10 Tips on becoming a more productive writer

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7 mins read

It’s 10 am on a Saturday. You’ve been waiting for this moment your entire week, work has been hectic, evenings busy, and now finally you have some time and space to write. To craft that story that’s been whirring around your head every time the world gives you a spare moment to think.

You pull up a new page, as you began to dream within the world you’ve longed to create, your brain suddenly freezes. It seems as if all the words, thoughts, ideas and fantasies that are almost always flying through your mind at a million miles an hour have dissipated into nothing in a moment.

In a moment of panic, you get flustered, agitated and even disheartened. My story can’t be that good if I can’t even write a few words. Maybe I should come up with a new idea? Maybe it’s just not a good day to write. You stand up, push in your chair and decide tomorrow will be the day where finally you tell your story.

No. Just stop. Right now. Sit back at that computer and type, anything. Seriously – stop reading this article for quick tips and just get on with it.

You’re still here, aren’t you? Well if you’re not well done (not that you are reading this). If you are, perhaps I can share with you how I stay productive whilst writing and maybe you can share your tips in the comments below.

Tip #1 – Lose Yourself

One of the biggest stumbling blocks I find when it comes to writing is myself. I often get in the way of the story finding a life of its own. I feel insecure about my ability to tell the story which makes writing any words on the page that much harder. If I humbled myself enough to forget my pride and begin writing, I would automatically have a sense of freedom and empowerment that would lead to more words written, more scenes created and stronger characters on the page.

Tip #2 – Find Yourself

Now that you’ve lost your pride, you need to find your voice. Because somewhere, it’s in there. Finding your voice is heavily influenced by the story you’re trying to tell. Tell a story that you’ve experienced and that voice will need to be teased out but it’ll become more natural as you progress.

It’s much harder to find your voice when you’re telling a story that isn’t grounded in an experience you’ve had. It’s always going to be embellished some way or another, but is it really the right story for you to tell if you have no natural attachment to it? It can be. But it’s an important question to ask yourself! If it’s not and you still want to continue with it, make sure you’re researching and planning as that’s how the foundations will be created.

Story at its heart is characters going through some sort of emotional challenge, we all have emotional challenges and there’s always going to be a way of using that to influence your writing.

Tip #3 – Plan (If you need to)

I don’t plan. Ever. Planning fills me with dread as it attaches an unrealistic expectation (when did plans ever turn out exactly as expected) to everything I do.

Now this isn’t exactly true. My background as a producer has led me to working on film shoots across the world and I can assure you that certainly takes a lot of planning. However, when it comes to writing I personally enjoy being released from needless expectation and a self-imposed construct. I want my characters and story to almost find itself, undaunted by its surroundings.

But planning definitely has a place – when you’re staring at a blank page and don’t know where to start, a plan could benefit you tremendously. It comes back to the story you want to tell – are you working from YOUR experience or not? If the answer is you’re not, then you need to have an in-depth knowledge about the experience you’re trying to create (or recreate). You need to know the ins and outs, the history, you need to have an idea of the universe your characters live in, start jotting down notes.

Pick a name for your character, assign them a few adjectives, put them in a location in your universe and write their first scene. It’s doesn’t have to be in the final script. It doesn’t even need to be good. Just begin framing your thoughts.

Tip #4 – If you’re waiting until the time is right, you’re doing it wrong

Back to Saturday – after you’ve risen up from your desk and packed it in. You stand there and contemplate all the times you were full of inspiration, buzzing with ideas, how good it was to feel creative and how much you would do to have it back.

Well, you’ll get it back. But unfortunately, creativity has a mind of its own and it tends to spark when we least expect it. We need to be ready.

Having a tool you can use at any time to write anything from anywhere is the trick to harnessing creativity when it comes. Personally I use Bear Notes if it’s random thoughts, if I’m starting to flow in a scene or character, I quickly open up White Spaces on my phone (or whatever device I can) create a new script and write separately to my main project. This allows me to feel free and open, without the weight of the rest of the script.

It has an amazing effect. The more ideas you capture, the more productive you are when you sit down to write because there’s always a starting point, a trigger to get you going.

Tip #5 – Surround yourself with writing triggers

Talking of triggers – it’s important to know what works for you. Music is a big one for me, I listen to a powerful track that relates somewhat to my story and I’m right in there. Put some headphones on, drown out the world and enter the zone.

A trigger could be anything – another film, a picture, a song, a piece of art, even a scene you’ve already written. When you’ve found a few triggers, instead of going straight to writing, spend a few minutes being mindful and letting your thoughts wander. Immerse yourself in the trigger you’ve chosen and begin to think creatively. It’ll open up your ideas unexpectedly.

Tip #6 – Watch everything

Not films or TV shows – but people. Watch how they interact with each other, how they talk to each other, how they fight with each other. Understanding human interaction is fundamental to good writing, it can turn a far fetched narrative into a believable reality.

Go sit in a cafe, or walk through a busy high street. Subtly and unintrusively observe. You’ll be amazed by how many ideas start to go through your head when you immerse yourself in real human behaviour.

Tip #7 – Listen to other writers

Listening to other writers is a good way to increase your skills and productivity. Podcasts seem to have taken over the world and there are some fantastic ones out there that will help you get on track with your writing.

A few of my favourites – On the Page with Pilar Allesandra, Script Notes from John August and Craig Mazin and not necessarily related to screenwriting but Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman. I always find it inspiring to hear stories of other’s success.

Find some podcasts that you click with and listen to them regularly, they’ll keep you motivated, inspired and hopefully writing.

Tip #8 – Be the most disciplined version of yourself

Being or becoming a writer is not for the faint of heart. It takes a dedication for your craft, an expectation of failure and a determination to persevere regardless. At the crux of all of these is discipline.

Whether you want to write a multi-award-winning movie, create the next Game of Thrones, or you’re simply just trying to learn a new skill and express your creativity, screenwriting like most things requires a strong discipline. It’s important that you keep regularly practising the craft and aren’t deterred when you’re not feeling motivated or having a bad day.

Try and start by writing for at least 15 minutes daily. Don’t put too much pressure on it, write letters, prose, part of your script, a monologue or even a story arc. Just get in the habit of writing productively, and often.

Tip #9 – Read other scripts

You should be reading as many scripts as you can get your hands on, from all different levels of writers. There’s plenty of resources out there for finding screenplays, and utilising them is important! You can accrue a great deal of knowledge, inspiration, best practices and motivation from reading screenplays from the worlds most renowned screenwriters.

You can watch the film back whilst reading through the screenplay. Having a greater depth of understanding how the writer’s words translate on screen is all part of the process and is an invaluable skill. It will increase the quality of your writing hugely.

Tip #10 – Stop reading articles like this

I’m joking. Well partially!

We all need a bit of help but often trying to get more ‘productive’ is the biggest killer of our productivity. Ultimately, the words on the page are not going to write themselves. Every painting needs an artist, you need the craft the story that lives within you. No one else can do that for you.

Open up any screenwriting tool, and just begin. Write openly and freely. Let the words flow and begin telling your story.

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Written by

Jack Coupland