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Script Angel: Keeping On The Road To Screenwriting Success

Hayley McKenzie is a Script Editor and founder of Script Angel, helping screenwriters elevate their craft and advance their screenwriting career. Follow her on Twitter @scriptangel1.

So now you know how to turn your screenwriting dreams into achievable goals  but in reality making plans is one thing, sticking to them is something else entirely. We’ve all made new year resolutions; promises to ourselves about the bad things we’re going to stop doing and the good things we’ll start doing. But a few weeks later, when the flush of excitement is wearing off, when it’s no longer new and novel, then it gets really tough to keep those promises. Even if you’ve been pragmatic and made sure you’ve got SMART goals for progressing your screenwriting, now that the honeymoon is over, can you make this work LONG TERM?

Screenwriting is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and there will be times you will feel like giving up. The key to long-term success is to find ways to stick to your plan. After all, nothing worthwhile is ever easy. Achieving and then, crucially, sustaining a successful screenwriting career takes passion, hard work and perseverance.

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So how do you keep on that road to screenwriting success? Well, I’ll admit I’m a bit of a list-freak! I’ve got lists for just about every aspect of my life; for the script I’ve committed to giving detailed notes on (with deadline) to my children’s homework hand-in days to the films and tv shows I need to watch this week. I depend on lists to know what I’ve committed to doing and by when. For me, the key to a successful ‘to do’ list is making the items on them bite-size. Sometimes the scale of a ‘thing to do’ can be overwhelming. Writing a polished screenplay requires an enormous number of hours of work and if your list just says ‘write polished screenplay’ there’s a good chance it will never get gone.

When I’m having a sort out of my ‘to do’ list I start by brainstorming with the big stuff. Having turned my long-term dreams into achievable SMART goals I’ll go on to jot down all the things that might go into achieving each goal. So, if ‘write a polished spec thriller’ is my goal I’d have notes about things like honing my craft, getting feedback, networking and staying creatively inspired.

Next, I’ll take each of those areas and start to break them down into individual tasks. Your list will be unique to you because we each have different gaps in our knowledge and skills that need more work than others. So, for example, craft might include reading a book about writing thrillers, listing all the ‘classic’ thrillers and compiling a list of those I need to watch or re-watch to refresh my memory. Honing my craft might also include taking a class or webinar on the subject.

Getting feedback might need a bit research if I’ve not gone through the process or want to change the kind of feedback I’m getting. So my list might include things like researching script consultants and checking out the peer review offered by local writers’ groups.

Networking might feel like it’s something you don’t need to think about yet, after all, what’s the point in networking until you’ve got a script to get out there, right? Wrong! Start networking NOW. Networking is not about working your way through a room until you find someone who agrees to read the script you’ve spent the last year of your life slaving over. Nor is networking about collecting as many business cards as possible, in the hope that one of those people might prove useful to you in the future. Networking is about building relationships and that takes time. I’d recommend researching the major screenwriters’ conferences nearest to you, like Screenwriters’ World Conference (East and West), London Screenwriters’ Festival and the like. Also check out screenwriters’ groups on social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook) and in your local area.

I’ve written before about how creativity is key and keeping the creative tank fueled is really important. Whatever it is that inspires you, make sure you schedule time for it, be that visiting art galleries, going to the theatre, live music, art house movies or reading real life stories.

Once you’ve got a list of things to do that is broken down into smaller, more manageable chunks it’s time to set those all important deadlines. Of course, ‘to do’ lists made up of things all about screenwriting might seem like it’s going to be a breeze but every successful screenwriter has aspects of the process they find more of a chore than a joy. So, like any ‘to do’ list, rewards are key. It might just be the satisfaction of ticking an item off the list, knowing that you’re another step closer to that goal of completing the polished spec thriller script. It might be that you reward yourself in other ways, particularly after completing things that feel more like a chore. If you find rewriting after notes the hardest aspect, give yourself a treat after you complete it.

The other thing you’re going to need to keep on this road to screenwriting success is support. Start with a deal with yourself. Making promises to yourself and committing to them on paper is crucial. For many writers though, the most important part of staying the course is making sure you’ve got the support of friends and/or family. We all know that screenwriting success, especially in the early days when you’re probably jugging a full-time job to pay the bills, requires sacrifices and understanding from those around you. Bringing them onboard makes a huge difference to your ability to stick at this game long enough to get success. With a list of practical, manageable, well-thought-out steps to success to work through and the support of those around you, you can keep on the road that leads to and sustains a successful career as a screenwriter.

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