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September 29, 2023

How to Become a Screenwriter: Your Guide to Your First Six Months

"We don't make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies." - Walt Disney.

It's easy to forget this quote in the age of unlimited choice on Netflix and Amazon and when there are endless sequels being churned out by Hollywood. Whilst screenwriting and the film industry is a business, it is at its heart a creative endeavour. To become a screenwriter, therefore, you must really love what you do. It's not a job for somebody in it for the short term or who isn't passionate about stories.

To make it in this industry you must live and breathe film and stories. This blog will take you step-by-step through the first six months of becoming a screenwriter. From writing, through to feedback, and then to the submission process.

With focus and determination, you can go from dreaming about writing films to actually making that dream a reality as many writers who've used Arc Studio have found out.

Let's dive in.

Month 1: think like a screenwriter

If you've chosen to embark on the path of becoming a screenwriter then watching films and TV shows is never going to be the same. You must learn to anyalze films and understand what makes them work. Why did directors and writers make certain decisions? And how do you emulate this? Notice the cuts, the narrative structure, the pacing and the character arcs.

A color picture of Walt Disney with Mickey Mouse animated behind him
Walt Disney was a great businessman but he was - at heart - one of the greatest storytellers of all time

You should also begin by studying basic film theory. Don't worry if this sounds overwhelming and or too complex. Start with the basics and use the huge amount of free resources available to you.

Here are some key activities that we recommend:

  • Watch movies in the genre you want to write in. For example, if you want to write comedy films, watch popular funny movies to see what works. Analyze story structure, characters, dialogue - take notes on strengths
  • Break down TV show episodes scene-by-scene. Pay attention to act breaks, plot points, and how the story unfolds each episode. Our breakdown series here is invaluable. Have these by your side and re-watch your favourite scenes
  • Start building a swipe file of interesting scenes or lines of dialogue from movies or shows to inspire your writing

All of these tasks might sound like you are procstinating but they are valuable. Remember if you are not going to enroll at film school and there are many writers and directors who argue you don't need to these day, then you need to put in the work yourself.

Months 2-3: write your first screenplay

In months two and three, it's time to create an original concept and write your first screenplay. You don't have to reinvent the wheel here, it can be similar in structure to other screenplays you've read but it should be something you're passoinate about.

Be disciplined and write everyday, regardless of how good the first draft is.

Here are some tips:

  • Choose a story idea that excites you. Don't try to guess what buyers want - write from the heart and personal experiences
  • Create a basic outline of your script - beginning, middle, end. Map out key plot points and story beats
  • Write your first draft without excessive editing: focus on getting the story on the page from start to finish
  • Use screenwriting software like Arc Studio for proper formatting. Arc Studio makes this super easy, automating much of the process
  • Read produced scripts in your genre for examples if you get stuck
  • Schedule time to write every day. Set a deadline for finishing a draft in 1-2 months. The saying that a task takes as long as the time you set for it could not be more true for screenwriting. 1-2 months is a reasonable timeframe for any script
  • Resist the urge to edit excessively as you write. You'll refine the script later. For now, just get to "The End."
  • Share pages with trusted friends or a writers group to get periodic feedback as you write. Incorporate suggestions

The goal of this step is completing a first draft within 6-8 weeks. It doesn't have to be perfect. You can refine it in later steps. Finishing your initial script is a huge milestone for any new screenwriter.

Months 4-5: feedback and re-drafting

You've completed your first draft - congrats! Now it's time to get constructive feedback and revise. This is not a process that can happen in isolation and as much as we might think we've produced the best work, we have to be humble.

The chances are our first script might not cut the mustard and at best it will have a long way to go. The biggest challenge of becoming a screenwriter is learning to leave your ego at the door.

Only when you do this can you get better. As Lara Croft: Tomb Raider Michael Collery told us in a recent interview, the best screenwriters are the ones that can make themselves useful and are willing to work hard with production companies to get them the script they want.

Lara Croft Writer Michael Collery in a headshot
The Lara Croft screenwriter Michael Collery belives making yourself useful to industry executives is just as important as being a great writer
  • Join a local writers group or take an online screenwriting class. Share copies of your script and provide feedback on others' in return but be critical of that advice and only implement it if it rings true with you.
  • Listen carefully to the feedback and take notes. Look for common issues multiple readers point out
  • Assess the major areas for improvement - structure, plot, pacing, dialogue, etc. Don't try to address every minor nitpick
  • Outline the key story changes needed based on feedback. Don't be afraid to cut subplots, add characters, or rewrite scenes
  • Complete a second draft implementing the biggest changes. Share again with your writers group for feedback
  • Repeat the feedback and revision process 1-2 more times until you have a solid working draft

The goal of this step is getting objective input and strengthening your script through targeted rewriting. With each revision cycle, you'll get closer to a polished screenplay that you can then take to studios and agents.

Month 6: submit your script

Once you have a refined draft based on extensive feedback, it's time to start submitting. Ideally you want an agent to represent you. But remember it is harder to get an agent than it is to get a production company to invest in your film. However, until you get an agent you will not be properly recognised in Hollywood circles, even in 2023 so it should be a long term goal.

As this is your first script your short term goals should be gaining exposure and building your name. Once industry executives get to hear about you and are excited by your work you'll stand a chance of getting an agent or a contract for a major production company.

Here are some ways you can gain exposure for you and your work:

  • Research screenwriting contests like the Nicholl Fellowship and Austin Film Festival. Submit to reputable competitions that provide exposure. Enter script contests that offer feedback from industry professionals so you can continue improving
  • Leverage any connections you have with producers, managers, or agents to get your script directly into hands of people in the business
  • Post your script on specific screenwriting feedback sites to get ratings and reviews from readers which may lead to inquiries e.g The Blacklist
  • Attend screenwriting conferences and networking events to pitch your script to producers and meet other writers
  • If you have shorts or spec episodes, submit to smaller contests and film festivals

The goal of this step is to start accumulating external validation of your scripts and to generate word of mouth for what you've written. It's extremely rare (though not impossible) for a writer to see their first script make it to screen. Which brings us to our final step:

Starting all over again

You may feel defeated if your first script goes nowhere, you may feel like doubling down on your script and making more revisions until you get it right. But remember your first script is never wasted. You learned a lot about structure and if you followed the feedback steps right you got invaluable insights into why your script didn't quite hit the mark.

This will put you in much better stead when you write your second script. And this is exactly why you need to get working on your next script straight away. Instead of labouring over your first script, it's far better to start afresh and begin work on something new. You can always come back to your first script when you have obtained more knowledge.

Continue with the same writing habits you started with in month 2. Write a set number of words every day, put them out no matter what and don't let anyone deter you from the writing process. But this time you'll get a more polished first draft and you'll be more aware of how to improve key features like character arcs, story structures and starting in the heart of the action (en-media-res).

Dedication is key to your first 6 months

Launching a screenwriting career takes dedication, perseverance, and a strategic approach. While passion is required, you also need a plan if you want to go from aspiring writer to working professional.

Follow the steps outlined here - immerse yourself in screenwriting resources, write consistently, get feedback from others, submit your work, and keep improving your craft with each new script.

Set incremental goals month-by-month so you don't get overwhelmed looking too far ahead. Employ a combination of self-motivation and external support. Stay resilient in the face of setbacks.

Above all, believe in yourself and your writing talent. Commit to the process and continue seeking knowledge. By being strategic with your time and efforts, you can complete a polished script.

And remember Arc Studio is here to help you every step-of-the-way, follow along with our blog and join the community.


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How to Become a Screenwriter: Your Guide to Your First Six Months
Harry Verity

Harry is a professional writer. His first novel The Talk Show was published in the U.S and the U.K by Bloodhound Books in 2021 and he is currently working on adapting it for screen using Arc Studio. He's also written for Media Magazine - a UK magazine for students of A-level Film, Media and Television Studies. His journalism has appeared in The Guardian, Readers' Digest and Newsweek, amongst many other publications. He has just finished his second novel for young adults, set in a boarding school. He holds a BA in English from Loughborough University.

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