed her writing and helped her grow the incredible career she has today (The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses)
James Cameron (Avatar, Titanic) was a truck driver and would use all the time he had when he wasn’t at work to write screenplays. While on the road driving trucks, he would think of movie ideas and write pages as soon as he was home or off for a couple of days.
David O Russell (American Bluff, Joy) was an intern at PBS and teaching literacy in Boston. He wrote Bingo Inferno that found success in festivals during his time off of work.
Karen McCullah Lutz was working in public relations and marketing. She was living in Denver and would write scripts in the evening or anytime she wasn’t at work. When she had the script 10 Things I Hate About You ready, she queried producers that were in LA and ultimately, got the script in the right hands.
Aaron Sorkin (A few Good Men, The American President, The West Wing) had a few jobs before finding success as a screenwriter but the one job that allowed him to write the most (while on the job) was his job as a house sitter.
William Goldman (All The President’s Men, Magic) was a clerk in the pantagon who got the job because he was familiar with typewriters. He would write scripts after work. He eventually sold “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” for $400,000 which was a record at that time.
We’ve established that you should try to write every day, may it be for 30 minutes, one page or 10 minutes at your breaks. The importance is to do it daily.
But how do use that time exactly? What should you do first to use that short time efficiently?
Come Up With An Idea
The first step is to find an idea.
The way to think about an idea is: who is the protagonist, what happens to them/the stakes and who are they going against (who is the antagonist).
That’s also how we write a logline.
A logline is a short sentence or two that briefly explains what the movie is.
Let’s look at some famous movie loglines:
Die Hard (1988)
Logline: A New York City police officer tries to save his estranged wife and several others taken hostage by terrorists during a Christmas party at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles.
Let’s break it down into the way the idea is presented:
A New York City police officer (PROTAGONIST) tries to save his estranged wife and several others taken hostage (WHAT HAPPENS) by terrorists (ANTAGONIST) during a Christmas party at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles.
Legally Blonde (2001)
Logline: Elle Woods, a fashionable sorority queen, (PROTAGONIST) is dumped by her boyfriend (ANTAGONIST). She decides to follow him to law school. While she is there, she figures out that there is more to her than just looks. (WHAT HAPPENS)
Fatal Attraction (1987)
Logline: A married man’s (PROTAGONIST) one-night stand (ANTAGONIST) comes back to haunt him when that lover begins to stalk him and his family. (WHAT HAPPENS)
So How Exactly Can You Find Ideas For Your Script?
Real Life Experience
Look at things that happened to you or to people that you know that you believe would make great stories for a movie. That’s a great place to start.
Look in the US news or international news for stories that can inspire an idea or that you can base your story on (if you get the rights to do so).
Stories In The Public Domaine
If you look at anything published before 1923, you can consider those stories to have no more copyright and free for you to write about.
If the story was written after 1923, see what year it was and if the author is still alive today. Copyright expires 70 years after the author’s death.
You might draw inspiration for your stories from books that you love or you might want to adapt a book that you love – in what case you will need to secure the rights.
What are topics people currently talk about or that divide people? There might be inspiration there.
What are people discussing online? But not only what they’re discussing, you might also want to take a look at certain communities online such as r/WritingPrompts that can get you thinking.
To find more creative ways to get ideas for movies, visit this article.
Another way to start your creative jucies is to write down “What if…” and come up with a scenario. For example:
“What if… a police officer was left by his wife because his job takes too much space in his life, and suddenly he needs to save her from dangerous criminals who have taken her for hostage? Now his skills are crucial for her survival.” Die Hard (1988)
“What if… a work-obsessed advertising exec is forced to learn his long-neglected parenting skills after his wife leaves him? He first wants her to take the child back, but realizing she won’t come back, he bonds deeply with the child. But one day, she reappears and fights for custody.” Kramer Vs Kramer (1979)
Those are examples of using what ifs to come up with the premise of a movie.
Now that you have your idea. You’ll want to use the rest of your time to create the 3 act structure and a beat sheet.
- What is the first act and what happens in it.
- What is the second act and what happens in it.
- What is the third act and what happens in it.
If we create a beat sheet with the example of Kramer Vs Kramer, it would look something like like this:
Act 1 (Set Up)
- Joanna is putting her son, Billy, to bed.
- Her husband, Ted (protagonist) meets with his boss, he’s working late once again.
- Joanna is packing a suitcase
- Ted, who is a successful advertising exec, is offered a promotion
- Ted comes home hoping to celebrate but finds his wife leaving him, which for his self-centered way of being means she totally ruined his celebration plans. She tells him she won’t take Billy, because she’s “no good for him.” Ted understands that her leaving will now make that promotion more difficult to get (again, self-centered).
- She leaves him and Billy (who’s asleep).
- Billy wakes up and finds his dad in the kitchen, frantic, trying to make pancakes. He wonders where his mom went.
- Ted meets with his boss and confides in him, the boss second guesses supporting him with the promotion
- Ted tells him not to worry, he’s convinced she’ll come back
- Ted gets a letter from Joanna, she’s not coming back.
Act 2 (The New Normal)
- Ted gets rid of all pictures and everything that belongs to Joanna, fresh start.
- He spends less time at work, more time with Billy who is very closed off to him.
- The female neighbor helps him with Billy and helps Ted see why his wife wasn’t happy with him.
- Ted and Billy finally start to get closer, joking, Billy finally opens up to his dad.
- Life is getting good, Ted is happy being a dad.
- Suddenly, Joanna contacts Ted to meet up. He thinks she wants back in their life. But as they at a coffee shop, she tells him she wants custody of their child.
- At the same time, Ted is fired of his job and that’s the worst possible time since he might loose Billy if he doesn’t have a job.
- He takes meetings and offers to take a huge pay cut which lands him another job.
- He learns that legally Joanna is allowed to see their son. They meet at the park, and Ted lets go of Billy’s hand who runs into his mother’s arms.
Act 3 (Battle In Court)
- Ted and Joanna are in court.
- We learn Joanna has a boyfriend.
- Ted says that while he’s not perfect, he’s never left Billy. He tries to defend his case.
- The court sides with Joanna, because she’s “the mother.”
- In the very last scene she comes to pick up her son, and we see how much everyone has changed, especially Ted, who isn’t self-centered anymore, but unfortunately he didn’t win this battle.
Once you have a beat sheet, it’s time to write the script (or the outline if you usually take that extra step).
When it’s time to type Fade In, either write in the morning, in the evening, or during breaks for a set up time or think about the amount of pages you’d like to write a day.
Remember, even writing one page a day will give you a first draft within 3 to 4 months.
If finding time and knowing what to do with that time is something you struggle with, I recommend the book “The Coffee Break Screenwriter” by Pilar Alessandra.
Happy Writing! Every minute counts!