10 Things Smart Writers Do to Build A Screenwriting Career.

The insanely useful tactics that will give you a heads up on the competition.

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by Script Reader Pro in Screenwriter Career
August 25, 2014 47 comments
screenwriting career

10 things smart writers do to build a screenwriting career. 

Building a successful screenwriting career is determined by two primary factors: perseverance and pure luck. As we have no control over the latter, let’s concentrate on the former, i.e. how to best stack the deck in your favor.

(This post may contain affiliate links, so if you purchase something via one of them we’ll make a small commission, at no extra cost to you.)

The following list is in no particular order…

1. Follow the10,000-hour rule. 

By this time, most people are familiar with sociologist/author Malcolm Gladwell’s theory of the10,000-hourr rule.

The 10,000-hour rule states:

In order for an individual to master anything, he or she must devote a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice, study and application to the discipline in question.

What does this mean for your screenwriting career? It’s very simple: writers write. Every day. Contrary to what you may think, it doesn’t mean you have to write for 10,000 hours before selling a script.

But it is a handy guideline and way of remembering that if you want a screenwriting career you have to write a lot.

You have to start writing multiple screenplays. We won’t lie: your first few will be awful. And we mean, so bad, you won’t even want to show your mother, much less a studio executive.

Let’s look at how to get yourself to that place where the execs and producers will be coming to you.

2. Move to Los Angeles.

While it’s no longer an absolute necessity to live in Hollywood in order to forge a screenwriter career, it’s still highly recommended. But the long and short of it is—yes, you can start a writing career from out of state or from abroad. But it’s harder.

If you choose to stay away from Hollywood (or are forced to,) bear in mind that you will be required to travel to LA on a fairly frequent basis. This will be to take meetings with all those industry folk who’ll want to meet you face-to-face.

Here are 4 bad reasons screenwriters give for not moving to Los Angeles (and why you should ignore them). Moving here is hands-down one of the best things you could do to help your screenwriting career.

3. Break down movies (relentlessly). 

See as many films as you can. See them multiple times. Study them. Break them down. Analyze them. In short, learn how to write a screenplay. Learn what makes their scenes great, and then apply whatever it is to your own scenes.

There are ten of the best screenwriting books that will help you with this and help you understand the relationship between character and plot, for example.

There is also the so-called Spielberg List which contains the titles of all the films Steven Spielberg requires people to have seen before they can work with him (although Snopes has proven this fact to be more myth than truth.)

Regardless, it’s an amazing list of some of cinema’s finest work. Look it up.

4. Read, read, read screenplays.

Forgive us for pointing out the obvious, but read screenplays people! Many of the greatest screenplays have been published, including the works of William Goldman, Robert Towne, and Quentin Tarantino.

Again, the internet is a very useful tool here, but we’ve made things easier for you by creating 50 of the best screenplays to download and read in every genre.

We also recommend you read show biz biographies and autobiographies to become more familiar with the business and the people who helped shape it.

5. Gain representation. 

In the business, you’re as good as your manager and/or agent. Period. The Catch-22 of this is that many of they won’t represent you until you don’t actually need them (i.e., when you’ve already made it.)

Then again, it’s really tough to make it without them. So how do you get a representative with some juice in Hollywood to take an interest in you and your work?

The days of finding representation via query letter are pretty much over, but some writers still find success through this route.

You could try make targeted inquiries to agents and managers and we have created the ultimate guide to getting an agent or manager which you should definitely check out. Most agents and managers, however, are secured via…

6. That dirty word, “networking.”

Yes, screenwriters tend to be on the shy/introverted, downright anti-social side, but if this is you, you’re going to need to get over it. You’re going to have to go out there, press the flesh, smile, make nice and meet the right people to further your career.

By the “right people” we mean people who have contacts and resources that you don’t. Without these, you will have a much harder time moving up the ladder in Hollywood.

Try to think of it more as “socializing” and “helping people out” rather than networking.

screenwriting career

7. Enter screenwriting contests.

Another way to gain representation is via placing in the top 5 of some of the best screenwriting contests. Every year, it seems a different writing contest or film festival is born. Festivals often have screenwriting competitions associated with their film programs.

The best screenwriting contests have literally made some writers’ careers. The most famous of these is The Nicholl Fellowship, but others, such as ScreenCraft, have a great track record of helping writers turn professional.

Some second tier contests include the Page Awards, the Creative World Awards and Austin. Film festival competitions that carry some weight include: Cinequest and the Atlanta Film Festival.

Check out our screenwriters’ calendar to keep fully up to date with all the contests and fellowships out there during the year.

The bottom line: get your work read by as many people as possible and get it noticed.

8. Join writing groups. 

Another thing you should be doing in order to network is joining (or forming) a writer’s group. Gather a small group (five to ten people max) of smart, diverse-minded writers who meet weekly, bi-weekly or monthly to read and critique each other’s work.

Not only will this give you an objective eye, it will keep you disciplined to write regularly. Finding the right group with the right chemistry is important, however, so don’t settle for the first one you find if it’s not quite working for you.

9. Consider going to film school. 

You don’t have to attend one of the 6 screenwriting courses we recommend to become a screenwriter and/or filmmaker. Some of the biggest names in Hollywood haven’t.

However, if you want to stack the deck in your favor, stamp yourself with a credential that will make you stand out from the pack, then film school is step one on your journey. Brand name does matter.

The top schools: USC, UCLA, NYU, AFI, UT Austin, Northwestern, and Columbia (to name a few) are brutally competitive to get into.

Most major colleges and universities now have some sort of film curriculum either as liberal arts studies or as outright majors. If you’re serious about screenwriting, study it.

10. Never give up (unless you’re not having fun anymore).

As we said in the beginning, success in showbiz (and in most things, really) is a combination of perseverance and pure, dumb luck. If you want a successful screenwriting career you must keep swinging the bat and every pitch that’s thrown your way.

Odds are, not only will you eventually connect, but you might even hit a home run with bases loaded. Most screenwriters (and actors, directors, producers, etc.) spent decades trying to “make it” before getting their big break.

If you choose show business as your life, then you must give your life over to it, oftentimes sacrificing things that those sane people who’ve chosen “normal” professions take for granted. But for the strong of heart, mind and spirit, the rewards can not only be high, but limitless.


What steps have you taken out of these to further your screenwriting career? Are there any above you disagree with? Or think we’ve missed out? Leave your points in the comments section below.

screenwriting career

Enjoyed this post? Read more on how to build a screenwriting career…

How to Sell a Screenplay: 6 Most Popular Ways New Writers Make a Sale

How to Become a Screenwriter: A Pro’s Guide to Unlocking Your Career

How to Get a Screenwriting Agent and Manager in 10 Proven Steps

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