A young writer with short brown hair sits hunched over at a desk in an office. They wear a grey t-shirt and jeans. Crumpled papers surround them on the floor, each bearing the handwritten words "Screenplay Hardships." The writer holds their head in frustration as they stare at a blank page in a typewriter. This digital art illustration depicts the struggle and frustration that aspiring screenwriters face when trying to write their first script.

Is Writing a Screenplay Hard? The Brutally Honest Truth from 20+ Year Pros

If you’ve ever thought about writing a screenplay, you’ve probably wondered: is writing a screenplay hard?

The idea of effortlessly coming up with an amazing Hollywood blockbuster story and typing “FADE OUT” in just a few weeks seems incredibly appealing.

But is writing an entire screenplay actually as simple as some make it look?

The truth is, that writing a polished screenplay requires a lot of time and dedication. There are many challenges and obstacles that first-time screenwriters face when trying to get words on the page.

However, that doesn’t mean achieving your screenwriting dreams is impossible. With the right preparation and commitment, anyone can develop the skills to succeed.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the real difficulties of screenwriting and provide tips to help you overcome them. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • The Major Challenges of Writing a Screenplay for the First Time
  • Practical Steps to Make Your Screenplay Writing Easier
  • FAQs on Screenwriting Difficulties (Including Some Encouraging Tips!)

By the end of this article, you’ll have a solid understanding of what it takes to write a great screenplay as a beginner. Let’s dive in!

The Challenges of Writing Your First Screenplay

Writing an entire screenplay from scratch is a massive undertaking. It requires complex skills that most first-timers don’t yet possess.

Here are some of the biggest challenges you’re likely to face:

Crafting an Original, Compelling Story

For your script to have a chance, the story has to shine. Unfortunately, coming up with a truly unique and engaging premise is difficult, even for professionals.

Most novice writers make the mistake of starting with only a basic concept. But a high-concept logline like “a cop hunts an AI robot gone rogue” isn’t enough. You need to put time into developing a multilayered story and characters.

Ask yourself deep questions. Why does this story need to be told? Why are the characters this way? Giving your story a solid foundation is crucial, but takes significant effort.

Formatting Properly for a Screenplay

Screenplays follow a very specific format with scene headings, actions, dialogue, and more. Getting the structure and layout wrong will make your life harder.

As a beginner, you’ll need to learn how to master script formatting guidelines. That includes things like when to use ALL CAPS, proper indentations, scene transitions, and more.

Studying screenplay examples is the best way to learn. But expect formatting your first script to be slow-going until you get the conventions down.

Developing Multidimensional Characters

Cardboard characters won’t get you very far. To resonate with readers, your characters need to feel like real people with relatable motivations, quirks, and arcs.

But character development is hard. You essentially have to get inside the minds of each of your characters. What backstory shaped them? How would they react in any situation? Their dialogue and actions need to be true to their persona.

If you take shortcuts here, your characters will feel flat and generic. And that’s a recipe for a forgettable script.

Writing Fluid, Engaging Dialogue

Since screenplays are mostly dialogue, the words your characters speak need to pop. Their conversations should sound natural, but also instantly draw the reader in.

Lots of rookie screenwriters default to on-the-nose dialogue that simply re-states plot points. Avoid this!

Aim for subtext, banter, and conflict in your dialogue. Reveal details about your characters through word choice, rhetoric, humor, and more. Every line should feel purposeful. This level of intentional dialogue is difficult to achieve.

Structuring with the Right Narrative Arcs

Pacing is critical in a screenplay. You need rising action, turning points, subplots, and more. If the events don’t unfold in a compelling way, readers will get bored fast.

But structuring smooth scene-by-scene progression, climaxes, and resolutions for your story takes practice. Like other forms of writing, screenwriting has a rhythm to it that beginners have yet to master.

You’ll likely find yourself writing scenes that slow down the script’s momentum. Learning to recognize these pacing issues is an art.

Following the Standard 3 Act Structure

Most Hollywood films follow a 3 act structure: Setup, Confrontation, and Resolution. It’s a storytelling convention that readers expect.

Working within a rigorous framework like the 3 acts requires careful planning of plot points, arcs, reversals, and more. You can’t just write scenes in whatever order you want.

If you deviate too far from the structure, your script may come across as disorganized. But sticking to it too rigidly can also make things feel formulaic. It’s a tricky balancing act.

Finding Your Unique Writing Voice and Style

Screenwriting guides can teach you conventions, but no formula can help you develop your own writing voice. That comes from years of writing and honing your craft.

As a beginner, you’ll likely struggle with finding confidence in your writing style. But mimicking the voices of other famous screenwriters won’t work.

Your unique perspectives and sensibilities as a writer will only emerge through ample practice. Expect it to take time to feel like the words on the page are truly your own.

Making Screenwriting a Habit

Writing an entire script requires intense discipline. You need motivation to power through mental blocks, lack of inspiration, and inevitable self-doubt.

Establishing a regular writing habit isn’t easy when you’re just starting out. Other priorities in life compete for your time and energy.

Without consistency, it’s nearly impossible to get a draft completed. But staying committed to daily writing when other obligations arise requires grit.

Avoiding Beginner Mistakes

When you’re learning any new skill, it’s only natural to make some missteps early on. Screenwriting has its own common pitfalls beginners tend to make.

For example, overdoing description, putting dialogue in blocks, too many unnamed characters, not writing visually enough, etc. Identifying these errors yourself takes experience.

By studying screenwriting craft, having a mentor, or joining a writer’s group, you can get feedback to improve. But expect that the learning curve will involve lots of small mistakes along the way.

Practical Tips to Make Your Screenwriting Journey Easier

We just covered the realities of how difficult it is to write an entire screenplay as a beginner. But don’t get discouraged!

With the right approach and tools, you can absolutely overcome these challenges. Here are some practical tips to make the screenwriting process easier:

Start With a Story Outline

Diving directly into writing scenes without a roadmap is a recipe for getting lost. Always start by writing a screenplay outline first.

Outline the major beats — setup, inciting incident, act breaks, midpoint, crisis, climax — to ensure your story has a solid structure and emotional impact.

Flesh out your outline by summarizing each scene’s purpose and how they build off each other. This will make the actual writing process infinitely easier.

Read Screenplay Examples to Model

Trying to write an entire script without reading any examples is like trying to bake a cake without a recipe. You need proven formulas to model.

Read multiple professionally written screenplays in your genre so you can see how pacing, description, dialogue, and more are handled. Notice how they structure plot points and arcs.

This will train your mind to recognize well-crafted scenes vs amateurish ones. Don’t copy word-for-word, but let quality scripts influence your own style.

Take a Screenwriting Course or Class

Some writers think they need to figure it all out solo. But using screenwriting classes/tutorials to guide you is extremely helpful when starting out.

Whether it’s an in-person workshop or a Masterclass online, having an expert coach you through core screenwriting principles, provide feedback, and answer your questions will accelerate your learning.

Invest in Screenwriting Software

Writing your screenplay using Microsoft Word or Google Docs adds unnecessary headaches. Instead, use dedicated screenwriting software like FinalDraft or Celtx.

These tools format your document properly as you write and provide handy shortcuts. This saves tons of time on script formatting, helpful enough for beginners to justify the price.

Network and Find a Writing Partner

Screenwriting can feel lonely. Having someone to discuss ideas with, get feedback from, and share struggles makes the journey less intimidating.

Attending conferences, joining screenwriting networking groups, and connecting with fellow writers give you a beneficial support system as you develop your craft.

Set a Realistic Writing Schedule

is key, but you shouldn’t expect to write 10 pages a day right off the bat. Start with a reasonable daily goal based on your current skill level and time constraints.

Even setting aside 30 minutes to write and slowly increasing from there helps. On days when you can’t write at all, forgive yourself and get back on track the next day instead of quitting.

Join a Writer’s Group for Feedback

Getting feedback from more experienced writers is invaluable for identifying flaws and areas for improvement in your script.

Join an in-person or online screenwriting group to share work and provide each other constructive criticism. Hearing honest reactions to your writing helps develop self-editing skills.

Consider your audience’s emotions and engagement as you write. Pretend you’re watching the movie unfold. This perspective allows you to critique your own work from a fresh angle.

Don’t Be Too Hard on Your First Draft

Remember that vomit drafts are called that for a reason! Your initial draft is just about getting the story down on paper. It will be messy and flawed.

Resist the urge to obsess over every line being perfect in the first pass. That leads to writer’s block. Focus on finishing the skeleton before refining details.

Once you have a complete draft, you can go back and polish dialogue, flesh out characters, refine pacing and more. This is where the real work begins.

But starting with low expectations helps avoid frustration and the unfinished script graveyard. Write the worst version of the story first, then incrementally improve.

Learn Screenwriting Software Shortcuts

Writing your script directly into proper screenwriting software makes formatting a breeze. But you need to know how to utilize the tools.

Learn keyboard shortcuts, auto-formatting, tagging characters, handy templates, collaboration options, and other built-in features. This streamlines the writing process significantly.

Free apps like Celtx are great for beginners before upgrading to more robust paid tools like FinalDraft, MovieMagic, FadeIn, WriterDuet and others. Pick one that fits your budget and needs.

Invest Time in Developing Your Craft

Like playing an instrument, exceptional writing takes practice. Be patient with yourself and keep studying the elements of good screenwriting through books, podcasts, and online classes.

Read screenplays daily to immerse yourself in the format while absorbing techniques. Listen to Q&As from professional writers to get insights from the best.

Schedule time each week for focused education just on storytelling concepts, dialogue, structure, and other core skills separate from your writing sessions.

Persistence and consistency in developing your screenwriting craft over years is what will elevate your work from amateur to professional grade. Rome wasn’t built in a day!

Is Writing a Screenplay Hard? Summing It All Up

We’ve covered the reality that writing a screenplay is far from easy, especially your first time through the process. But the challenges are not insurmountable.

With the right mindset, tools, resources, and determination, it is possible for any motivated beginner to develop screenwriting mastery one step at a time.

Keep pushing forward. It may take finishing a few scripts before you have one ready to showcase. Many successful writers penned over a dozen screenplays before their breakout.

Stay encouraged! The journey is long, but the destination is worth it. If screenwriting is your true passion, know that the difficult road to getting there will only make your success that much sweeter.

The satisfaction of typing FADE OUT after completing your first script is a feeling like no other. Time to get writing!

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to write a screenplay?

For first-time screenwriters, writing a full screenplay typically takes 3-6 months working consistently on it. However, it can take experienced writers just 1-3 months. A lot depends on the length, genre, and how much time per day you can dedicate.

Why is it hard to write a screenplay?

Some of the main reasons screenwriting is difficult include: developing an original compelling story and characters, learning proper script formatting, writing engaging dialogue, structuring a solid three-act narrative, sitting down and writing consistently, and avoiding common beginner mistakes.

What is the hardest part of writing a screenplay?

Many would argue that developing multi-dimensional characters with depth and compelling character arcs is one of the most challenging parts of writing a screenplay. Avoiding one-dimensional stereotypes takes intention and empathy for who your characters are.

Is writing a screenplay or a book easier?

Most writers find books generally easier because there is more space to explore details of the world, characters, and plot. Screenplays need to say more with less dialogue and description due to length constraints. However, both have their own challenges.

How long is a script for a 2 hour movie?

The average feature film script runs approximately 100-120 pages. Dramas tend to hit the higher end, while more action-driven films may run slightly shorter. Each page equates to roughly one minute of screen time.

How much does the average screenplay sell for?

Selling a spec script as an unknown screenwriter can fetch anywhere from a few thousand dollars to over $300,000 for high-concept commercial hits. Established screenwriters typically earn much more through commissions. Most screenplays do not sell at all.

Can a normal person write a screenplay?

Absolutely. Writing a screenplay does not require you to be inherently special or a prodigy. Like any craft, it can be learned through education, consistent practice, getting feedback, and not giving up. Any motivated person can succeed with proper effort over time.

What age do most screenwriters start?

Many successful screenwriters sold their first script between the ages of 30-40 after working other jobs, though some break through in their 20s. It’s common to start writing much earlier and spend over a decade honing your skills before selling a script.

What are the odds of becoming a screenwriter?

The odds are very low, but not impossible. Out of an estimated 70,000+ members of the Writers Guild of America, only around 1,000-2,000 members actively working and earning an income strictly from screenwriting each year. But with talent and persistence, it can happen.

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