The life of a professional screenwriter is shrouded in mystery and intrigue. We’ve all heard the stereotypical stories of bleary-eyed writers pulling all-nighters and pounding away on their keyboard to meet intense deadlines. Countless films and TV shows have reinforced this perception that screenwriters work extraordinarily long hours on a constant basis.
But what is the reality behind this exaggerated stereotype? How many hours per week do screenwriters actually dedicate to their craft? The truth is that it can vary substantially based on a number of key factors.
To get a clear picture, we need to explore the typical working life and duties of screenwriters. We’ll also differentiate between developing original spec scripts versus working on assignment for a production company or studio. Other critical aspects like deadlines, writing vs. rewriting, and additional required tasks also significantly impact the workload.
Let’s analyze how many hours both aspiring and professional screenwriters commit to their work on a weekly basis.
Screenwriter Job Duties and Work Life Overview
At its essence, a screenwriter’s primary duty is to write scripts for film and television productions. This includes crafting the overall story, narrative structure, characters, dialogue, and scene descriptions.
Screenwriters may be hired for assignment by production companies to write scripts for specific projects. Or they may independently develop their own original scripts, known as spec scripts, to pitch and sell to studios.
There is a misconception that the screenwriter’s job ends once the initial script draft is completed. In reality, writing a script is just the beginning. Rewrites, revisions, script notes from producers and executives, and polishing dialogue are all crucial components of the job.
Screenwriters who work in writer’s rooms for TV shows also have ongoing duties such as brainstorming stories, developing episode outlines, and scripting assigned episodes. And those working on assignment for film productions can expect even more intensive rewriting and revisions throughout pre-production and filming.
So in an industry with intense production schedules and deadlines, just how many hours do screenwriters devote to their work on a weekly basis? Let’s analyze the key factors impacting their workload.
Working on Spec Scripts vs. Assignment for Production Companies
One of the biggest factors determining a screenwriter’s workload is whether they are independently developing spec scripts to sell or have been hired by a production company to work on assignment.
When writing original spec scripts, screenwriters generally have more flexibility with their working hours and deadlines. Spec scripts take time to develop until they are ready to pitch and market to studios and producers.
Most professional screenwriters recommend taking a minimum of 2-3 months to write a properly polished spec script. This provides time for brainstorming stories, detailed outlines, initial drafts, rewriting, and fine-tuning scripts.
Screenwriters may initially develop spec scripts while working a regular 9-5 job or other side gigs. At this stage, they may only dedicate 5-10 hours per week outside of their full-time work to screenwriting. Once a writer leaves their day job to pursue screenwriting full time, average weekly hours spent writing specs may increase to 15-25 hours.
The key is that specs provide more flexible working timeframes, allowing writers to work at their own pace. However, screenwriters hired for assignment by major studios often face more intense deadlines.
When studios greenlight productions, they hire screenwriters to work on assignment to quickly deliver scripts. Production schedules for film and TV often move rapidly, imposing tighter deadlines.
For screenwriters on assignment, average weekly work hours tend to ramp up significantly. This is especially true as deadlines for drafts and rewrites approach.
Writing vs. Rewriting and Revisions
Another factor impacting screenwriter workload is the writing phase they are in. Initial drafts tend to get written faster, while rewriting and revisions are far more time-consuming.
Most professional screenwriters estimate that an initial draft for a feature film script takes about 3-5 weeks when working on assignment under deadline. Writing an original pilot TV script may take 2-4 weeks.
However, the real work begins once the initial scripts are delivered. The development process involves lots of back-and-forth notes, rewriting, polishing dialogue, and revisions.
For feature assignments, screenwriters can spend 1-2 months intensively rewriting and polishing the script through multiple drafts. TV show writers’ rooms involve long hours reworking story lines, episode outlines, and scripts.
Rewriting is a critical part of delivering optimal quality scripts that production companies, studios, and networks will greenlight. It’s during this revision phase that screenwriters may put in extremely long workdays.
Typical Working Hours When Writing an Original Screenplay Spec
For most screenwriters early in their careers, writing specs does not pay the bills. They support their creative efforts through full-time jobs and side gigs.
At this stage, the majority of writing happens outside of traditional work hours. Giving up 2-3 hours on weeknights and larger blocks of time on weekends to work on specs may be realistic.
Once a writer transitions to pursuing screenwriting full time, their average weekly hours naturally increase. But the workload still fluctuates substantially during the creative process.
Spec scripts demand intense focus during the initial months writing the first drafts. At this stage, writers may average 25-35 hours per week writing and developing stories.
After the frenzied creative period, writers usually need to step back and recharge. Rewriting also happens in chunks of focused work intermixed with breaks. Writers may average 15-20 rewrite hours certain weeks, followed by some time off.
Overall, a typical full-time screenwriter spends 15-25 hours per week writing when working on spec scripts. The workload ebbs and flows based on writing stage and energy levels.
Taking time away from scripts to recharge creativity is crucial, even with looming deadlines. The sustained effort required to develop scripts demands periods of downtime.
Typical Working Hours When On Assignment for a Production Company
The major difference between spec scripts and studio assignments is the intensity of deadlines. Production schedules don’t bend for writers.Scripts must get written on time so filming can commence.
The weeks or months leading up to delivering the initial script draft are already filled with extensive labor. Writers may work 40+ hour weeks developing outlines, characters, and narrative arcs.
Once the frenzied writing wraps up and the first draft has been submitted, the real work ramps up. As a finished script goes through the development process, long days become more regular.
It’s during rewriting and polishing stages that 14 to 16+ hour days become common for screenwriters on assignment. Some seven day work weeks may be unavoidable when deadlines loom.
Production companies expect prompt turnaround times when sending revision notes. Writers may have just days or weeks to perform rewrites. This greatly extends their working hours.
And once filming starts, screenwriters should prepare to be on call for even more revisions. On-set rewrites mean problems get solved immediately by the writer on the clock.
Between delivering initial drafts and final shooting scripts, screenwriters on assignment should prepare for two months of very long work days. 12+ hour shifts become the norm rather than the exception.
Additional Meetings, Corespondences, Interviews When On Assignment
Beyond the actual writing and rewriting, screenwriters working on assignment have additional tasks that fill their workload.
There are inevitable meetings with producers, studio executives, directors, and actors to discuss scripts. Network notes have to be addressed. Plus, rounds of script notes means extensive email correspondence.
Press interviews, film festival panels, and events may also be part of the assignment. Screenwriters are expected to promote their project while delivering scripts on deadline.
Taken together, these additional responsibilities can occupy 5-15 hours in an average week on top of writing. While these activities are often more fun than the isolation of writing, they still deduct time available for scripts.
Hours Worked Fluctuates Substantially Throughout a Project
It’s clear that screenwriters work extremely long hours when on assignment under tight deadlines. But this masks the ebb and flow over the full life cycle of a project.
During certain phases, such as initially developing a spec or writing the first drafts of an assigned script, 40+ hour weeks are rare. Busy weeks may alternate with weeks at half capacity.
But during periods of intensive rewriting, revisions, and deadlines, 60+ hour weeks are not uncommon. This includes weekend and late night work sessions.
For assignment writers, the 2-3 month periods of polishing dialogue, performer rewrites, and approval drafts require immense focus. Fourteen hour shifts, six days a week is not unreasonable with millions of dollars on the line.
Then after the final shooting drafts are approved, writers may have weeks off before promoting the project. Hours return to more normal levels until starting the next assignment.
The takeaway is that a screenwriter’s weekly workload fluctuates dramatically throughout the stages of a project. Hard-charging periods are offset by slower weeks. Maintaining energy and creativity over these peaks and valleys while delivering scripts on deadline is a unique skill.
Conclusion: Screenwriter Weekly Hours Vary Based on Many Factors
The stereotype of bleary-eyed screenwriters pulling frequent all-nighters only tells part of the story. In reality, weekly working hours fluctuate substantially.
When developing specs, writers work steadily but have more flexibility. Full-time screenwriters may average 15-25 hours a week writing specs. Those writing part time fit in 5-10 hours around other jobs.
For writers on assignment, hourly expectations ramp up. They average 40+ hours per week regularly, especially when deadlines loom. During intensive rewriting and revisions, 60+ hour weeks are common.
Other factors like the writing phase, deadlines, and additional meetings also influence weekly workloads. It’s not unusual for daily writing shifts to last 12+ hours at intense periods.
But even on assignment, screenwriters don’t sustain this pace consistently. There are still periods of slower weeks mixed with intense crunch times.
At the end of the day, passion for the craft allows screenwriters to summon the energy and inspiration to put in long hours when needed. Good time management and work-life balance also help writers sustain a career in this deadline-driven profession.
The hours are demanding, but the thrill of seeing your creative vision come to life on the big or small screen makes it worthwhile for those built for the writing life.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many hours a day should a screenwriter write?
Full-time screenwriters usually aim to write 3-5 hours per day. Writing much more per session can lead to burnout. Taking breaks helps maintain creativity and energy.
How many hours do script writers work?
Hours worked varies based on factors like deadlines, project stage, and writer experience. Full-time writers spend 15-25 hours per week on specs and 40+ hours when on assignment. During crunch times, 60+ hour weeks are not uncommon.
How long do screenwriters work in a day?
When working on specs, 4-6 hour days are typical. On intense production assignments, 10+ hour shifts daily are common as deadlines approach. Experienced writers pace themselves to avoid fatigue.
Do screenwriters work full time?
Many screenwriters work full time when hired on assignment for studios and production companies. Others write specs while working side jobs until selling scripts. Top screenwriters support themselves writing full time.
How many pages does a screenwriter write per day?
Experts estimate experienced screenwriters average 5-10 pages daily. Up to 15-20 pages per day during intense writing spurts. But quality over speed is recommended.
How fast do screenwriters write?
Initial drafts may take 2-4 weeks for a feature script, quicker for TV. But many revisions over months follow. Screenwriters on assignment face tighter deadlines to deliver scripts.
Do screenwriters work alone?
Screenwriters usually work independently when developing spec scripts to pitch. Those in writers’ rooms collaborate to shape stories and scripts. Solo writing combined with teamwork is common.
What skills does a screenwriter need?
Screenwriters need creativity, storytelling ability, resilience, adaptability, excellent writing skills, attention to detail, communication and collaboration skills.
What is the difference between a screenwriter and a scriptwriter?
The terms are often used interchangeably in film and TV. But screenwriters specifically write for the screen, while scriptwriters may write for any medium requiring a script.