Starting Your Screenwriting Year with a Bang
This is it! The start of a new year. The time to stop and look around, look back, look forward, make some plans in order to get the year off to a fantastic start, and create a sense of focus, clarity and purpose as you get going on your screenwriting endeavors for the upcoming calendar year. If you’ve been reading my blogs for any length of time, you probably know this about me: I am nothing if not a planner. And I find the start of the year (let’s be honest: the start of anything, really) to be a great time to take a beat, do some soul searching, and come up with a solid plan in order to make the most of the time that lies ahead.
With that in mind, let’s look at the year ahead (hello, 2023!) and explore how to make the most of it coming right out of the gate.
As you consider what you want to accomplish in the year ahead, think not only about WHAT you’re doing, but, just as importantly, WHY you’re doing it. This means that it’s not just about the doing; it’s also about the purpose behind the doing, keeping a larger screenwriting career strategy and trajectory in mind, considering where you want to go, and what you’re doing to get you there.
For example, if you think about the year ahead and decide that you want to try your hand at, say, writing a spec episode for an existing TV show, consider the intention behind that decision before you cement it. Are you writing a spec episode for an existing TV show in order to see if you can adhere to someone else’s structure, or to try writing in a voice not natively yours? Are you doing it because you’re planning to submit an application for the Paramount Writers Mentoring Program? All good and valid reasons. But if you’re writing that spec because you’re thinking it would be good to have in your body of work should a manager become interested in you and your work, you might want to think again. TV specs are rarely read these days, doubly so by managers. Which is why you want to explore the WHY of it all, rather than just the WHAT, to ensure that you are making decisions with sound, thoughtful reasoning.
As the year gets on its way, take a moment to assess where you are with your body of work, and specifically where you are with the projects you worked on in the previous year. Are those projects done and ready to go, or do they require more drafts, more notes, more feedback, in order to reach their full potential? Make sure that you have clarity on what each not-yet-completed project needs, and a clear next-steps plan to help push it to completion. Those steps may include:
- Reading your most recent draft and assessing where it stands
- If more feedback is needed, deciding what the source of that feedback is going to be (group? consultants? paid readers? industry friends?)
- If notes have already been provided, then this might be time to start coming up with a solid rewrite plan.
- Consider revisiting your outline or beat sheet prior to diving back into pages
- Refer to such books as Paul Chitlik’s REWRITE or consider taking Pilar Alessandra’s fantastic Rewrite Techniques Class which you can take live on Zoom, or purchase access to a previously-recorded class.
Remember, even if a screenplay or a pilot that you were working on did not come together as you had hoped, you always want to leave each of your screenplays or pilots in its most leave-able place, so that if anyone ever wants to see it, it’s ready to go.
If you are an emerging writer, assess your body of work, and consider whether the completed, industry ready screenplay or pilot represents or adds onto a solid, cohesive brand that will one day be able to attract representation. If your brand is clear and well reflected in your completed screenplays and pilots, ask yourself how you could now build onto it; what should you write next in order to build on and extend the brand you already have?
If you are a working TV writer and working your way up the staffing ranks, consider whether you currently have that sample that would position you for the type of show you would want to write on next. Otherwise, if that sample is indeed already there, consider your footprint in the screenwriting space, and whether this might be the right time to start working on that feature spec. Consider whether it should be a script or a pitch that you develop next; consult your representation to get a sense of what they think would receive the best reception out there.
Are you a repped, not-yet-working writer? Be sure to connect with your reps and discuss what you should write next. As your rep is your industry advocate, it’s important to include them in decisions when development decisions are at hand. After all, once the work is finished, it will be your rep’s job to get it out there. You want to get them on board with the concept even before you get that concept on the page.
If you’re not a working or repped writer just yet, this is a great time to take a step back and consider what steps you’re going to take this year in order to get your work the exposure it deserves. Getting your screenplay or pilot out there signifies honoring the hard work you’ve put into getting them in industry-shape. If you want the work you’ve done to help you move your screenwriting career forward, be it by securing representation or getting your work in front of producers, exposure is only going to help. Spend a little time exploring the upcoming competitions, labs and fellowships that you may want to try for in the coming year, and put together a comprehensive submission plan, which will include:
- Competition/Lab/Fellowship name
- Application opening and closing dates
- Any requirements beyond the pilot or screenplay
- The screenplay or pilot you are planning to submit
In addition, consider listing services such as The Black List and Coverfly, or online pitch opportunities like those provided by Stage 32 and Roadmap Writers, to help get your writing the attention it deserves.
If you are planning on submitting to any fellowships or labs, be sure to schedule time to work on those all-important fellowship and lab essays, which end up accounting for a large portion of your grade in many fellowships out there. Not quite sure how to make your fellowship essay stand out? Check out Script Anatomy’s Fellowship Essay & Bio Workshop, which is always so incredibly helpful for anyone developing essays, or even just working on their personal narrative!
It’s long been said that screenwriters develop their craft not only by writing, but also by reading and watching content. In addition to setting a sustainable and achievable writing routine for yourself, be sure to set clear goals for yourself for both reading screenplays and watching content that is in your lane.
Is this the year you’re going to make a push for representation? If so, set a plan for constructing a comprehensive manager target list, complete with specific details that pertain to why you’re reaching out to each manager on your list. Not only will you need a list of names, but also specific information about each manager whose attention you’re vying for, as we’ve long known that the more tailored the query, the more likely it is to attract attention, providing that the logline within it can piques the recipient’s interest. In addition to your target list, you will need to develop the template for your query. For more querying advice and guidance, check out manager John Zaozirny’s fantastic insights in a PDF of his thoughtful Twitter threads!
If you are repped, this is a great time of year to connect with your agent or manager, and lay down strategy for the year ahead. What should you be focusing on? And what does your rep need from you in order to help push your screenwriting or TV writing career to the next level? The beginning of the year is a great time to regroup and agree on next steps for your career that everyone can get on board with.
When planning for the year ahead, consider the efforts you want to make to nurture and sustain your network of contacts, as well as the opportunities you may pursue, including mixers, workshops, classes and events, both online and in person, to cultivate new industry relationships. Screenwriting careers are built on the shoulders of the writers community, so continuing to build your community is an effort that must be made on a consistent basis. Be sure to set monthly goals for connecting with existing writing friends, as well as identify opportunities in which you are able to extend your existing network, be it with other writers, working or otherwise, as well as assistants and possibly execs with whom you’d love to work some day. If you are a working writer, consider which execs you want to make sure to reconnect with in the year ahead, whether or not there is a specific project or opportunity to discuss with them.
Are there classes you want to take? I’m a huge fan of Jen Grisanti and Corey Mandell, in addition to Pilar and Script Anatomy that I mentioned earlier. Classes are not only a fantastic place to work on your craft, they also provide a great opportunity to meet other like-minded writers and grow your network.
Lastly, sit down and make a budget. Consider the various efforts you may want to spend your hard-earned Dollars on, from classes to competitions to screenwriting events and pitch opportunities, and prepare yourself accordingly. The point? Make a plan. Be thoughtful and deliberate in the pursuit or support of your screenwriting career, no matter where you are along the journey. The plan may change in time. That’s okay! Just make it a conscious choice, rather than an unintended pivot. Pursue your screenwriting career with strategy and purpose, and you will surely see it moving forward in the year ahead.