5 Ways To Beat Procrastination in Screenwriting

By Katie Porter • February 15, 2021

Come on. Screenwriters aren’t always as motivated and focused on their screenplays as they should be. Although it’s fine to take an occasional leave of absence from your keyboard, Creative Screenwriting Magazine’s Katie Porter explores how to keep the dreaded “P WORD” at bay.

PROCRASTINATION. I almost drifted off just typing the word. It’s true to say that the most significant enemy of the screenwriter – or any writer, for that matter – is the inclination to avert one’s attention away from the task at hand for protracted periods of time.

Procrastination has certainly given my home a spring clean. And sometimes, my neighbor’s. I have the most professionally styled lawn in the street, and an environment so dust-free that I could legally set up a pharmaceuticals lab. But it hasn’t helped me to write my film script.

Look for the most immaculately presented house in the avenue, and there liveth the procrastinating screenwriter.

Well, clean house aside, there are plenty of ways to beat the dilly-dallying and the shilly-shallying. Sit back in your precisely rearranged lounge, and get focused on my five ways to beat procrastination.

1. Look at yourself in the mirror!
Being a scriptwriter is a strange job. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great job – but how many professions allow you to sit in your lounge gear all day and not brush your teeth?

One of the problems that encourage screenwriting procrastination can be our naturally leisurely approach to our daily work. If you feel like you’re nursing a reasonably-paid hobby, then you’re likely to treat it that way. But you’re a screenwriting professional, ready to go head to head with your laptop, you need to lift your game.

Prepare for your writing day as you would any job. Take a shower, attend to your hair, eat, brush your teeth.  All before you sit down and write. You never know who might ring your doorbell or demand an immediate FaceTime meeting! Would you want to face Spielberg looking like….less than your best? What would he think if he saw you looking like one of your characters? Looks matter. Not only in terms of how others perceive you. Looks affect your mood, your creativity and ability to write solid pages of your screenplay.

But, flirting at the non-existent coffee machine, aside – it’s your job; even if you’re not yet earning a living that way. Treat your screenwriting like a professional vocation, and your head will be ready when you sit down to do a day’s work. You will also be prepared when you’re offered your next writing assignment or script sale.

2. Do some writing

Stupid tip, but actually, this is one of the most genuinely useful ideas you’re going to hear. Screenwriting begets screenwriting. Write something. Anything.

Writing requires a warm-up; just like any exercise that taxes a muscle. That grey matter needs focus, and just sitting in front of a silent keyboard can be an intimidating affair.

My anti-procrastination bible is “The Five-Minute Writer” by Margret Geraghty. It contains a lot of exercises to complete before you sit down to focus on your current project. It follows the theory that writing gets you into the writing head-space. The idea is that you write something completely unrelated to your current project.

After five minutes of uninterrupted writing, the brain is in its creative space, the zone. The fingers are flexed and the creative juices are flowing.

And you might just find inspiration for your next great piece of work. It’s certainly worked for me!

3. Don’t re-read before you start

Who hasn’t sat down at their desk, a quarter way through Act One of their film script and spent an entire day moving commas and individual words around the page, only to complete the end of the session with the same page count?

If you’re on a first draft, let it breathe as a first draft. Don’t hone it to heck because you’ll never get to the end.

We’ve all got our individual processes, of course, and what works for one of us doesn’t necessarily work for another. But spending hours painstakingly rewriting ten pages of script is not going to get your film or TV project completed.

Rough out your first draft and do your best to resist the temptation of reading back. Just start up where you left off, and keep going. There’s plenty of time for re-writing later – let the first draft flow.

4. Don’t get stuck

It’s easy enough to say, but don’t let a sticking point in your script haunt your entire day. If you get stuck with a particular scene, skip it – move onto the next. Find a scene that you can write, and write that one. In the meantime, your subconscious mind is working out the kinks in the problem scene.

There’s nothing wrong with leaving gaps in the first draft of your screenplay. In fact, you’re likely to realize that that scene that caused you so much stress had no place in your story in the first place. Think about that.

5. Create a shrine

What?! No – I don’t mean you need to sell a kidney and run off to dedicate it to the Moonies. Don’t do that. Ever.

Create a space conducive to clear thinking. Your writing desk should be clear of clutter – make it an altar to writing.

Having a completely clear desk is a great way to keep your focus. Those little stress toys and fidget spinners might seem like they’re helping you funnel your attention, but they become distractors just as quickly.

If you can, site your screenwriting altar in a room that has a door that you can close. Closing the door prevents distractions from outside finding their way into the room and into your mental space.

This tip is courtesy of a fantastic book called “Write A Theatre Script in 25 Days (& 10 Hours)” by Tony Craze. It applies to all types of dramatic writing, and includes 25 days of exercises that eventually manifest as your completed first draft. If you’re struggling to focus, get this book, and be guided through an entire process; with exercises designed to allow your ideas to emerge organically.

So, there you go – 5 Tips to beat screenwriter procrastination – 6, if you include the Tony Craze book. If you need to keep focused, close the door, clear your desk, get going from where you left off, do some warm-ups, and get dressed! No need to sell a kidney.

Katie Porter