I recently read in an interview with screenwriter Eric Heisserer that included him being asked how many drafts he wrote for ARRIVAL.
“Over one hundred.”
Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Keep in mind that this was also spread out over time, not all concentrated in one specific period. And that a new draft doesn’t necessarily mean a complete rewrite. It could be anything from that to a few words changed on pages 33, 52, and 88 through 89.
And ARRIVAL was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards, so looks like all those drafts Eric went through were worth it.
About two years ago, I had lunch with a writer friend. He was familiar with my western, and liked it very much. When I mentioned I was considering returning to it to work on it some more, he said “I think it’s fine how it is. If you keep messing with it, you run the risk of making it worse.”
At the time, I really took that to heart. I didn’t want to mess up the script, but deep down I also knew it could still be better.
As you probably already guessed, I eventually ignored his advice and dove back in. I got a few more rounds of feedback from trusted colleagues and professional consultants, always tweaking and fine-tuning with every draft.
There’s no way I could say exactly how many drafts I went through to get to where it is now, but it’s probably safe to say it’s at least over one hundred. That is definitely a lot, but reading the script now, the results of all that work are evident on the page.
Plus, all the notes and all the rewriting have combined to make a really positive impact on my writing. While the overall challenge of putting a script together is still pretty daunting, the whole process seems to move forward in a much smoother manner. And, to be honest, maybe a little faster too.
Even though someone may tell you your script is “good enough as it is”, the final product is all on you. Keep working on it as long as you think you need to, with as many drafts as it takes.
You might not get an Oscar nomination, but getting your script to where you want it to be will definitely make you feel like a winner. Yes, that’s a sappy and corny thing to say, but it’s still true.
Last time the subject was how we did, writing-wise, during 2017. Today, it goes beyond simply what you’re hoping to accomplish to “So what are you doing about it?”
Just a few days into the new year, and how much writing have you done? Are you adhering to the guidelines you set up for yourself? Making the most out of the time you have available? Are you saying to yourself “No more Youtube! No more (insert preferred form of social media here)! I got me some writing to do!”, followed by actually turning off that unwanted source of input and applying proverbial pen to digital paper?
Jeez, I sure hope so.
Repeat the process on as close to a daily basis as you can get, and you might be pleasantly surprised at the results. You might have more time to work with during the day than you realize, so why not make the most of it?
Long-term goals are all fine and dandy, but continuously crossing the finish line for smaller (and some might say more realistic) ones can also yield some solid results. It’s one thing to say “I’m going to write four scripts this year!” and another to say “I’m going to write three pages today!”, and you’d have to admit the second one is just a little bit more achievable.
Additionally, if you stick to that schedule and maintain the same kind of daily output, you could potentially hit at least some of your long-term goals a little sooner. Write three to four pages a day every day, and within a matter of weeks (or maybe a little more than a month), you’re the proud parent of a completed draft. Sure, it might need a lot of work, but the important thing to remember here is : YOU DID IT.
As 2017 wound down, I knew what I wanted to happen for me, writing and career-wise, in 2018. Now that we’re almost a whole week in, I’ve been making an effort to try and get something done on both fronts every day.
For the writing, it’s anything and everything, running the gamut between outlining, rewriting, editing, proofreading, or even just jotting down an idea for a scene in the under-construction outline for a story I haven’t looked at since April. Working with some very quality notes for two scripts, I’m actually ahead of schedule with rewriting one, and gearing up to dive into the second when that’s done.
For the career, it’s about finding more avenues to get myself and my scripts out there. I’m not just pitching stories; I’m pitching a storyteller as a potentially invaluable resource. There will be plenty of “no”s along the way, but all it takes is that one “yes”, right?
And once again, let’s tout the benefits of networking; making and maintaining your connections. You never know which one could lead to something.
While I’m still doing some of the things I’ve always done, there was also that feeling that new and different approaches were necessary. So as I work my way through all the assorted processes involved with writing scripts, I’m also navigating the awkward transitional phase of a few readjustments.
No matter what, the end goal remains the same. As always, fingers remain firmly crossed that this is the year it happens.
Notes continue to come in for the pulp sci-fi spec, some contrary, many encouraging, and all chock-full of notable suggestions. With some coming from my trusted core of reliably savvy readers, there’s been one statement more than a few have included.
The gist of it is:
“This is the third script of yours I’ve read, and each one has shown a definite improvement over the previous one.”
It warms this writer’s soul to hear that sort of thing. And these are writers who pull no punches. They won’t hesitate to say something doesn’t work.
I’ve been working at this for a while, but it really feels like just the past few years have seen the most significant progress. Just goes to show what constant hard work can do, right?
Nor do I have any intention of slowing down. Doing my best to maintain a dedicated block of time and/or pages on a daily basis. The more you do it, the easier it gets (but is still tough).
The three scripts in question were all adventure-based, which enabled me to exercise a certain set of writing skills. With work now commencing on overhauling a comedy, an entirely new set will get the workout they deserve.
Crafting a sequence involving a train heist in the Old West, or a team of adventurers taking on a mad scientist? Piece of cake.
Writing a story involving everyday people in relatively normal (but funny) situations, peppered with smart (and funny) dialogue, all without the benefit of using special effects to enhance the story?
That is truly the next challenge to yours truly. It initially feels very daunting, but I’ve made it this far, and there’s no reason to think I can’t continue to push my way forward.
Should be a very interesting journey.
*Billy Wilder’s 10 Rules for Good Filmmaking (also applicable to screenwriting) 1: The audience is fickle. 2: Grab ’em by the throat and never let ’em go. 3: Develop a clean line of action for your leading character. 4: Know where you’re going. 5: The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer. 6: If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act. 7: A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever. 8: In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing. 9: The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie. 10: The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then — that’s it. Don’t hang around.
First-round results for two of the biggest, high-profile screenwriting contests have been released within the past week, and the pattern for my western’s performance in both has once again repeated itself.
Total whiff for PAGE, and top 20 percent for the Nicholl. (I’m not doing Austin this year)
I didn’t get notes from the former, and based on the ones I got last year for the latter, am not that curious as to why it placed where it did.
My initial reaction was, naturally, disappointment, but this year is markedly different in what came immediately after.
There’ve been days where the agony, frustration and just plain shittiness of things not working out was so strong I’d seriously contemplate just walking away. After all, that would be one less member of the competition, right?
But that’s simply not an option – for any of us. Our desire to succeed as writers burns too bright.
I may not have done as well as I’d hoped with these contests, so instead of shrugging my shoulders and saying “Oh well. Better luck next year,” I plan on doing whatever I can to increase my chances. With a vengeance.
Gone is the wallowing in a blessedly brief mindset of “poor, poor pitiful me”.
In its place – a reinvigorated drive to buckle down, work even harder and write scripts so fucking amazing those readers won’t know what hit them.
I don’t think I can. I KNOW I CAN.
Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead, chums.
-A new addition and a return appearance on the bulletin board this week:
-Filmmakers Caitlin Stedman and Kayla Ditlefsen have launched a crowdfunding project for their short film Unattainable. They’re around the 60 percent mark, so donate if you can!
-The crowdfunding for filmmaker Steve Davis’s No Glory continues, with about a month to go. Steve’s a talented guy, and this sounds like a fantastic project. Donate if you can!
Writers James Moorer and Ann Kimbrough have teamed up to promote the Be Epic Journal, a guide to helping you set up goals and figure out what steps you need to take to achieve them.
Tell us a little about your writing backgrounds. How’d you get started? Apart from the Be Epic Journal, what else are you currently working on?
James Moorer (JM): I am a multi-optioned screenwriter and published author with several properties in various stages of development. I’ve been hired for numerous writing assignments since 2009 for a number of production companies. I got started writing for the screen while producing music for fitness competitors and bodybuilders under my company Jamesong Music, back in Ohio. I’ve always wanted to be a writer since I first read a Truman Capote story in Esquire magazine. Currently, I have two other novels in development as well as my two shorts I’m producing and a feature film which will be my directorial debut.
Ann Kimbrough (AK): I’m a working screenwriter, with my first paid gig in 2012. I currently have three films in different stages of development and do rewrite assignments on the side. As anyone on the screenwriting path knows, we have little control over the production side. I wanted to take on more control in some aspect of my writing, so between writing assignments I branched into books. First, I turned one of my spec scripts into a romantic suspense novel that was published with Short On Time Books, “Scarlet Revenge” under pen name Ann McGinnis. That gave me the publishing bug and I started to publish my own books. The first journal I did — “The 100 Script Challenge” — was to create a book I wanted but could not find. (It’s about reading 100 scripts, keeping your notes in the journal and having all you learned from reading the scripts handy to review.) Then I made “The Idea Journal for Screenwriters.” It’s another journal I wanted as a screenwriter. I don’t know about you, but I write little notes everywhere with story ideas. The journal keeps me from losing them by having them all in the book. I can then look over my notes, connect them with other little ideas and build them into high concepts. (It’s also full of idea building tips.) From there, I teamed with other creative friends like James Moorer to create fun and useful journals — like “The Be Epic Journal.” Presently, I have eight journals published.
What does it mean to “Be Epic”?
JM: To Be epic, to me, is to step into your TRUE SELF, completely and confidently aware of your God-given ability to become your greatest self, realizing that this is not a happenstance, but how you and you alone were given a specific gift to help move the world toward being a more incredible place, and to inspire others to do the same.
AK: Being Epic is being the best you. It’s cutting out anything that’s holding you back from your dreams and shining! The best part of the whole Be Epic movement that James started is how focusing on our dreams and making our life better eventually leads to making someone else’s life better. But it has to start within you.
What was the inspiration for the Be Epic Journal?
JM: For me, it has always been a way of combating the negativity, fear and doubt in my own life. When I began to realize that I had fallen into a self-fulfilling spiral, I recognized it was my own words and beliefs about myself that lead me there. But it would also take changing my beliefs and speaking to what I wanted to be was how I truly came to discover who I was inside. That lead me to understand this was bigger than one person. This truth was universal.
AK: James is the spark! I have enjoyed his Facebook posts about Being Epic for a long time. They really lifted me up, but then he didn’t post as many. I asked him about it and pretty much told him to get back to posting. (I’m certain I wasn’t the only one.) I also said it would make a great journal! Luckily, James agreed.
How does the Be Epic Journal work? What should a writer who uses it expect?
JM: The Journal works like a PLAYBOOK, helping the writer recognize and engage in daily practices that they can build upon in creating a confident approach not only to their work, but to their life overall. They set a single targeted goal and the steps by which they will accomplish them. The beautiful part is that there are no right or wrongs as everyone is unique, but the daily diligence leads them to greater performance, greater awareness of their own ability and destroying the doubts and fears before they take root. The reason it works is because these are steps that THEY THEMSELVES have created, so these steps have greater meaning to each writer, deeper significance, and opens their thinking to being even more creative.
AK: The Be Epic Journal is a 3-week process, and a writer should expect to pick a goal that can be accomplished in three weeks. So, it’s not about curing cancer. It’s about engaging in a goal you’ve probably had hanging around for awhile. For a writer that could be completing a book or screenplay. The 3-week process helps anyone breakdown their goal into three steps and work on one step each week, plus taking time to evaluate what’s working and what isn’t. It can be done around your normal schedule. It’s full of motivation from James and is very much a workbook to reach a specific goal. It’s set up to do one goal and then move onto another. The journal also includes a free 16-page download code for more instructions and goal setting tips. Soon — we will have a Kindle book that will be a great companion piece to the journal.
Is the Be Epic Journal specifically for writers, or can anybody use it?
JM: We created this journal for everyone. Writers are a community Ann and I are very familiar with, but the same lessons learned here can be applied to any aspect of life, any career, anyone who desires to embrace their most powerful self. The Journal is also meant to be a stepping stone; the first step in anyone’s Epic Journey.
AK: Anyone can use it. We are currently running a test group on Facebook for the journal, and while all of our participants are writers, half of them did not pick writer kind of goals. One person is cutting out sugar — yikes! But she’s doing it! Others are working on completing half-finished writing projects.
How can somebody get their hands on a Be Epic Journal?
JM: Amazon is our friend!!! They can order the journal here. We also have a 16 page pdf to give people an idea of what the program looks like for free.
AK: Thanks for asking! It’s on Amazon and if they’d like to know more about the whole process they can get the free 16-page download now. It also puts them on our email list, but we promise to only send out useful stuff — like when the Kindle is released and motivational infographics. The link to the 16-page download is
Readers of the blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?
JM: Given my choice, I fancy a Peach Cobbler. But as you know, my love for pancakes has me searching for that perfect union of Cobbler and Pancakes. Just never ask me to choose between the two.
AK: My favorite pie is apple. But it has to be the one I make, which is from Trisha Yearwood’s recipe. Google it. You make it in a cast iron frying pan in your oven and it’s worth every calorie! Yum. Dang. Now, I’ve got to go make one.