6 Reasons You Haven't Started Your Screenplay Yet
As writers, it is easy to live in the clouds and never start writing. We can sit around imagining about how things will turn out, envisioning an end result that is highly appealing, but when it comes to putting in the work, suddenly we freeze up and get stuck.
Often this used to be a huge problem for me. Not only did I completely avoid doing any work as a writer, imagining that one day *poof* I’d turn out a great script or novel without any actual writing, but I didn’t even think about the process!
I thought that one day an amazing idea would come to my head and it would all resolve itself up there.
After nearly three years of dedicated writing, I’ve now learned how far away from the truth I was.
However, in order for me to start writing regularly like I now do, I needed to address a few major reasons why I wasn’t writing.
If you’re someone who has been dreaming of writing a script but hasn’t yet, there are a lot of very different reasons why you maybe haven’t started it. While the reasons vary from person-to-person, after researching what is holding most people back as well as looking back at my own history as a writer, I’ve come to discover there are six typical reasons you haven’t started your script.
While you may easily just have one reason you haven’t started your script, you may be like I was a few years ago – filled with excuses and reasons not to write. If that is the case, the first step to finally beginning your script is to acknowledge which of the following reasons are holding you back.
Reason #1: You believe in certain myths about screenwriting.
Often when I would speak to prose writers or playwrights about screenwriting, I almost always recognized a belief in one of the three myths people typically have about writing a screenplay.
As with most myths, people believe in, this one comes from a misguided understanding of screenwriting, especially as it is discussed in many books and courses.
But somewhere along the line, you developed a screenplay idea you were sure would be great, you just haven’t written it yet.
In fact, you’ve decided to put it on the backburner or better yet – write it as a novel and then wait for it to get adapted – because you don’t want to deal with the “constricting” nature and rules of writing a screenplay.
But my argument here is that if you have a wonderful idea for a screenplay, you shouldn’t be writing it as a book.
Instead, it would be much quicker for you to overcome the myths you believe about screenwriting and it would also yield a better story. (Don’t believe me? Work your screenplay idea through my Storytelling System and try for yourself!)
Luckily, as soon as you can get over these myths, all you need to do is bring some creativity to the game and you’ll be finishing up that screenplay in NO time!
How to Start Writing
In order to start writing, you’ll first want to overcome all the myths you believe in so that you don’t have those holding you back. I suggest reading my post on the three myths you probably believe or the five reasons every novelist needs to write a screenplay for a good starting point.
After you overcome these myths or beliefs and begin to understand the art of screenwriting, you should be ready to dive into your script!
However, if you’re still unsure, check the other reasons on why you may not have started your screenplay and see if any of them also sound like you. Or, jump directly into an in-depth course, like my signature screenwriting one, Swank Up Your Script, to churn out an artistic, myth-busting, screenplay.
Reason #2: You are new to screenwriting and are nervous about getting started
If you have never written a screenplay, it can feel super intimidating to start. There are myths about all the rules to keep up with and the format you “have to follow,” but there’s also just the daunting nature of trying something new.
Luckily, being new at something is really great for your creativity and allows you to see the storytelling medium in a way more advanced and experienced writers cannot!
Of course, no matter how often I tell you that likely doesn’t rid you of the anxiety of trying out something new.
Even if you plan to hide the project away for good as soon as you write it, you may still really loathe the feeling of not knowing what you’re doing – hence why your screenplay idea is just an idea and not a finished manuscript.
How to Start Writing
While I often suggest just diving right into your screenplay idea right away, if you aren’t the type to dive headfirst into the unknown, there are a few other ways to get you writing your screenplay quickly and confidently.
First, take my free workshop on learning the screenplay rules and format, where I cover ONLY the basics you need to know as well as how to use Celtx, the free screenwriting program. Then read over my guide for newbies.
If you’re still nervous about getting started, try out a few screenwriting prompts to get your feet wet. They’ll help you think creatively as well as teach you what types of writing tends to appear in screenwriting.
However, if you still feel anxious about starting your first script, I must again (shamelessly) suggest my own course, Swank Up Your Script, which was particularly designed for newbies intimidated by formatting and rules!
Reason #3: You are waiting for a rush of inspiration or the "perfect" idea
While at some point the other reasons on this list have held me back from writing a screenplay, nothing has ever held me back so much as me waiting around for the perfect idea to land in front of me.
Maybe you haven’t done much writing, and if that’s the case, the reason you’d believe inspiration works this way makes sense because up until now, any ideas you have likely did sort of just “land in front” of you so to speak.
However, the more you write, the more you’ll realize that inspiration comes to those who are always taking steps to be inspired. Usually, that comes from writing more often, whether it’s daily or once a week – however much is longer than what you usually do – but it can come from just thinking about storytelling more often as well.
As a result, those who wait for inspiration or the “perfect” idea or moment to start will never start, simply because as writers we must always begin before inspiration hits us, not afterward.
Now, if you have done a lot of writing before and you sense you are waiting for inspiration instead of seeking it out, first, check and see if maybe reason #1 or #2 is holding you back and making you wait.
If they are, resolve those issues and you’ll likely no longer be waiting. If they aren’t, consider what might be making you so passive as a writer. Ask yourself why you might be waiting for inspiration instead of seeking it out or writing without it – as we all must do – then go from there, working through the tips below on how to start writing again.
How to Start Writing
Inspiration can come from so many different things, but very rarely does it appear right in front of you. Instead, you must seek it out regularly, surrounding yourself with stories and other stimuli that make you feel creative.
This can easily be done by watching movies, reading books, and even doing different things like studying a Shakespeare play or starting a new video game.
Try to engage with these types of stories weekly if possible. Then, as you do this, you’ll notice yourself thinking of stories with more frequency before.
However, to really drive the process home, you’ll want to force yourself to discover a new idea. This can be done using my post on the matter, which really focuses on ways to discover – not create – new ideas in your life.
After you’ve found your idea you want to write, you’ll want to create a writer’s ritual. This ritual will serve as a sensory queue to trick your mind into being in the writing “zone” whenever needed. It works wonders for those who used to believe inspiration just came on a whim.
This ritual can then be enhanced by creating your own genius or taking a writer’s retreat. The former works to rid you of the ownership of your ideas, while the latter helps you devote a full weekend to inspiring your writing life!
After implementing these techniques, you should not only have a plethora of ideas but a step-by-step system to cultivating inspiration whenever you need it, no matter what.
Reason #4: You have all the enthusiasm, but no idea where to start.
Passion and excitement are powerful tools as writers. If you have the enthusiasm for your idea, that can power you through an entire project seamlessly.
But a lot of times people who are so passionate about their screenplay ideas often get so lost in the abstract they have trouble figuring out where to start.
This is especially true for people who do not like to plan out their story or people who do not work linearly.
If this is you, you’re in a great place because you have all the inspiration and ideas in place to get to work, all you need to finally start that screenplay is a bit of guidance on getting started.
How to Start Writing
Because you have so much passion for your project, it is likely less a lack of ideas then that is holding you back, but a need for said guidance. Though a daily writing schedule isn’t for everyone, it can force you to get to work right away.
Otherwise, finding a task management system to help guide you such as Asana or Trello can also help you approach the blank page with a general plan.
In general though, the simplest way to get started writing is to create a schedule and stick to it.
If you put your mind to it, you can plan and write an entire screenplay in just one month if you’d like, something I go into in greater detail here.
Additionally, finding a flexible system to give you guidance such as the eight sequence method by the Script Lab can help you understand exactly what to do next when you aren’t sure how to start.
Reason #5: You think you're too "busy" to write
One of the most common things I hear from writers and storytellers of all types – novelists, screenwriters, playwrights – is that they don’t have time or “can’t find the time” to write.
However, the reality, as you have likely heard before, is that if you want to write anything, you have to make time for it, not find time for it.
The solution here is relatively simple to understand – you’ll need to carve out time to write and make it a priority – but the question that you need to answer in order to use that solution is a bit trickier:
“Why do you believe you are too busy to write?”
Now your reaction might be to defensively say you are too busy to write and that is the problem. I know this because I remember how often I’ve said it.
But the reality is that if you want to write that screenplay, you can only do it one way – by writing it.
So ask yourself what it would mean to make the time for writing. For me it meant shutting my door, saying no to plans sometimes, and forcing myself to prioritize writing over everything else.
This meant that when I had homework, appointments, school – you name it, I made a point every morning to make writing the first thing I did so it felt like a priority.
It was this very approach that led me to write two screenplays and a novel in just three months in my last semester of college when I was in several intensive senior level courses.
So, when you say you don’t have the time, in reality, it’s that you haven’t yet decided to make the time for yourself. And trust me, it’s there.
How to Start Writing
If you want to finally start writing your script, you’re going to want to first assess why it is you don’t have time to write.
If it’s easiest for you, sit down and make a list of all your commitments and other things that get in the way of your writing life. Remember, as much as this may hurt to hear, often we let family and friends get in the way of our writing dream. In reality, these people should be the number one people to understand and support our needs to be alone and write, so that if they can’t understand why you are cutting out the time to write by being less available, they likely don’t have your best interests at heart anyway.
Once you’ve made a list of the things that are making it difficult for you to find the time to write, you’ll want to brainstorm some ways you can get at least fifteen minutes or more of writing in your day in various ways.
If possible, find a writing buddy in a similar situation that can keep you accountable, then set a start date for your new writing life. It may sound easy, but using something like my calendar for writing and screenplay in one month can often make the whole situation seem more approachable!
Reason #6: You’re a prose writer looking to try screenwriting, but you don’t want to lose your writer’s voice
If you are a fiction writer who maybe doesn’t believe in the myths listed in reason #1, but you still are having trouble getting started, you likely are someone with a strong prose writing voice who is worried about how to translate that voice into prose.
This fear makes perfect sense, especially since screenwriting does require the use of the active and present tense. Though there is room for some flavor in the script, things such as inner monologues and deep internal point-of-views don’t happen in screenplays the same way they do in a novel.
As a result, this fear that you will lose your writing voice when you write a screenplay is an understandable one. The writer’s voice is precious to all of us, so anything that seemingly threatens said voice is seen as something to avoid.
But this also means you aren’t writing that awesome screenplay idea down!
How to Start Writing
The truth is, for every storytelling medium you write, you’re going to express your writer’s voice slightly different. You will not lose your voice, but you will have to develop a style that works in conjunction with your voice for that particular medium.
The best way to do this is of course with practice, such as with writing prompts, because of their focus on experimentation and style.
However, if you have the resources, learning about what makes screenwriting so special and the tools of the trade make developing a style that mirrors your prose writing much easier.
This is one of my favorite features of Swank Up Your Script where I teach fellow writers how to use the artistic elements of a screenplay when they write. This in turn translates the best to a writer’s voice, though I do cover ways to do things such as explore the internal without voice-overs and other features that many writers wish to bring over from prose.
The key here is to bite the bullet and just get to writing. You will not lose your voice in the process when you do so, but evolve it to better match screenwriting. Which is super cool because it means you have a complex, multi-dimensional writer’s voice that can work with different mediums! And all you have to do to make that happen is start that screenplay!
No matter what reason is holding you back from writing your screenplay, it is important to take the time to acknowledge what is keeping you from starting your feature film or television pilot so you can create an action plan. All writers have moments when they put off starting a new project, but the sooner you can address what is holding you back, the sooner you can get to work!