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How to Finish Your Script by Thanksgiving

By Marilyn Horowitz

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As a writing teacher, a coach, and a writer myself, I have witnessed the varying levels of despair we experience when we are not doing what we want to do– namely, writing or rewriting our latest script. The two primary reasons that scripts don’t get written is that they don't get started and they don’t get finished. Fall is an especially busy time, and it is easy to put off a writing project in the service of making the rent or taking care of family. My experience has been that this plan to delay working on our script until other things are taken care of always backfires because we writers are always miserable when we are not writing, so our good intentions tend to be marred by our bad moods.

Here are five exercises to help you finish your screenplay by Thanksgiving.

  1. Form the intention that you will finish your screenplay by Thanksgiving. Dramatize this by putting up a notice everywhere you often look, i.e. on the front of the refrigerator or bathroom mirror that states the name of your screenplay, “fade out,” and the date: 11/15/10. This way, even if you’re not thinking about it, your unconscious mind will be processing your story.
  2. Tell a friend! In my writing classes, one of the tricks we use to ensure that people meet their writing deadlines is that they are assigned a partner to whom they speak once a week, and each person must help the other arrange a writing schedule and check up on them.
  3. Eat dessert first. Before you go to sleep at night, in the morning when you get up, and whenever you find yourself idle, engage in grandiose fantasies of yourself: winning the Oscar, being on the set, getting the check, or my personal favorite – finding that the check has cleared. The caveat here is not to take it too seriously or you will begin to feel inadequate and the entire process will be lost.
  4. Planning to win. You must schedule appointments with yourself to write, and keep them. If you don’t feel like writing, Try for fifteen minutes, and if nothing comes, then give up and do some related activity, such as watching a film analytically, reading another screenplay, doing research for your project, or calling your partner to tell them the story so far and get help. If all else fails, take a script that you love (by somebody else) and start copying it verbatim. Because you are a writer, within two or three lines, you will find yourself rewriting it and that may spark you to return to your own project.
  5. Put your butt in the chair. Ultimately, you have to do the work. It’s kind of like dieting – although there are at least 200 diets, the bottom line is you must eat less if you want to lose weight. So with writing, with all the good will in the world, if you want to write, you must actually do it. I recommend to my writers that instead of going directly to the project at hand, they do a five-minute warm up exercise of simply writing a narrative piece about something that happened recently that they either hated or loved. Writing seems to generate more writing.

Bonus Tip

Spend five minutes writing about what you want to gain from getting this screenplay done. Even if you do this every day before you begin, focusing on what you want can be a far more powerful tool than trying to force yourself to write. As a writing teacher, I have many tips to help writers write, but these five, plus the bonus tip, seem to be the ones that always work. As a writer, you must be willing to believe that you are already a writer in order to attain a goal. How do we know we’re writers? Writers write. So remember, no matter how good or bad the material is, it’s the act of writing that defines who we are.

Here are the exercises. It’s no good reading about the exercises unless you do them. Put it up in those places where you often see it.

  1. Write your intention, i.e." I want to finish my script by Thanksgiving." Put it up in 3 key places where you will often see it.
  2. Find your writing buddy. This can be a friend, a family member, or a fellow writer. The point is that you have someone to be accountable to.
  3. For 5 minutes write about what would happen if you achieved it? Is your goal to have your screenplay turned into a feature film? Is it to win the Oscar?
  4. Schedule appointments with your writing partner to discuss your work so far.
  5. Find a way to keep those appointments and keep a log so you can check your progress.

Good luck and happy writing -- and remember, don't get it right, get it written

About Marilyn Horowitz

Marilyn Horowitz is an award-winning New York University professor, author, producer, and Manhattan-based writing consultant, who works with successful novelists, produced screenwriters, and award-winning filmmakers. She has a passion for helping novices get started. Since 1998 she has taught thousands of aspiring screenwriters to complete a feature length screenplay using her method. She is also a judge for the Fulbright Scholarship Program for film and media students. In 2004 she received the coveted New York University Award for Teaching Excellence.

Professor Horowitz has created a revolutionary system that yields a new, more effective way of writing. She is the author of six books that help the writer learn her trademarked writing system, including editions for college, high school, and middle school. The college version is a required text at New York University and the University of California, Long Beach.

Professor Horowitz has written several feature-length screenplays. Her production credits include the feature films And Then Came Love (2007). Her new novel, The Book of Zev is available on Amazon.

Screenwriting Article by Marilyn Horowitz

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