The 50 Ultimate Screenwriting Productivity Hacks
Why are productivity hacks important for screenwriters? What distinguishes screenwriting productivity hacks from those for other disciplines?
‘To be productive’ means to be effective at externally rewarding tasks. We all know that feeling of being stuck. Desperately wanting to ‘be productive’ but not knowing how to get into such a state of mind.
This applies to screenwriting as much as any other discipline. It can apply to getting back to a screenplay you’re halfway through, need to edit or want to get started.
Productivity hacks will be different for everyone. Each screenwriter will have a different method of working that is best for them. However, there are commonalities that can be applied to all writers. We are all human, after all.
We’re going to a look at some of the best ways to ignite your creativity and productivity. From simple tasks to more wholesale changes to working.
Lets get to it, here are the 50 best screenwriting productivity hacks!
1. Find Time To Write No Matter What.
The first screenwriting productivity hack is to find time to write. In this day and age, we all have 101 responsibilities, whether it’s work, family or hobbies.
As a writer it’s important to make space in our busy schedules for our writing. This is, of course, easier said than done. Don’t pressure yourself…
Set small tasks if you are struggling to find the time. Give yourself a 5 minute daily writing challenge. Or even just give yourself 10 minutes to think about your idea. Any small progress is progress.
2. Set Your Deadlines.
Our second screenwriting productivity hack is to set deadlines. Deadlines are meant to induce stress. A lot of writers struggle with two things: discipline and focus.
A good deadline helps with both. A little bit of stress focuses you, so having a set deadline motivates you to keep your your fingers tapping on those keys.
Particularly when starting out, you’re (probably) the only one who can set yourself deadlines. You’re also the only one who can let yourself miss them. So keep on track to stop the slack.
3. Connect With Other Screenwriters.
Like most tasks, writing is easier if you do it with other people. So find yourself a circle of family, friends and writers to surround yourself with. This could be in person or online.
Keep discussing your writing with them to keep the stories alive! You could even find a writing partner for your next project. This could give you some insights on different ways to do things.
Some writers thrive on being alone, some love the energy of other people. Either way, bouncing ideas of others is likely to ignite your creative energy even just a little bit.
4. Share Your Writing.
To add to that, another similar productivity hack is to share your work. Stories are meant to be shared, and when we share them, it unlocks a deep motivation to share more stories.
Hearing positive feedback will act as a reinforcement to keep writing. Even if you receive negative feedback, look at this as a way of changing and improving your skills. Make sure you trust those you are entrusting your work to, otherwise you won’t trust their feedback.
5. Wear a Screenwriting Uniform.
It might seem slightly unusual at first. After all, fashion might not be at the forefront of a screenwriter‘s mind. But a cool, different productivity hack is to find something that you feel comfortable in, but also smart.
Whether you work from home, or have an office, it is important that you feel and look professional to get you in the zone of writing, but also something you won’t be struggling to relax in.
Choose an outfit, or a series of outfits that you will only wear when you are in writers mode. This can become your screenwriters uniform! This might help you feel like you are in ‘work mode’ even if you are just sitting on your sofa.
6. Learn the Keyboard Controls.
Nearly every screenwriting application worth using has a vast array of nifty time saving keystrokes.
Like Final Draft’s GO TO: ⌘-G (Let’s you pop to any page # or scene, as opposed to dragging your scroll bar up and down in frustration). Make use of these short cuts to save yourself valuable time.
7. Limit Your Time Spent on Your Emails.
It’s very easy to waste your time constantly refreshing your feed and typing long messages back and forth.
Try limit your time spent on your emails by having a designated time each day to reply to and send out your emails. Perhaps once in the morning and once in the evening, so that the rest of the day can be spent being productive.
Emails often feel like (and often are) work. But often they’re just distracting you from the work you’ve sat down to do in the first place. Don’t fall for the trap.
8. Parental Control Yourself.
Give yourself time limits on how long you’re wasting on social media and the internet, just as a parent would on a child. This will prevent you from wasting precious time that you could be writing with!
We know that this type of productivity hack is hard to implement on yourself. But try and build up to rewards. Work hard in bursts and reward yourself with something you enjoy and something that will relax your brain.
9. Get Inspired to Write All Over Again.
Sometimes as writers we can feel unmotivated and uninspired. It happens that our enthusiasm has simply dried up. This can be especially true after having your work rejected or receiving some negative feedback on a script.
But, try not to get disheartened. Remember what the reason was for you to start writing in the first place and get yourself inspired again.
Watch a clip from your favourite movie. Listen to a piece of music that revs you up. Do something that reminds you why you wanted to create in the first place.
10. Set Writing Goals But Actually Stick To Them.
There are page-count goals, word-count goals, yearly goals, weekly goals, etc. There’s no magic formula to setting goals.
The important thing is that you pick the system that works for you and stick to it. Your writing needs focus and structure if it’s going to improve. Goalposts can move. But the aim remains the same wherever they are.
11. Be the Healthiest You Can Be.
A healthy body is a healthy mind. And what does a healthy mind mean for you as a screenwriter? Better quality writing of course!
Find yourself a healthy routine that works best for you! Make sure you’re exercising enough and eating healthy so that when you come to write your brain is in top form!
It often feels tempting to reach for the sugar highs and the constant coffee buzzes. But make sure you’re being the most efficient you can be in terms of what you are feeding your body and mind. What will get you furthest for longest? What will keep your mind sharp?
12. Learn to Say “NO”.
For some people saying no is hard, but if you really want to elevate your productivity levels then you can’t let others control your life. You must prioritise your own schedule, especially your writing.
As a screenwriter your writing needs to be one of your top priorities, and don’t allow others to make you feel guilty for it. Don’t let other people make you feel your writing time isn’t important.
13. Get Feedback Throughout the Process.
As a writer, having someone else look over your work can be one of the most helpful things when you’re beginning to feel stuck.
A fresh set of eyes can help you identify gaps in your work that you’d likely overlook, and getting this type of feedback early on could mean the difference between putting out something impressive and having to ditch your script entirely.
Getting feedback on your ideas is important. Whether it’s a friend or experienced professional. An experienced screenplay reader will know how to get to the core of what you want to do in your writing. This can be key to moving forward when you feel jammed.
14. Don’t Multitask.
The more you immerse yourself in your writing, the more you’ll be able to write. If you’re trying to write, hold a conversation, scroll through Instagram, listen to the radio, and do a dozen other things at the same time, you won’t be able to give your writing your full attention.
When you’re constantly multitasking, your brain has to keep switching its focus. This drains your energy too. Therefore, when you’re writing, simply just write, nothing else.
15. Give Meditation a Try.
Meditation can greatly be used to improve concentration. It’s important to clear all distractions, find a quiet place, and leave behind any other thoughts.
Meditation is about mindfulness. However, we usually keep ourselves busy with unimportant things and struggle with choosing what to focus on. . .This brings chaos to the mind.
Clear your mind so you can focus on the essence of what you’re trying to write about. This might not just be a screenwriting productivity hack. But it will help make space for your screenplay to flourish.
16. Know What You’re Going to Write.
Try plan out each writing session before you sit down to properly write. When you know what you want to achieve in each writing session, it gives you a clear start and end point.
This stops you from writing random scenes that don’t serve any purpose just to make up your word count. It helps give purpose and structure to your writing.
Set yourself a goal for what you are going to write that session, for example. Four scenes or one scene or some lengthy needed description. Try and set hit goals in your progression.
17. Create a Routine.
Have a set time of day when you write. Many people like writing first thing. Some prefer late at night, right before bed. The more often you write at a particular time of day, the more you’ll want to write at that particular time of day.
Eventually, it’ll become a need. It’ll be such a habit that breaking it will make you uncomfortable.
18. Break Down Large Projects.
Avoid tackling the entire project at once and instead, take steps to address the project. Once you’ve broken the project into smaller steps, allocate a set time for each.
Some steps may be more complicated than others; make sure to assign more time to them. A breakdown simplifies the work a great deal.
For example, set aside a ‘dialogue day’ for dialogue, a ‘description day’ for your stage description, a ‘character day’ for your characterisation.
Sometimes having a go at everything all at once can be overwhelming and lead to the feeling of just wanting to get it done. This could harm your screenplay.
19. Create Rituals.
Not everyone is able to create a routine because of shift work or family life. If this is you, try creating a ritual instead.
Have a particular place where you write, or a certain outfit that you only wear when it’s time to sit down with your characters, or a song you listen to to get you started. If you can’t nail down a time of day then try and nail down some other more flexible consistency.
The more you do your ritual before or during your writing session, the more you’ll come to associate it with writing and it will help to put you in the right mood.
20. Time Yourself.
Give yourself 15 minutes to do nothing but write. Don’t worry about what you’re writing, although it helps to plan out your session. But having 15 minutes to just focus on your writing can really boost your productivity levels.
You’ll give yourself a bit of stress to create something within a time limit. You are giving, as you are giving your characters, high stakes in order to force yourself to come up with something.
21. Trust Yourself Enough to Free Write.
Free writing is a skill. It takes time to learn how to write freely, not filtering what we type. Even if you don’t end up using what you wrote that day, you’ve still stretched your writing muscles. That, in itself, is an achievement. Every word you write can help you to become a better writer.
You might come up with nothing worth using. Or there might be a diamond in the rough. Either way, sometimes just getting that pen to paper (or those fingers tapping on the keyboard) is the best way to be productive.
22. Don’t Over-Commit.
Over-committing is a common mistake made by freelance writers. It is understandable that there are periods where you will go a long time without projects. It does not then mean that you should accept all the offers that you receive once your schedule is full.
Have a realistic look at how much workload you can take on before accepting. Besides, when you have too high a workload with short deadlines, you will be sure to deliver mediocre work.
Carefully select your projects and do an outstanding job on them to improve your chances of getting rehired as a steady freelancer!
23. Practice, Practice, Practice.
If you’ve found yourself unhappy with your productive output as a writer, then practice more! Change up your writing environment and writing schedule. Practice writing differently to how you normally would. You’ll soon find the routine that’s best for you.
It might seem a relatively simple screenwriting productivity hack. But to be become a better more productive writer you simply need to learn from your mistakes by practising more and more.
24. Take Frequent Breaks.
Studies show that those who take frequent breaks outperform those who work for hours without stopping.
Get up from your computer and get a drink of water, stretch, or go for a walk around the block twice every hour—or, at a minimum, once every 50 minutes.
If you’re having difficulty focusing then try working even in 15 minute chunks, with 5 minute breaks. This might seem like not much work initially. But it’s a marathon not a sprint. You need to pace yourself and retain your energy for when it’s needed most.
25. Focus on “Learning” NOT “Writing”.
Our brains hate feeling stressed, but what they do love is LEARNING. Writing can feel stressful, so whilst you’re writing try to focus on the things you are going to learn from the experience. This should boost your productivity levels.
What are you getting out of this burst of writing, whether long or short? For example, are you learning something about your themes, subject matter or characters? This is again about setting and reaching goals.
26. Communicate With the Client.
Sometimes, unforeseen circumstances do occur, and you realise that meeting the deadline will be a challenge. This is where some writers usually go wrong by waiting until the last minute to ask for an extension.
Instead, if something comes up, communicate this to the client at the earliest possible time. If you have any questions regarding the project that you’re handling, ask them in advance.
You should always be ready for roadblocks and setbacks. That way you won’t be forced into a rushed situation where your productivity could suffer.
27. Feeling uninspired? Talk To An Expert.
There’s nothing quite as inspiring as talking to an expert who is passionate. So reach out to professional screenwriters and chat to them! Hearing others talk about screenwriting passionately can further motivate you to dream and achieve.
If you can’t talk then listen. Look on Youtube for your favourite writers giving advice or speaking about how they write. You’re not in this alone and there are hundreds and thousands of people out there ready to share in your experience.
28. Use Empathy For a Creative Breakthrough.
We can get so caught up in our own heads sometimes and continue to write characters that we can relate to directly. However, try taking few minutes and write from someone else’s EMOTIONAL point-of-view. This screenwriting productivity hack might just help you find a HERO for your next story.
Really try and put yourself in the mind of someone else. Think of it like a video game. See through their eyes. See what they see. This will require significant imagination. But it will help ignite creativity.
29. Accept That Procrastination May Be Necessary.
Our next screenwriting productivity hack is to try practising productive procrastination. Have two or three projects going at one time, so if you get sick of one, you can jump over to the other.
Procrastination doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. It can be a way of engaging your brain in a different way in order to make it more focused on the task initially at hand. Try and embrace this.
Fixing that shelf that’s been broken for a while might not seem relevant to writing your screenplay. But in making your brain problem solve and think mechanically you might unlock a part of your brain also required for your writing.
30. Try Not To Be a Perfectionist.
Perfectionism is where a lot of procrastination and time-wasting occurs. Nothing is less efficient than perfectionism. At a certain point you have to let things go.
Give yourself a break or share your work. Anything that stops you staring at your screen until nothing seems to make sense anymore. Obsess over perfecting one line of dialogue and you might start to lose sense of what is what meant to achieve in the first place.
If something doesn’t feel right then work on it until it does. But make sure to not lose sight of reference points in a cloud of perfectionism.
31. Get in the Flow of Writing From a Certain Point.
Another simple screenwriting productivity hack is to simply open up the document, turn off the internet, and start writing where you feel comfortable.
If you’re not sure what happens next in the story, skip to the part of the story where you know what is going to happen. Start writing there.
In doing this you might find the answers to the problems you were stuck on. And you will have progressed further on in your screenplay to boot.
32. Got Writer’s block? Get Over It.
Think of creativity like a muscle. The more you use it, the easier it becomes to use. The less you use it the harder it is. Work through writer’s block by writing, writing, writing.
Whenever you feel blocked, just try to get into that space and try to figure out what you actually want to say to your audience. Don’t overthink what you are writing too much. Don’t second guess. In sticking to your intention and going forward you will generate movement.
By keeping moving you might stumble across the right direction. Otherwise, you risk staying stuck in the car with your head in the map.
33. The Planning Process is Vital.
Get your screenplay outlined in as much detail as possible before starting the script. That way you reduce the space you need to fill, and it’s much more manageable.
You might want to dive straight in. But this screenwriting productivity hack is vital for creating a clear way forward. This is about hitting story beats, character arcs and plot points. Using a beat sheet, for example, is a great way to track your progress.
Have a clear sense of what gaps you are trying to fill. Try and avoid leaping out into the unknown when tackling a whole screenplay. That might be okay when writing ideas down and trying to get your creativity flowing. But when thinking of the bigger picture always keep a plan to hand.
34. Find the Correct Time for You to Write.
You’ve got to use those prime hours when your brain is functioning really well for your writing. Whether that’s 17.00-22.00 or 8.00-13.00, everyone works best at different times. But use YOUR TIME to your advantage and write!
The more you write the more you’ll discover your brain’s rhythm. Are you a morning person or an evening person when it comes to writing? Finding this out can be the key to working at your most efficient.
35. Show Up.
Even if you aren’t feeling particularly productive that day, just show up. It’s about trying, and being ready for the challenge.
Some days you’ll sit down and won’t seem to get anywhere, but you have to keep going until something occurs to you: a sentence, a voice, a memory that sparks a flight of imagination.
Even if you’re not writing try and keep yourself stimulated. Something to read, a movie clip, some music – find a way in to your imagination. Don’t give up and pack it in just because you don’t feel in the mood initially.
36. Start Your Day Off Right.
The first thing you do in your day can impact on your whole day! So, start your day off by doing something productive. Whether that’s doing your morning workout, washing the dishes or taking your dog for a walk.
This should boost your productivity levels, inspiring you to be productive for the rest of the day as well. Get what you need to do out of the way. Therefore, the rest of the day could be free for your imagination and creativity to run wild.
37. Teach Those Around You the Importance of Your Work Time and Space.
As a freelance writer, you may find that people who are not writers themselves don’t get that you need silence, space, and boundaries when you are writing. Your job is to teach them.
It may look like you’re staring blankly at your screen. But you’re not. You’re focused and trying to deconstruct a scene, for example.
You need to be very clear about what you need and set ground rules. When your family members do whatever you’ve asked them to, thank them. Make it clear how much you appreciate their support.
38. Mind Map Your Ideas.
Find a writing process that makes you more productive. Mind mapping is a really good example. Whether it’s on a white board on a wall, on a piece of paper or even electronically.
Write your main topic in the centre of your page, then write other thoughts that occur to you. It’s just really a series of bubbles where you allow your brain to go anywhere. Then you can turn it into a written outline. If you google “mind mapping,” you can find entire process guides and examples online.
This is also a way of making sure your ideas are connected. How do your themes connect to your characters? How does plot A connect to plot B? A mind map can be a really useful way of visualising this.
39. Read Books On Screenwriting.
Reading screenwriting books to help improve our craft is an excellent way to ensure our brain never stops learning. This is a screenwriting productivity hack that doesn’t actually involve writing but will still surround you with writing.
You’ll learn about the craft from those who have mastered it. You’ll learn about the way forward from those who have tread the same path.
There are many screenwriting books to learn from. You will probably never run out of sources of inspiration in this regard.
40. Find Your Motivation.
Sometimes you need to focus on just getting the job done. As screenwriters we need to stay connected to the big-picture.
What is your purpose and your passion? What is the end goal? Why are your writing this screenplay?
When we can remember why we’re there in the first place and sit down with that mindset, it is much easier to keep the butt in the chair.
Try and keep rooted to what you are seeking to achieve. This will keep you focused on the relationship between you working and you achieving your goal.
41. Start a “How’d they script that?” File.
Sometimes when watching a show or film, you might find yourself wondering, “how’d they script that?”.
When you catch yourself with one of these thoughts, try and make a note on a running “script formatting” research list, then try to find the script online.
This will help build your understanding of the connection between the page and screen. It will also help make the potential of making such a transition yourself, for your own screenplay, seem more real and achievable.
42. Ignite Your Productivity on Days When You’re Feeling Drained.
Sometimes we just feel sick and tired. The best way to be productive on days like this is to shake things up. Do the opposite of what you normally do.
If you work at home, go to a café. If you walk the dog at the end of the day, try walking it at the start. Shake things up! This kind of screenwriting productivity hack is about keeping you on your toes. Changing up how your productivity manifests in order to keep it fresh. Keep yourself on your toes so you keep your screenplay on its toes.
Try not to feel resigned. There are always ways of keeping it fresh and looking at things from a new angle.
43. Find a Productivity Buddy.
Find a person to work with. Tell this person you are committing to have something done, so you have that extra energy boost of knowing that someone is in your corner with you.
This might be fellow writer. Or it might be someone who is working on something else entirely. But having someone next to you to vouch for you will externalise your goal.
It raises the stakes. And hopefully that person is someone who won’t let you get away with slacking or not finishing what you said you would!
44. Avoid Listening to the Wrong Advice.
Just because you love someone’s writing, it doesn’t mean what they’re suggesting is well suited to you.
Experiment, pay attention to your results, and if you’re not achieving what you hoped, try something else. Don’t assume the problem is you.
In the writing life you are your own boss, you are your own collaborator, you are your own everything. Get to know yourself, and set things up so you can be effective based on what is realistic for you.
45. Define Your Passion for Freelance Writing.
With passion, screenwriting becomes something you love doing. A reason why many writers find freelancing demanding and taxing is because their mind, soul and spirit dwell on the money. This productivity hack requires you to go back to the source.
You can never perform at your peak if you lack passion and drive. Ask yourself: “Did I start writing because of the money or because of the passion that I have for writing?”
Remind yourself of why you do what you do. The answer isn’t important. As long it’s truthful to you. This is what will keep you motivated.
46. Learn to Say No When Necessary.
Working on multiple jobs at a time will put extra pressure on you. Even though in today’s fast-paced world you should be able to work on multiple tasks with ease. Sometimes the money involved motivates this quest.
If you are currently working on a job and another client approaches you with a project, don’t accept it immediately. Ask yourself if adding it to your workload will cause problems with meeting the deadline.
Sometimes this, obviously, is necessary. But when it’s not be sure to remind yourself of what work is important to you. And how that might be lost (or not) by never saying no.
47. Build Momentum.
Another common mistake made by writers is procrastinating projects with far-out deadlines. A productivity hack to use to get around this is to keep an even flow of when you do your work.
If you are assigned a project that has a deadline which is one month away, start on it the day that you’ve received it. Don’t necessarily forget it for the first week.
Starting the project on the first day doesn’t mean you have to finish it. Just do enough to get the wheels going and build your momentum. This way, you will have enough time to proofread and check all the necessary details to deliver quality work on deadline. Remember, no deadline is ever long enough.
48. Identify Your Distractions and Deal With Them.
This is a challenging productivity hack. As a freelance writer, your place is often dwelling on the internet. You must do your research thoroughly and accordingly before writing.
Leaving a load of tabs open on your browser while writing will likely only slow you down. With all these tabs open you’ll find it hard to concentrate. Identifying these factors as agents of distraction will help you become more productive when writing.
Simplify what is in front of you and leave less room for unnecessary distractions.
49. Create Templates of Routine Paperwork.
Smart writers have a way of not repeating what they do every day. If you use routine paperwork—such as submitting proposals, invoicing clients, or pitching query letters to editors—use them as templates.
Creating templates of common writing tasks will help you communicate faster because you don’t have to start from scratch.
However, make sure you refresh these templates every now and again. Not doing this can lead you to being complacent. It can also make what your templates say feel stale.
50. Pause the Show When Something Moves You.
Our final screenwriting productivity hack is one that implores you to slightly alter your watching habits. As screenwriters we ourselves love watching films and TV. However, watching what we love doesn’t mean we can’t still be productive.
We can increase our awareness of story architecture to help us craft our script with more skill and emotional power.
If something moves you, scares you, or gives you a shudder of delight or anticipation…stop the show. Make a note. Note the show, scene, and even time code if you can. Think about how the emotion has been manipulated by the screenwriter.
Try and get to the root of why this has moved you. In doing this you might unlock the emotion that will propel your own writing forward. Like many screenwriting productivity hacks this requires you to go back to the beginning in order to get to the end.