Jeanne's Tuesday Screenwriting Tips: 2 Tips for Finishing Screenplays

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You have a project you’re in love with and aching to write, but sitting yourself in the seat to push the words out is daunting – oftentimes, even more so than staring at the blank page.

I’m right there with you.

Since I hate starting new projects, I have two secret weapons I use when I need to get cracking: Creating a deadline and turning to my support group for help.

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Being a procrastinator extraordinaire and working best under pressure, I was born to seek deadlines. I use one of three:

1. A made-up deadline: It can be the end of a month, your birthday, the first of the year, or even the anniversary of a breakup. Use anything that gives you a realistic time frame to accomplish the goal. I then divide the page-count goal by the number of days to the self-imposed deadline to give me a daily mini goal.

Did I just hear someone call me OCD? That’s okay. I own it. Whenever I break bigger projects down into mini ones, it always lessens the sense of feeling overwhelmed.

Everything is manageable in baby steps.

2. Screenwriting contests: If you Google writing contests, you’ll always be able to find one to use as a deadline date. For me, screenwriting contests are a way to push me through rewrites though, not first drafts. I’d never submit a first draft to a contest. It’s a waste of money. But using a deadline for prestigious contests like Austin Film Festival, Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting or Final Draft Big Break is a great motivator to get your script polished.

3. Pitchfests and Conferences: Most screenwriting conferences include opportunities to pitch to executives. Not only can you use them as a drop-dead date to polish your script, you’ll also have to create a one-sheet and, obviously, a pitch. By doing that, you’ll have a new opportunity to explore your story, making sure it’s cohesive and compelling.

Whenever I write a one-sheet to prepare for a pitchfest, I can be guaranteed something in my script will change. Holes in stories always come to light when you’re forced to summarize the screenplay into one page of prose.

If you’ve attended pitchfests in the past, you should be mindful of not pitching the same script multiple years in a row. That’s a red flag to the executive that you don’t have any other bodies of work. It’s also a red flag if you hand them a sheet of 20 loglines of screenplays you’ve written. They’ll wonder why you haven’t sold any.

Screenplays are like real estate, except instead of “location, location, location,” execs are looking for “quality, quality, quality.” It’s better to stick with two or three polished scripts than to vomit out 20 sketchy ones.

But you can’t polish that script if the first draft is still in your head.

Now that you have your deadline, it’s time to call in the troops – your writing support group.

Whether you’re writing a first draft or doing a rewrite, support of other writers in the trenches can drive you forward and also make you feel accountable.

For me, it’s always been Twitter. I use the #scriptchat hashtag and call out writing sprints, knowing other writers will hop on and join me in the 30 or 60-minute “race.”

The point of a writing group is to not only motivate you but to also make you accountable. People who publicly state a goal are more likely to achieve it. No one likes to eat crow, no matter how much tequila you use to wash it down.

I may love Twitter, but many writers are more comfortable on Facebook, so the other week I created a ScriptMag Writers’ Community. All are welcome to enjoy! This is not a platform for my team to post marketing or articles. This is YOUR platform for connecting with each other, stating your goals, calling out writing sprints, finding screenwriters to exchange scripts or just sharing things you’ve learned about the craft and business.

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Sometimes what we need most in order to achieve our goals is to know we aren’t alone. A blank page is far less frightening when you know someone out there is staring at one too… and double-dog daring you to get the words on the page.

Let’s start the accountability right now by either stating your goals in the comments below or by heading over the ScriptMag Writers’ Group and joining the fun!

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