A stressed out man with messy hair and glasses sits at an antique desk, furiously typing on an old typewriter. Crumpled papers and empty coffee cups surround him, depicting the messy, solitary process of screenwriting. His hunched posture and frazzled expression show the pressure he feels trying to meet the deadline to finish his script.

How Long Does It Take to Write a Screenplay? The Truth on Timelines

It finally happened – you’ve outlined an idea for the next great movie, and now you’re ready to write it into an Oscar-worthy screenplay.

Fueled by excitement, you sharpen your pencil and position your fingers over the keyboard, ready to crank out a 120-page script in a week, just like you heard about that famous writer doing once.

But the truth is, even for experienced screenwriters, getting from the initial concept to a polished final draft is a process that typically takes much longer than a week or even a month. Learning realistic time estimates helps new writers create goals and plans to develop a script properly.

So how long does it take to write a screenplay? While timelines vary based on the writer and story, most professionals recommend setting aside at least 3-6 months for a new screenwriter to complete a first draft screenplay.

Expand that to 6-12 months to allow for multiple drafts, rewrites, and sharpening dialogue and scenes. Patience and persistence, not unrealistic shortcuts, result in quality scripts.

Factors that Determine Screenplay Writing Timelines

Before outlining the recommended steps and time investment needed, first understand why screenplays require significant time to write well.

Length – Screenplays are typically 90-120 pages long, with one page roughly equaling one minute of screen time. That’s at least 9,000 words, likely more. Attempting to write 120 highly structured pages in days inevitably leads to a disorganized, unfinished draft.

Formatting – Screenplays rigidly adhere to industry standard formats that involve scene headings, action descriptions, character names, and dialogue. Learning the precise style and carefully applying it is required. Rushing the writing often results in sloppy formatting.

Story Structure – Films follow a careful three-act structure with checkpoints like inciting incidents, midpoint shifts, and character arcs. Outlining this properly takes time before writing pages.

Rewrites – Even professionals rarely nail down perfect scenes, dialogue, and details in their first drafts. Most scripts require 3+ drafts and rewrites of problem areas to fine-tune the story.

Feedback – Sharing drafts to get feedback from experienced script readers allows writers to see flaws and areas for improvement. Incorporating notes takes added time too.

The Screenwriting Process and Timeline

Now let’s break down the detailed process, from concept to finished draft, that successful screenwriters follow. Expect each step to take weeks or months.

  1. Concept and Logline

This seed of an idea for a story with compelling protagonists and conflicts provides the raw material to develop into a screenplay. Time to finalize: 1-2 weeks.

  1. Outline

Outlining involves creating the narrative arc and structure with a beginning, middle, and satisfying end following storytelling conventions. Time to finalize: 2-4 weeks.

  1. Treatment

The treatment fleshes out the outline with more comprehensive detail, description, and character backgrounds. Time to finalize: 2-3 weeks.

  1. First Draft

With the treatment fully explored, it’s time to dive into the actual screenwriting. Aim to complete a first draft within 3-6 weeks. Avoid rushing.

  1. Rewrites

The first draft establishes the basics, then rewrites and refines the details. Most scripts require at least 3-5 rewrites to fix plot holes, sharpen dialogue, trim scenes, and address feedback. Time for rewrites: 4-10 weeks.

  1. Feedback from Readers

Sharing the draft with experienced script readers allows writers to see flaws and identify areas for improvement. Be prepared to spend 4-6 weeks incorporating substantive feedback.

  1. Polish

With feedback addressed, the final polish fine-tunes dialogue, scene transitions, descriptions, and formats. Time to finalize: 2-3 weeks.

  1. Pitching and Selling

With a solid script complete, writers pitch their work to agents, managers, and producers to try and sell their work. Countless rewrites may still happen after selling too.

As shown above, each step entails weeks of effort to complete properly. Even for seasoned professionals, shortcuts almost always lead to script drafts that fail to deliver on their potential.

New screenwriters should expect the process to take even longer, potentially 6-12 months from concept to finished draft ready for submission. Building extra time into timelines prevents rushing and allows scripts time to incubate between drafts.

Tips for Improving Screenwriting Efficiency

While writing a script inevitably requires months of dedication, these tips help optimize the process:

  • Outline extensively before drafting – A solid framework prevents meandering writing.
  • Set daily page writing goals – Write 3-5 pages per day for steady progress.
  • Write at a consistent time daily – Scheduling writing time creates a habit.
  • Target writing during peak energy hours – Write when feeling most productive.
  • Minimize distractions and multitasking – Avoid distractors that derail writing time.
  • Read quality screenplays – Analyze how professional scripts are structured and written.
  • Use screenwriting software – Programs like Final Draft streamline formatting.
  • Leverage writers groups and feedback – Peers provide motivation and accountability.
  • Take breaks to recharge – Stepping away allows ideas to percolate.

Even applying these tips, new writers should remember that writing a great 100+ page screenplay cannot be rushed. Trying to cram what should be carefully planned months of effort into one frenzied week or month leads to frustration and half-baked scripts that don’t fulfill their potential.

Have patience, set realistic milestones, and persist through the entire process. That is how all great screenwriters turn simple concepts into memorable movies that resonate with audiences.

Keep at it and your vision will come together over time – even if it takes the full 6-12 months most new writers should expect.

The Rewards of Investing Adequate Time

It’s understandably tempting to want to complete a screenplay as quickly as possible. However, investing those additional months to follow the full process results in some invaluable rewards:

  • Stronger story structure from extensive outlining
  • Multidimensional characters and sharp dialogue from ample drafting and rewriting
  • Exposure of plot holes or weak areas through feedback from others
  • Mastery of proper script formatting which adds professional polish
  • Confidence entering pitch meetings that your script is truly ready

Yes, experiencing months of writing hard work between the exhilarating rush of an initial idea and final draft ready for revealing to the world is challenging. But ask any successful screenwriter, and they’ll assure you that patience and hard work lead to the strongest scripts in the end.

Remember, even professional screenwriters who make it look easy had to put in their 10,000 hours of practice and perfection before making it look natural.

Don’t get discouraged if your first screenplay takes a full year. Or even your second and third. That’s normal for new writers to find their creative voice. Stick to it, soak up advice from mentors, and keep polishing your craft one page at a time.

Before you know it, that inspiring concept first dreamed up months ago will come to life and resonate on the big screen.

And you’ll have the patience and work ethic of an experienced screenwriter to thank – assets that will make a difference throughout your career.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to write your first screenplay?

For most new screenwriters, writing a first draft of a first ever screenplay typically takes 3-6 months. Building in time for adequate outlining, revisions, feedback, and rewrites extends the process to 6-12 months. Avoid assuming it can be done in a few weeks.

How long is a 2 hour movie script?

A typical feature film script that will end up being around 2 hours on screen is generally 96-120 pages long. Most scripts equate to approximately 1 page per minute of screen time.

Is it hard to write a screenplay?

Writing a screenplay is generally challenging for new writers. Screenplays have a precise format, story structure conventions, memorable dialogue, and compelling character development that all take skill and practice to master. But like any craft, it becomes easier with time and experience.

Can you write a screenplay in a week?

It is extremely difficult for both new and experienced writers to draft a complete, high-quality feature film screenplay in just one week. Rushing the writing process inevitably leads to a disorganized, sloppy first draft. Most professionals take at least 3-6 months to finish writing properly.

How many pages is a 1 hour movie script?

A typical single 1-hour TV episode script is generally around 45-65 pages long. Feature film scripts run 90-120 pages to fill around a 2-hour runtime. Script page counts correlate to roughly 1 page per minute of screen time.

How much do first time screenwriters make?

First time screenwriters typically make between $35,000 to $100,000 for selling their first spec script, though a few breakout sales have reached well over $1 million. Rewrites, options and residuals offer future earning potential too.

Do movie writers make a lot of money?

Successful professional screenwriters can earn sizable incomes, but it takes time to build a career. Top screenwriters make $200,000-$3 million per year. But new writers start much lower until establishing credits and a reputation.

How much money can you make selling a screenplay?

Selling prices for specs vary greatly, but $35,000 to $500,000 is common for studios or producers to purchase original scripts. $1 million or more is rare. Production rewrites pay $100,000 to $300,000. Residuals add future income too.

Is 90 pages too short for a screenplay?

Feature films generally run at least 90 pages. Dramas often exceed 120 pages. So for a feature spec script, 90 pages does fall on the shorter side, which may make a sale harder. Ideal lengths are usually between 95-125 pages.

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