Out of the 500 or so friends and family I have in my life, approximately 498 of them are screenwriters. And of those 498, exactly one of them actually writes screenplays. The rest just want to. Real hard. Yet they don’t, because they let everything else become more important, more distracting. Wait! SQUIRREL!
Me on the other hand, I’m a productivity addict. I write 16 hours a day sometimes and still go to bed feeling like I’m not writing enough. But the sad truth is, I do get a lot done. When it comes to productivity for screenwriters at large, I know that everybody’s different, and has their own rituals, but if you’re feeling like you’re not making enough progress on your screenplay from day to day, here’s a few tools I use to keep me on task and my screenplays churning out. Like buttah.
Set aside screenwriting time by saving your focus
I recently had to uninstall Words With Friends, after playing just three games. Tiny program, great fun, but what’s an an 16-letter phrase that begins with W that means “sucking away a screenwriter’s available screenwriting minutes?”
You know how you go through and close all the open apps on your cell phone in order to save battery? Do the same thing with the “apps” in your life, in order to save time.
Playing games on your phone, responding to texts, phone conversations, creating the perfect comment response to someone’s political post on Facebook … how many of these are draining your “time battery?” Treat them like apps and keep them closed, or severely limit their use, and watch your time reserves bounce back.
Set aside screenwriting time using parental controls
Nearly every router has built-in parental controls to limit access to whatever websites you don’t want your kids seeing, or limit access to the internet to certain times of the day. And most of them are extremely easy to use. (They have to be because even stupid people can be porn junkies.) If you’re finding that your internet browsing is getting way out of control and eating into your writing time, get parental on yourself.
Typing 192.168.1.1 into your browser’s address window (just like you’re typing a website) is usually how you access your router’s configuration. If you haven’t set up a login and password to your router (which you should’ve done when you started using it, chachi), then it’s probably set to the default. In many cases, it’s simply admin / password. Look up your brand and model of router to find out what the default login and password may be. And once you’re in your router’s control panel, make sure to set a new login and password.
From there, it’s a quick browse over to your router’s parental controls section to set times and days that you’re allowed to access the internet, or to block or limit certain huge timewasting sites (Facebook, I’m looking at you. And I’m not flirting.) But don’t take my word for it. Here’s a great tutorial on all this stuff.
Keep your email app closed while screenwriting
In 1995, like Bea Arthur, email was a fresh, dewy thing. Very few people used it, and the ones who did usually kept their messages brief and didn’t check it all day.
Leave your email program/website closed, closed, closed, except for once in the morning, and once in the evening. If you can’t do that, use filters and have your absolutely mandatory emails automagically filed into separate folders and then only check those important folders when you absolutely must. Setting up filters in Gmail is easy, but so is setting ’em up in Mac Mail, Outlook, and Thunderbird.
How many emails do you still have from 1995? And how many of them are the length of the Magna Carta? If I’m guessing correctly, very very few. Most people were just amazed to be sending and receiving free letters. Keep your emails short, like we did in 1995. Long emails (and it’s been proven by top scientists) are the #1 cause for the extremely painful condition known as seppuku. If you receive an email longer than a few sentences, file it for later, and if you must respond, respond with one or two sentences (or use a single “?” as your reply if you’d like to postpone the conversation in a way that’s confusing to your correspondent and, as a result, humorous to you.) Get in the habit of refraining from sending emails longer than 3-5 sentences.
Learn the shortcut keys in your screenwriting app
Why drag your sticky coffee’d finger across a trackpad or wiggle a dying mouse to shift to an open application when you can hit ⌘-TAB or ALT-TAB? Nearly every screenwriting application worth using has a vast array of nifty timesaving keystrokes. Like Final Draft’s GO TO: ⌘-G (Let’s you pop to any page # or scene, as opposed to dragging your scroll bar up and down in muddled, confused frustration).
Wear a screenwriting uniform
Saving time and keeping focused on your screenwriting doesn’t all depend on your computer habits. Timesucks can often be found offline, in the day-to-day, mundane things. Like dressing. And I don’t mean bleu cheese.
Be honest. How much time do you spend in the morning picking out what to wear? It’s not always a matter of cycling through questions of color choices, mood, and/or things like “what haven’t I worn in a while?” it’s often a matter of simply finding the right combo of what’s clean and what’s not. Right?
To hell with that. That’s time you’re wasting every single day. Time you’re taking away from your screenplay. And for what? So people at the office can admire what you’re wearing, or appreciate that you have enough clothes to fill a month of work days without repeating an ensemble? Or so you can impress the other folks staring at their laptops in Starbucks?
Screw fashion. You’re a screenwriter. Get a set of tops and a set of bottoms, make sure they’re all comfortable and they all just work. Me, I have 10 blue t-shirts, exactly the same, bought this year for $5 each, anticipating a long writing summer. To go with those shirts? Two pairs of shorts which I rotate. I wake up, I grab. I put it on. It matches, it’s comfy, I can dress in the dark, and I don’t have to waste brain power on fashion choices. (Something I’ve never been accused of anyway.)
Get on a daily screenwriting regimen
If you sleep for eight hours, and start sleeping around 10PM – 2AM, your body repairs. If you get less, or start sleeping outside that window, or drink to excess because you think emulating Bukowski’s penchant for drink will make you write like Bukowski, your body doesn’t repair enough to make a difference, and from there, it’s just a perpetual cycle of foggy attempts to focus, caffeine bursts, and late-night burnout. (And granted, sometimes, great books like Post Office.)
I eat two meals. Lunch at 11AM. Dinner at 7PM. No matter what. Occasionally, things go awry and I’m a few hours late, or an hour early or so, but those are hugely rare exceptions. And I walk at least 5 times a week, 3 miles each time, either in the morning or afternoon, depending on the season (in LA we have exactly two seasons: summer and ass-hot summer.) Since I got on this schedule a few years ago, my health has exploded with goodness. I haven’t been sick more than twice, and only for a day each time. Caveat: I’m not a health guru. I’m a screenwriter. A very, very healthy, very, very productive screenwriter.
If the internet still intrudes on your screenwriting, cut it out entirely
George R. R. Martin recently reported that he still writes on an old DOS-based PC program called WordStar 4.0., primarily because he’s not a fan of all the bells and whistles in more modern word processors, but also because he doesn’t want to be distracted by the, (whooooo hoooooooo!) INTER-NET.
You, too, can write with WordStar 4.0. If you do, please don’t kill so many Starks.
And truth be told, you might find it easier to just use a simple pen and paper, rather than trying to get an ancient, wood-burning computer like Martin’s built and configured. And do they even sell WordStar 4.0 anymore?
Don’t let tv shows cut into your screenwriting time
Yep. It’s great to be caught up with the latest twist and turn of Little House on The Prairie. Heck, what am I saying? If you wanna enjoy most shows these days, you have to avoid the internet entirely until you’re caught up, else you’ll be hit in the face with spoilers and spoiley people with spoiley faces.
However, if you’re watching TrueBlood, Turn, House of Cards, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, Walking Dead, Silicon Valley, and Louie, maybe, just maybe, it just might be okay to ditch a few of those badboys, in the name of, you know, writing your own badboy.
However you do it – cut down on tv, learn how to sprint through programs with shortcut keys, stop worrying about stuff like clothes, the bottom line is this:
Don’t “make time to write.” Be writing all the time. If you have to “make time” for anything, make time for everything else in your life that’s not writing.