Thursday, May 29, 2008

Where to Start?

Jill: I've recently decided to do something about being a scriptwriter instead of just dreaming about it. My problem is where to start. I have (I think) a good story and have started writing a script. What else should be I doing? I would love to study at university but can't afford it. I am applying to a part time english degree. Is this a good idea? Any suggestions greatly fully received.

You've already recognised the most important thing you should be doing: writing the script. When you're starting out, that's what matters the most. Writing. Not thinking about writing. Not doing research. Or courses. Or even reading blogs. Switch the internet off, plug out your phone and do some writing. That's all you need.

I know this may seem trite and obvious but that's all it comes down to. Naturally, I am well acquainted with 'doing anything other than writing' especially at the beginning of your career. All sorts of things pop into your head: what am I going to do? what am I going to write? how am I going to pay the bills? am I any good? should I do a course? a degree? or am I just kidding myself?

All valid questions but ultimately, they're just a way to dance around the fact that all you have to do is sit down and write something. A computer, a laptop, a pen and paper, whatever gets you going: it's that simple. The urge to write is not the same as actual writing, and this is what divides those who want to be a writer and those who talk or moan about it. Too many people come up with excuses. Yes, it can be tricky to find the time or energy, especially if you have a demanding day-job or five screaming kids but here's the secret: writers always find a way.

They get up earlier. They stay up later. They allocate Saturday as their writing day, or a morning, an afternoon or an entire weekend. They write during their lunch break. Scribble down ideas and paragraphs on the bus home. No matter what is going on in their stressed lives, they are compelled to sit down and write.

A university degree in English (or History) is certainly helpful but not essential (I didn't go to university, although I would have loved to have done an English degree when I was younger). It depends how old you are too, and whether a two or four year degree would be worth your time and effort. A degree in screenwriting is also useful in terms of learning craft and the discipline required to make it. Screenwriting courses/books/blogs are all great but they shouldn't become a prime source of procrastination. Take what you need, then discard and sit down and write.

My advice would be to get work in the industry, wherever you can. Learn about the business. See scripts at work, and the individual pressures that producers, directors, actors and crew face with the task at hand. Develop an appreciation about how and why things work the way they do. Read scripts: amateur and professional. Make sure screenwriting is where your passion and interests lie (I read somewhere, possibly on a blog, that an aspiring screenwriter has suddenly realised she wants to be a production designer: a great and timely revelation!). Network: you'll probably get work through the industry people you meet but your sample scripts are crucial to back up the fact that you really are talented. Which brings us back to what's most important: just do it. Write.

Not sure if this answers your question directly but hopefully some of it will be relevant to what you're thinking about...! Thanks for the other questions, too, as they're great for generating posts when I may be a bit busy or knackered or whatever. Will get to them one-by-one, ta.


Anonymous said...

"Screenwriting courses/books/blogs are all great but they shouldn't become a prime source of procrastination. Take what you need, then discard and sit down and write."

My prime source of procrastination is reading Danny and Lucy's blogs!!

In fact, I'm doing right now (that and putting off the hoovering)

Ron Aberdeen said...


Good luck on your writing journey, it is easy to start you just put your words down on paper and ‘Bingo’ you are a writer.

Not a published writer and maybe initially not a good one, but don’t let that stop you. When a baby takes its first step, I doubt that it wakes up that morning and thinks; today I am going to walk.

After its first step it is amazing how quickly the second one comes.

My only advice to you is read books on script writing, read scripts and watch movies.

Scriptwriting is a craft and like any other needs to be studied.

Having great ideas is only the beginning. Often what you initially have is the ‘Hook’ and maybe how the story begins. Think about your story and structure in how you will present it.

It will need a beginning, a middle and an end. If it is hopefully to be presented as a movie, it will require engaging characters that have depth and arc in their development as the story unfolds.

One of the biggest essentials beginners overlook is, will my story entertain others.

People watch movies mostly for entertainment, not enlightenment, information or because they have to.

Don’t expect success overnight, I believe the average number of scripts written before some form of success is nine.

Be prepared to be ignored, insulted, ridiculed and rejected and that will be by your friends.

I started scriptwriting in March 2005 and received my first paid job as a scriptwriter within six months. It has been uphill ever since and one of the most enjoyable journeys of my life.

Oli said...

That was Annie Rhiannon's blog. She's already got a production design job on The Tudors, which isn't bad going.

Mark said...

I have never encountered a screenwriting how-to book that has been written by a well-known scribe.

Jill R said...

Thanks to everyone for their advice. I will continue plugging away with my writing and hope for the best

Piers said...

I'd say this:

If you want to be a writer, don't do an English degree.

Get a degree in something that you want to know more about. Something that you're interested in, rather than as a step towards becoming a writer.

To become a writer, you need to read and write. That, you can do in your own time. English degrees are about analyzing the works of other writers. It won't help you to write - only writing will do that.

Something else - science, economics, anything that's nothing to do with writing - will stand you in better stead, because then you'll have something to inform your writing that only you know about.

If you're learning in a formal setting, you should be learning things that interest you, not that you think will help you get ahead.

All of the above should be ignored, of course, if you really love learning about the works of other writers, and critically analysing them. In which case, fill your boots.

Me, I think English degrees are a path to avoid if you want to write.