Hi There,

This week the 2nd and final part of your answers to the question:

What’s your number one tip for screenwriting success?

I think you’ll see there are some common themes in this week’s answers – writing every day, persistence, not giving up –

‘Write every single day. I know this point is reiterated often but it is popular for a reason. When I wanted to be a novelist I used to rather foolishly think that I could just write now and again, when I felt inspired. Since I started screenwriting I found that just by writing or editing my work each day, my writing improves and the need for inspiration never arises, as I am constantly inspired to write. The more I write each day, the more ideas appear in my head. Even if I can’t face writing one day I will just sit down in front of the computer screen and force myself to do something creative. Even if the writing for that day is crap, it is still useful, especially in teaching yourself how to write for a deadline. I attempted writing a screenplay in ten days last month, and even though it was hard to write roughly ten to fifteen pages of scenes a day, I stuck at it and finished the script. Even though the script wasn’t anything special, in my opinion, I was pleased that I had managed to stick to the target I set and by writing every day it meant that I could reach a deadline.’

‘Determination, never give in as you never know what is around the corner.’

‘Don’t give up.’

‘Make people want to read your work by the quality of your writing!’

‘Don’t be precious – keep writing, and rewriting, and pulling it apart. A good story is robust. Don’t be precious about taking feedback. Don’t be precious with your story – move on to the next one, write different stories, try different genres, different mediums.’

‘Never ever EVER stop learning. The more I think I know, the less I actually know.’

‘Blimey. I wish I had one. In terms of the lesson I think I most need to learn to become successful, it’s to wrap ideas and stories above all in credible, felt emotion which communicates to an audience. This I think is key. The simplest story which is felt by an audience is going to succeed far more than a more ambitious one containing characters no-one cares about.’

‘Start writing, brain dump. During a course at Met Film School, I was told ‘don’t get it right, get it written’. I subscribe to this absolutely. Have a broad understanding of the story, and your starting point. Then get going. I have written a first draft feature and a TV pilot, both from this method. The story and plot points unfold in your head, you can always go back and change things later.’

‘Write every single day. You improve quicker, you obviously make headway on projects quicker, there’s no angst over not writing for ages, and it keeps you in a creative headspace even when other things are going on in life.’

‘Write and then write some more and then some more after that and so on and so forth…’

‘Learning the craft. So many writers strongly believe that structure and guidelines restrain you. There are a few writers who have made it with that philosophy, but the majority of writers won’t get anywhere without the guiding hand of knowledge and education. Those who refuse to learn the craft are effectively saying they don’t want or need to hear what Aristotle has to say, and I think this is damaging.’

‘Simple – write! The skill that improves with practice, but finding the magic ingredient within it that sets any piece of writing apart is sheer serendipity. It’s such a thrill when it materialises.’

‘For me, the old adage “writing is rewriting” is most fitting. I find the best scripts I write are the ones which I have rewritten several times, refining and honing the piece until it is at its best. Planning can only go so far and I think some of the best ideas come out during the process of actually writing the script.’

‘Be a good listener. There are a myriad of fantastic characters with stories out there, all waiting to tell you their tale, so you can add craft to it and make it appetizing for a wider audience. Let them tell you their tales.’

‘My main tip with writing is FOCUS. You can’t do everything (okay, let’s ignore Jack Thorne at the moment.) If you want to be a screenwriter, don’t try and write a novel or a play or anything else at the same time. Narrow your focus right down so that everything revolves around that one ambition, that one genre even. Watch and read as much as you can, go on courses and network as much as you can in a friendly and genuine way. And focus on the script you’re writing, stick with it for as many drafts as it takes and don’t leave it lying there half-assed while you start something else (starting something else generally always feels easier than tackling yet another re-write…) That’s what I’ve learned in theatre and that’s what I’ll apply to screenwriting.’

‘Until you’ve discovered the essence of what you’re writing about and  hacked out all the extra stuff which is unrelated to that essence a script, however lovely, is still very much a work in progress. I find that I start off with lots of ideas but a script won’t properly come together until this is really clear.’

‘A bit corny but always poignant: keep writing and don’t quit! Day-to-day it’s difficult to see that you’re improving and it’s impossible to predict whether success could be around the corner but if you quit, then it’s entirely possible to predict that it is not going to come.’

‘Double click the icon. While I’m still a young and aspiring writer trying to break into the business, you still need to keep improving your screenwriting skills, and you’re only going to be able to do that by writing several scripts as you learn the rules and ropes of the process (and how to work with/without/around them). However, procrastination is a harsh mistress, but – personally at least – I’ve found the toughest bridge to cross/easiest way to get going, is to simply double click your screenwriting software icon (be it Final Draft or whatever you fancy). I find that once I’m inside the software I think to myself “well, seeing as I’m here, I might as well do a bit of writing” – and usually, after a solid wall-to-wall session (no tea breaks, Facebook checking, or any single distraction), I’ve either written a good bundle of new pages (meeting my daily target), or have made some very good changes to ones I’d already written. It’s just about getting over that initial hump – that icon on your computer’s desktop that goads you.’

‘Write the script that you would want to watch no matter how out there it is (and DO write it even if you write only 10 minutes a day).’

‘Ask me when I’m a success. At this point it would be “get as much help and guidance from others as you can afford”.’

‘I’m yet to have any major breakthrough with screenwriting success so I can only say what I have learned so far – To give it your best shot because you don’t know what you can achieve until you try. My first attempt at a feature film script made it through to the top 5% of the 2012 Autumn BBC Writersroom submission window, which was a fantastic surprise but also extremely motivating as the feedback I received was so positive and encouraging. It made me realise that maybe I do have something to offer as a screenwriter and the only way I could have found that out was to be brave and send my work out into the world for others to read.’

‘Number One Tip: Spin the Truth. I have often tried, to varying degrees of success, to either write “a note from the writer” or to infer verbally when meeting a producer that I have a unique knowledge of some situation or that I may have an inside track on something. Most of the time it isn’t ‘exactly’ true, but if for example my friend got hit by a car and I wrote about it, for pitching reasons can’t I be the one that was laid up in the hospital instead?’

‘There are many great writing tips, but the most important of all has to be “never give up!”


Thank you so much again to all of you for contributing so instructively to this survey,

Until next week,

All the best



Twitter: @philipshelley1

Nov 29th 2013