Aspiring Screenwriters: Follow These 6 Tips from the Pros

By David Mimran

If you’re tired of straying a little too close for comfort to the “starving writer” trope, you might want to consider a new line of work.

Don’t worry, you can still write for a living — just in a stabler, more lucrative capacity.

According to salary tracking firm Payscale, the average annual take-home for a full-time screenwriter based in the U.S. is about $70,000. That’s a solid middle-class income, especially if you’re young and unencumbered by dependents.

Screenwriters lucky enough to pick up work with a major studio or string together big-budget gigs on a consistent basis can earn even more — north of $100,000 annually.

 

“There’s a catch, and it’s a big one: most screenwriters are paid on a per-project basis, not as full-time salaried employees.” — David Mimran

 

And, for every successful screenwriter comfortably ensconced in a big studio’s writers’ room, countless aspiring writers scrap by on the hope that they’ll one day be able to sell the scripts they’re working on.

Want to be more like those comfortable screenwriters? Try these six tips

1. Read Screenplays — Lots of Them

Feel free to make your screenplay’s narrative and structure as creative and unorthodox as you can bear, but know that you’re not singlehandedly going to break the screenplay mold. You’re writing for an audience that knows the medium inside and out — meaning you need to know the medium inside and out, too. Devote a few hours each week to reading and marking up your favorite screenplays until you’re an old saw.

2. Thicken Your Skin Before Getting Feedback (And Then Get Feedback!)

Truly great screenwriters thrive on honest feedback, even if they don’t particularly enjoy hearing it. If you’re sensitive to perceived criticism, steel your nerves before you begin shopping your work-in-progress to friends, colleagues, and mentors. Understand that, no matter how broad your worldview, you simply can’t muster the omniscient perspective you’d need to effectively self-criticize your work.

3. Stick to a Comfortable Genre (But Don’t Be Afraid to Stretch)

You probably have a favorite genre. Embrace it! The best writers write about what they love, after all. As time goes on and you grow more confident in your screenwriting skills, you’ll have plenty of time to stretch to genres with which you’re not as familiar or enthralled.

4. Understand How the Narrative Works

An incomplete screenplay does nobody any good. If you draw nothing from your ongoing screenplay consumption other than a thorough accounting of the elements of a complete narrative, your efforts will have been a success. Just remember to incorporate each into your screenplay.

5. Set Aside Time to Write Every Day (And Set a Deadline for Your First Draft)

If there’s one thing on which writers universally agree, it’s that writing ability is a muscle: it grows stronger with use. Remember this as you schedule your scriptwriting sessions. The ideal, if your schedule permits, is a daily, uninterrupted, hourlong (or longer) writing session. Establish a sense of urgency by setting a timely but realistic deadline for your first draft.

6. Plan Your Story Ahead of Time and Be Merciless With Your Edits

If you’re not fond of self-editing, you’ll need to outline your narrative in great detail before you write a single line of your first draft. If you don’t mind editing, get ready to do so as your draft proceeds.

Are you working on your first script?

 

David Mimran is co-founder and co-chairman of Mimran Schur Pictures