For aspiring writers and film buffs, the job of a professional screenwriter seems like a dream come true. Who wouldn’t want to imagine stories for a living and see their creative vision come to life on the big screen?
But like any career, the daily life of a screenwriter involves much more than just sitting around imagining stories. It requires discipline, organization, collaboration, and business savvy.
So what does a typical day look like for a screenwriter? What are their main daily activities and routines? This article will provide an inside look into the daily workflow of a screenwriter in the film and TV industry.
The Job of a Screenwriter
Before diving into their day-to-day tasks, it helps to understand exactly what a screenwriter does.
Screenwriters are storytellers who create scripts and screenplays that serve as creative blueprints for film and television productions. They conceive and craft the stories, characters, dialogue, scenes, and overall narrative structure for projects big and small.
The screenwriter’s primary responsibilities include:
- Developing original stories and screenplay ideas
- Conducting research on topics, time periods, and settings
- Writing treatment documents to summarize stories
- Creating outlines to map out narrative structure and plot points
- Writing script drafts and polishing dialogue, action, and descriptions
- Revising scripts based on notes from directors, producers, actors, etc.
- Adapting books, plays, and other source material into screenplays
It’s a role that requires strong imagination, storytelling ability, and a mastery of screenplay format and structure. While the job does involve plenty of solo writing time, screenwriters also collaborate closely with other filmmaking professionals like directors, actors, and producers throughout the production process.
What Does a Screenwriter Do on a Daily Basis?
Now let’s take a closer look at how a typical day unfolds.
Morning: Waking Up with Ideas
The working day of a screenwriter often starts early, as soon as inspiration strikes. Many screenwriters keep notepads or voice recorders by their bedside tables to jot down ideas as they pop into their heads first thing in the morning.
Why capture ideas right when you wake up? Studies show our brains can be highly creative and insightful during semiconscious states, including upon waking. Screenwriters learn to make the most of this morning’s creative burst.
After capturing any fresh ideas, the screenwriter starts their day with the usual morning routines—a cup of coffee, breakfast, and checking industry news online. Mornings are often dedicated to solo work time before meetings and calls pile up later in the day.
Key morning activities may include:
- Reviewing notes on current writing projects
- Prioritizing writing goals for the day
- Researching story settings, topics, etc.
- Outlining scenes and narrative structure
- Writing script pages and drafts
- Polishing dialogue, characterizations, scene descriptions
- Reading over revised drafts and scripts
Having a set morning routine focuses the brain and sets the tone for a productive, creative workday.
Mid-Morning: Collaborating and Pitching
Once the solo writing time wraps up, the more collaborative aspects of a screenwriter’s day kick in. Screenwriting is often teamwork, involving close coordination with producers, directors, development executives, actors, and other stakeholders.
Mid-morning activities might include:
- Phone calls or video conferences to discuss drafts and projects in development
- Virtual or in-person meetings with producers, directors, or production teams
- Pitching story ideas and script drafts to studios, production companies, or financiers
- Providing notes on rewrites and script adjustments
- Working closely with writing partners or co-writers
- Brainstorming sessions to discuss narrative ideas and character development
This collaboration time is essential for bringing a script to life and ensuring it aligns with the larger vision for the production. Screenwriters must be able to take feedback and input from many sources and integrate it into their writing. The ability to pitch and discuss stories is a crucial skill set.
Afternoon: Writing and Research
After a busy mid-morning of meetings, the screenwriter shifts back into solo mode in the afternoons. This time is focused on writing pages, honing scenes, and sharpening dialogue to bring their creative ideas to the script.
Typical afternoon tasks include:
- Reviewing research materials and references to inform script details
- Outlining new scenes and narrative arcs
- Writing and revising script pages
- Polishing character dialogue and scene descriptions
- Reworking script drafts based on received notes
- Verifying details about settings, locations, eras, etc.
- Evaluating script structure, acts, character arcs, themes, etc.
- Tracking script submissions and current projects
The afternoons are often the most intensive writing time since the screenwriter can dive back into their own imagination without distractions. Creativity and concentration are crucial.
Evenings: Winding Down and Preparing
While every screenwriter works differently, evenings are often spent:
- Preparing for the next day’s meetings and writing goals
- Organizing notes and updated materials on active projects
- Providing feedback and notes on productions during shooting
- Performing administrative tasks like contracts, schedules, payments
- Attending evening industry events for networking
- Reading scripts written by others to stay current on formats and styles
- Watching movies or TV shows for research and inspiration
- Unwinding creatively through activities like journaling or playing music
Balance is important, so screenwriters avoid burnout by stepping back from writing in the evenings. But they also use the time to prep for the next day’s tasks.
The screenwriter’s lifestyle is not all glitz and glamour. It requires organization, administrative work, and business savvy in addition to creative talent. But their love of film and storytelling powers them through the demanding, but rewarding, daily life.
Key Skills and Qualities for Screenwriters
Given this glimpse into the day-to-day workflow, what does it take to succeed as a professional screenwriter? Here are some of the key skills and qualities needed:
- Storytelling Ability: This is a must for any screenwriter. You need imagination and creativity to conceive compelling characters and worlds. Visualize how your story will unfold on screen.
- Film Knowledge: Screenwriters should deeply understand cinematic storytelling structure, acts, scenes, transitions, etc. Watch films voraciously in a range of genres.
- Writing Discipline: Screenwriting is in many ways a marathon, not a sprint. You need the dedication to spend hours each day writing, even when inspiration lags.
- Collaboration: Work closely with directors, actors, and producers to bring the script to life. Listen, take feedback, and maintain your vision.
- Communication Skills: You’ll need to pitch stories verbally and discuss projects confidently at all phases of development.
- Business Savvy: Understanding the business side, managing contracts, networking, etc. is key for career success.
- Perseverance: Hollywood rejection is common. Believe in your talent and bounce back from setbacks. The next great script idea could be right around the corner.
If you cultivate these skills and qualities, you’ll be ready to tackle the daily rigors and rewards of professional screenwriting.
Finding Your Screenwriting Process
One truth about the screenwriter’s lifestyle is that no two days look exactly the same. Each writer finds the routines and rhythms that work best for their own creative process.
Some key questions to consider:
- When are you at your peak mental sharpness for writing? Mornings? Late nights? Schedule your writing time accordingly.
- Do you thrive off meeting and collaborating? Or relish more solo writing time? Balance your days between the two modes.
- What is your optimal writing environment? A coffee shop? Desk in a library? Find the locations that spark ideas.
- How regimented should your schedule be versus going with the creative flow? Structure raw inspiration into daily goals.
Over time and through trial and error, you will discover the writing habits that maximize your productivity.
The Rewards of Screenwriting
While a screenwriter’s daily life is busy and demanding, what makes it worthwhile?
First, there is the sheer joy of bringing stories to life. Seeing characters and worlds you imagined spring off the page onto the screen is a one-of-a-kind thrill.
Screenwriters also take pride in crafting scripts that spread meaningful ideas and social commentary to broad audiences. Their words help shape culture.
And for aspiring Hollywood players, screenwriting can be the launching pad to an exciting career in the entertainment industry. Whether they stay screenwriters or become directors, showrunners, producers, etc. the ability to tell cinematic stories is invaluable.
The everyday reality of screenwriting involves plenty of grunt work. But in the end, screenwriters get to do what they love: tell unforgettable stories through words and images. That dream is what drives them to sit down and write scene after scene, day after day.
The Next Great Idea Awaits
As you can see, the daily life of a screenwriter is a balancing act between the creative and the business, the solitary and the collaborative. But their passion for storytelling ties it all together.
So on their next workday, what does a screenwriter do? They wake up, sip some coffee, open their laptop, and start turning their wild imaginations into the scripts that become the films and shows we all love. The next great binge-worthy series or Oscar contender starts with the perseverance of the writer typing away.
Every day presents a chance to create magic through words. And all it takes is sitting down to write one scene at a time.
Frequently Asked Questions
What exactly does a screenwriter do?
A screenwriter develops and writes scripts for film and television. Their main duties include crafting original stories and ideas, writing treatment documents and outlines, drafting dialogue and scene descriptions, revising drafts based on feedback, and adhering to proper screenplay format.
What skills do screenwriters need?
Key skills for screenwriters include strong storytelling ability, creativity, film knowledge, writing discipline, collaboration, communication skills, business/contract savvy, and perseverance through rejection.
What is the most important skill of a screenwriter?
The most critical skill for a successful screenwriter is the ability to tell compelling, cinematic stories through words and scripts. Everything stems from the power of their imagination and storytelling.
How many pages of a script should you write a day?
Professional screenwriters aim to write 3-5 pages of a script on average per day. This equates to about 1-3 scenes a day. However, the writing pace varies by the writer and stage of the script.
What is the difference between a screenwriter and a scriptwriter?
A screenwriter specifically writes for film and television while a scriptwriter is a broader term that includes writing scripts for plays, radio, speeches, and more. Screenwriters focus on cinematic visual storytelling.
What is the difference between a screenwriter and a screenplay writer?
These two terms are synonymous and refer to the same role – someone who writes scripts specifically designed to be produced in movies, TV shows, or digital videos.
What are the 5 elements of scriptwriting?
The five core elements of a script are:
- Story and plot
- Character development
- Scene descriptions
- Stage directions.
What should I study to become a screenwriter?
Useful areas of study include screenwriting, film, creative writing, literature, playwriting, journalism, and media production. Take elective courses on storytelling.
What are the 5 points to consider when writing a script?
5 screenwriting tips:
- Focus your story around a compelling hook and theme
- Create multi-dimensional characters
- Write a natural, organic dialogue
- Balance action, description, and dialogue
- Read scripts to learn the format and structure