I’m in a screenwriting class on Tuesday nights to expand my writing skills and venture into a niche I adore! While I understand and practice the principles of writing- formatting a scrip is all new to me- which is why I enrolled in the level one class. My classmates inspired me to write this post and share my top tips for new writers in how to structure time, organize thoughts, and bring ideas to life. Writing in general can seem overwhelming- especially with all of the creative freedom we have. I believe adding structure to the creative process transforms an idea into reality and helps to produce work instead of it sitting in the “development” stage. By all means you do not have to implement the tools and practices in this article, but I hope this insight helps to build your own writing toolbox and create pieces you are proud of!
The Tools & top tips i follow as a professional writer
Map out Your time
My instructor keeps asking as he is continually surprised by how much work I am producing and bringing to class is a variation of “how long did it take” or “how did you do it?” As a professional writer himself he very much knows the answer but is intrigues to have me share my process. While I do have seven years of writing experience and learning what does and does not work for me, the biggest thing helping me write 70+ pages of a scrip in addition to completing my other writing work is having a routine and mapping out time. This is a make it or break it. I structure my days planning to write as I would a traditional 9-5. Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays are for my “work” writing projects aka the ongoing projects and contracted work. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and sometimes Saturdays are for all personal projects i.e. scripts, blogging, and mapping out anything I want to develop. In the new year I decided to divide my days this way because I would cram all projects into one and struggled with inspiration and felt burnout. Knowing I’m working on certain projects on specific days helps me to feel more organized in my mind and bring my best self and ideas to the page. Don’t get me wrong, some days if I have time and feel inspired I’ll revisit the other day’s project, but this is more of a “once in a blue moon” type of pursuit and I have fallen prey to sticking with this routine.
For those who are balancing a writing career- or starting one- with working another job, evaluate your schedule and set a realistic goal for when you can write. Analyze when you are most productive and when you can be your best self mentally and physically- you don’t want to be on 1% when you sit down to write this idea you know the world will love. If you work best in the morning, wake up earlier and dedicate something as minimal as 1 hour or even 10 minutes to writing. Having a time block adds up and even if you feel like “this isn’t enough” or question “is this making a difference?” At the end of one week’s routine revisit at how much you have accomplished in that time. Then, do so again after another week, a month, three months, and so-on.
Have A specific Space to write
I used to have a go-to writing spot before the pandemic and found I work best in the hubbub of a my favorite coffee shop. Well, I have trained myself to now be able to work in the silence of my house (‘twas a rough transition and my heart longs to hear the screams of the espresso machine). I have turned my basement office into an inspirational “writing room” by adding personal touches, purchasing a bluetooth speaker to play background noise and I created a space I genuinely want to work in. Find a spot in your house, outside, or in the community (pandemic appropriate, of course) which speaks to your writer’s soul and do your writing in that spot. Treat your work spot as going into the office and filter it into your routine. While I often revert to the coziness of my bed I ultimately know this inflates distractions, procrastination, and I am less productive. It’s important to also be aware of the places you cannot write just as much as the ones you can write in. If you’re unsure where you work best, try various environments until you find “the one”.
create a strategy
When I first started writing I had no idea about a writing strategy. I thought a strategy was how to map out an idea for a certain piece and left it as that. While of course planning a story/ outlining is vital to success, this isn’t quite what I’m referring to today. Having a writing strategy is sitting down with a piece of paper (preferably an eco-friendly one) or opening notes on your computer to identify what your goals are as a writer. In your strategy you need to identify what you want to do as a writer besides write.
What do you want to write? Fiction? Non-fiction? Biographies? General stories?
What kind of writer are you? Will you be an author? Journalist? Scriptwriter? Copywriter?
What are your writing and career goals besides “storytelling or “making money”?
Once you have asked yourself those foundational questions, it’s time to plan how you will achieve those. Perhaps this looks like taking a class, pursuing a mentorship, switching you college major or adding a minor. Maybe this looks like networking or sending pitches. Adding a blog to practice learning the skill is also another way to establish yourself while learning and building a portfolio to show others and to be searchable on Google for those looking for your particular skill/ services. Submitting guest articles/ posts are also another option if it brings you to your goal. Whatever “it” may be, identify those components and pursue those things. Now, when opportunities and pro-bono work comes your way, revert to this page and see if the opportunity aligns with your strategy. If it doesn’t, it’s okay to politely turn down opportunities and express what you are currently pursuing/ seeking. The biggest mistake I see new writers making is accepting gigs or volunteered projects pulling them away from their goals which does not teach them anything or bring them to where they want to be. Having “experience” means nothing if it is not in alignment with what you need or want experience for. Do not accept a writing gig just because it is brought to you/ you can. Be confident in saying “thank you for thinking of me, however these are not projects I am pursuing at the moment”. You can easily become stuck in a nice or a writing position you are not fond of and grow to resent. My rule is if it isn’t in alignment with my business strategy or personal goals and if it does not excited me the first time, I pass. If I have to force myself to like it, chances are on those horrible work days or months down the line, I will grow to resent it which is not ideal for anyone involved.
“Consistency is key” is a buzz-worthy phrase for a reason- because it’s true. I’m the first to admit I’ve dropped the blogging consistency ball lately. It make a difference when you’re in a routine and showing up regularly. Not only does consistency help achieve goals (sometimes faster than we planned for) but it helps to build skills, the mindset, and is more enjoyable. Having consistency bleeds into personal living and allows for writing projects not to overtake your life… something friends, family, and community will be much appreciative of! Consistency also helps combat writer’s block and on the days when you don’t want to put words to thoughts. Consistency creates discipline which separates writers from a job title. Consistency shines a light on the professional, reliable, successful, and enjoyable writers. Consistency also develops skills for more demanding or increasing projects. Most often you will not be working on one writing gig but multiple and being able to show up regularly will be your superpower in accomplishing the tasks- especially if any bits are less interesting/ appealing.