Do You Have the Discipline to Be a Screenwriter?

The Discipline of Screenwriting – Part 1

Whenever I coach newer writers, I like to remind them that, if they’ve finished a screenplay, good or bad, they’ve joined a very exclusive club, and it’s true. Most people who set out to write a script never finish.

They quickly find that this incredible idea that “would make a great movie!” doesn’t flow out of their fingers nearly as easily as they thought. There’s quite a difference between wanting to write a script and actually doing it, and one of the biggest factors is discipline. You have to carve out the writing time, fight back the doubts, reject the inevitable despair, and overcome your own excuses. Without discipline, you will not be a writer, period.

But how does a writer develop this vital element of their writing life?

If we need it so bad, how do we get it? If you ask me, it’s a simple and sobering answer: you only build discipline by being disciplined. That’s it. No secret. No shortcuts. When it comes to the work, you just have to do it. Make that one small and often terrifying choice to get in front of the keys and write.

The discipline of facing your writing everyday.
Photo by @jamesponddotco on Unsplash. Edited on Venngage.

You have to decide that writing is more important than comfort, that you’re going to write even when you don’t want to, that the idea of blowing off your day’s writing is offensive. You have to guard your writing time to an “unhealthy” degree (a word used by people who don’t understand what it takes to write) and claim that mantle of “writer” so tightly that you begin to define yourself by it. This is what will crush the obstacles trying to keep you from writing and enable you to do whatever it takes to get your pages done.

It’s a fighter’s mindset. A warrior’s mindset. And in my experience — as one who rises at 5 AM to write before the kids and wife are awake — there’s no other way. You must simply commit and follow through. That’s the difference between a dilettante and a disciple: a little masochism, and a lot of grit.

That said, I would argue that there are ways to make it easier, and the surest way is writing what you love. 

Do you know what kind of stories move you?

Write those.

Do you know what kind of characters you want to experience again and again?

Write them.

Can you imagine a screenplay that you’d be excited to get to on a daily basis?

Write it.

It’s the best way I know to enjoy this work while simultaneously building up the muscle you need to crack your process, make your output consistent, and be ready to get hired to write on a deadline. In addition, you’ll hone the ability to tell stories you love, and thus increase the chances that you’ll be hired to write a story in that zone.

But it’s more than just picking your favorite subject. See Part 2, 4 Ways to Make the Discipline of Screenwriting Easier, for more thoughts on ways to build momentum in choosing to write.

Commit! Follow through! Write what you love! Eventually, you won’t be able to stop. And that is when the work really gets fun. Get to it!

About the Author

Screenwriter & Writing Mentor

Ethan Ransom began writing at a young age and discovered screenwriting in college. After moving to LA and completing the UCLA Professional Program in Screenwriting, he earned his Screenwriting MFA at The American Film Institute. He was very fortunate to get repped right out of school, and has been hustling ever since. He lives in Burbank, California, with his wife and kids.