17 Emotional Stages Of Writing Your First Screenplay
Octavia Butler once said in an interview with Locus magazine that "You don't start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it's good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That's why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence." And sure enough, when you ask for writing advice, the first thing successful writers will tell you is to keep writing. Whether you're writing novels or articles or screenplays, the only way to actually finish something is to push through and just get it done, no matter how much your fingers are itching to just spend forever revising the first three pages.
If life were a movie, the "keep writing" mantra would just be the lyric of the song that plays as a montage flits across the screen. You, the writer, would down several cups of coffee and type away on an old-fashioned typewriter, and by the end of the song you'd have an entire project completed. When you tell people that you finished your first screenplay, that's probably the scene they imagine. However, that's completely NOT the case. The reality is a MUCH more emotional journey, with MUCH more coffee than people will ever know.
First, you're super-excited to begin. You have so many ideas!
Your notebook is full of potential topics for your screenplay — you just have to pick one. The only hard part is choosing where to begin, right?
But just when you sit down to start, your mind goes blank.
What are words?? The screenplay seemed perfect in your mind, but somehow on the way from your brain to Final Draft it becomes completely muddled and all you can write is "EXT. PIZZA PARLOR — DAY" before you run out of ideas.
You desperately search for your muse.
You download a bunch of playlists guaranteed to inspire writers, sit in coffee shops watching people walk by, start jotting down notes in a small notebook (notes which make no sense when you come back to them. "Robot celebrity" ??? What does that even mean??), and drink a Lorelai Gilmore amount of coffee.
Finally, inspiration hits!
The whole thing was supposed to be set in outer space, and that's why you were having trouble — but now that you know the pizza parlor's actually on Mars, everything else falls into place.
You breeze through the outline and the treatment and the first 50 pages...
No one can stop you. You're a machine. The dialogue flows like water streaming from a faucet, and you laugh out loud at your own jokes and cry when the characters go through tough times. *~You're a genius~*
Until you get stuck
You know what's SUPPOSED to happen next, but suddenly it doesn't work any more and you question every decision you've ever made.
You watch all your favorite movies...
... But it only makes you more sure of your own inferiority. How will you ever write a screenplay as amazing as The Princess Bride (the greatest movie ever)??
Has everything been done before??
All your ideas suddenly seem derivative, and you banish every new idea with the thought that "it's been done a million times."
You start wearing sweatpants exclusively
You spend most of your time on the couch eating ice cream directly from the carton. It's what makes sense now.
You question your entire dedication to writing
Fleetingly, you wonder if you should just try a complete change of career. You were always interested in the FBI. Maybe they're hiring.
But then the epiphany strikes
As you're watching TV at 2 a.m. and finishing off the last pint of Cherry Garcia, everything suddenly CLICKS, and you know EXACTLY what's supposed to happen next and how it takes place.
Suddenly, your words per minute can't keep up with your thoughts.
As you race through writing the last half of your screenplay, you can feel the adrenaline pumping.
You shower yourself with compliments
You're the best writer in the world! This screenplay is amazing! It will make millions, Emma Watson will star in it, and it will be a critical smash!
But then you pull it back, because you're super-humble
OK, maybe it's not the best screenplay ever, but you give yourself a break because it's your first one.
You finish the last scene and immediately text everyone you know
After a quick solo dance party, you send out an "I'M FINISHED!!!!!" text to all your best friends and wait for the congrats to start pouring in.
Finally, you can sleep through the night
Visions of the Cannes Film Festival dance in your head as you FINALLY sleep through a night without waking up to jot down notes about what should happen in a scene, or an idea for a funny piece of dialogue.
Until you wake up with a new idea
As the morning arrives, you wake up happy and fulfilled... until inspiration strikes, and it's time to do it all again.
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