How Not to Write a Screenplay.
BY Garth Horn
1. Decide that you want to write a screenplay
This may seem obvious to some but what a lot of people don’t realize is that the first and most important step in not writing a screenplay is actually wanting to write one. If that wasn’t the case then pretty much everyone you know would qualify as a non-screenwriter rendering the pursuit of not screenwriting totally pointless. Nobody wants that. By taking the time to connect with your desire to write a screenplay, you are in fact taking the first vital steps to not writing one. Feel good about that.
2. The “everything’s been done before” excuse
A really good way to not get started on the screenplay that you are not writing is to realize that there are no new ideas out there and that, even if there were, someone either already has or most certainly will get there before you do. Just walk into any café and take a look around you. One of the thousand jobless monkeys typing in your local Starbucks or Coffee Bean is bound to not only be writing a very similar screenplay to the one you are not writing but they are also probably way better connected. How else could they afford to spend their days sitting in cafés writing screenplays?
3. Facebook, internet porn,
disease-Googling, food/fashion blogging
The Internet provides a smorgasbord of ways to not write your screenplay—digging deep into a total stranger’s Facebook photo album looking for bikini shots, spending some quality double-penetration time with Sasha Grey or deciding it’s a good idea to self-diagnose that shooting pain you sometimes get behind your right eye. The Web is a family-fun-bag-sized treasure trove of ways to not do stuff and in this case, “stuff” is not writing your screenplay. So fire up the Firefox and get on with not getting on with it.
4. Decide to write a novel instead
This is one of the best ways to not write a screenplay because novels are way harder to write. In a screenplay you can say things like “she sighs heavily” and move on with your life. In a novel you will have to spend three pages describing this sigh in minute detail followed by another three letting the reader know that the sigh was really just metaphor for the fall of civilization. You will also have to describe what the sigher was wearing, using words like “gauzy” and including passages like “the air in the room was thick with the loamy perfume of pinesap and juniper,” whatever that means. All of this will be sufficiently paralyzing to crush your nascent novel-writing dreams and send you running back into the warm and familiar embrace of not writing a screenplay.
5. Read a book about writing screenplays
By reading a book about writing screenplays you are both reaffirming your burning desire to write one while avoiding the process of actually doing anything about it. Most of these books will provide you with a lot of practical advice, but chances are you won’t take any of it because they’ll tell you what you already know: you need to start writing. The books will also discuss a process known as “rewriting,” informing you that it is in fact the essence of writing itself. What they won’t mention is that rewriting is way less fun than any of the activities listed in point 3 (particularly the one involving Sasha Grey). Be very careful when reading any book offering advice on the subject of writing however, because there is always a chance that you may end up taking some of it. You’d be amazed by how many people ruin a perfectly good life not writing screenplays by reading a book about them and getting inspired to write one.
6. Take a screenwriting class
In a screenwriting class you will be surrounded by a mixture of people—some writing screenplays, some not—all of whom can help facilitate the process of not writing one of your own. Your fellow non-writers will loudly and repeatedly confirm all of your fears, insecurities and creative blockages while those that are writing them will affirm your belief that people who write screenplays possess some special screenwriting gene that you don’t have. Another reason why taking a screenwriting class is a good idea is that many of them are taught by people who have impressive screenwriting credentials but are really just people who are not writing a screenplay themselves. Stay close to this professional not screenwriter but be very careful to avoid doing a single thing they say. Simply just do as they do—or as they are not doing, in this particular case.
7. Buy a screenwriting software program
I don’t recommend this for everyone as the expense of buying software may actually motivate you to write your screenplay (the same applies to taking a screenwriting class). But for many non-writers this will be a handy way to make you feel like you have taken an important step when the truth is you haven’t. Because, as any person who is actually writing a screenplay will tell you, the key to being a writer of screenplays has less to do with taking a class or buying some handy software and more to do with actually writing one.
8. Keep a journal
A lot of people will tell you that keeping a journal is a vital creative resource for things like writing screenplays, which it can but doesn’t have to be. Keeping a journal can also just be a great way to not write the thing you really should be writing. Writing in your journal won’t be all that much different from commiserating with your fellow not-screenplay-writing friends or your shrink or your mom or whoever it is you talk to about all things not screenplay writing. At first it will feel like you are on the road to getting unblocked creatively, but then you’ll hit your not-screenwriting groove by the sheer amount of pleasure you will derive from digging deep into your own psyche and its fascinating not-screenplay-writing ways. At some point you may think, “This is it! I will turn my journal into my screenplay—a screenplay about not writing a screenplay!” But then you will realize that the name of that screenplay is Adaptation and it’s already been written by amazing screenplay writer Charlie Kaufman.
9. Tell someone else what they need to do
to start writing their screenplay
The best advice you can give to someone on any subject is based on your own life experience but is clearly not the kind of advice you are willing to take for yourself. That said, giving advice can occasionally lead to taking it and if this happens you run the risk of beginning to write, which means you will no longer qualify as a tortured artist with unrealized screenplay writing potential. You will now clearly be, just another asshole who happens to be writing a screenplay. To help you decide where you truly see yourself along this spectrum try this simple exercise: Look at yourself in the mirror and say the following, “tortured artist with unrealized screenplay writing potential,” wait 5-10 seconds and then say, “just another asshole who happens to be writing a screenplay.” Take a moment to see which of those two labels feels right to you. If it is the former (and it probably will be) then give advice to others and give it freely.
10. Award speech/interview fantasy
Fantasizing about giving the perfectly crafted Oscar acceptance speech for Best Original Screenplay or sitting down for a super-casual but mind-blowingly intellectual conversation with Charlie Rose are a pair of great ways to not write a screenplay. Both of these activities are engaging and quite creative in their own right, but neither one of them requires that you engage in the difficult task of actually writing anything. All you need is an active imagination and a burning desire for all of the back-end pay-off of writing a screenplay without the necessary drive to do the front-end hard part. Both activities are surprisingly time consuming and can be practiced in combination with many of the methods already listed above. Imagining the crushing blow your success will have on an ex-lover or someone else who didn’t see your untapped potential is both a great and a sad place to start. Good luck!
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