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10 Things Smart Writers Do to Build A Screenwriting Career

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by Script Reader Pro in Screenwriter Career
August 25, 2014 28 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 commision, at no extra cost to you.)

The following list is in no particular order…

1. The 10,000 Hour Rule

By this time, most people are familiar with sociologist/author Malcolm Gladwell’s theory of the 10,000 hour 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 3 to 5 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, run by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This is the best of the best and viewed as a ticket to the big-time for its winners.

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. (If You Have the Cash) 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

[© Photo credits: Unsplash]

  1. Gregory says:

    I wish I was a writer but sadly have to face my music and reazile I’m just not that creative or articulate! So with pleasure I look forward to reading more about this festival and the world of a writer. Your world ultimately becomes ours, the reader, so for that I support you and your other writer friends and hope you do indeed support each other.

  2. Yusuf Umar says:

    I have been involved with students for over fifteen year’s, that is student’s studying both theatre, film and television production’s and I believe getting involve with your medium will enhance a lot of development when it comes to writing script for the screen. Here, I would like to suggest that, it would be of help if you can e-mailing to our boxes some of the script’s you think will be of importance to some of us who are involve with student’s. I highly much commend you for opening this medium.

    1. SRP says:

      Hey Yusuf, thanks for the kind words. Here’s a few great, underrated scripts to start with.

  3. John Carey says:

    I formed Screenwriting Tribe in Santa Monica last summer. It’s going good. Over 100 people have joined the MeetUp page. We have a workshop almost every Sunday evening with 7 to 15 people attending. People keep returning for more. It’s donation only ($1 to $5 suggested to cover expenses). The variety of scripts people are working on is impressive. We meet in the private back room of a coffee house. At each workshop we read out loud and give feedback on 12 pages from 4 different scripts written by people in attendance. Union actors are also welcome to attend and help read the pages – which gives actors the chance to practice cold-reading skills while also learning about screenwriting. Having a copy of “The Screenwriter’s Bible” is strongly encouraged, as is doing homework by reading a variety of screenwriting books, including “Your Screenplay Sucks,” watching YouTube videos about screenwriting, and reading articles about screenwriting. Yes, joining or forming a screenwriting group with a diverse group of people determined to improve their script writing is a good thing for a variety of reasons – including getting feedback, bouncing ideas, sharpening screenwriting skills, polishing scripts, getting used to discussing your scripts in front of people, hearing people read your scripts out loud, receiving some written notes on your script pages, networking with likeminded people, and not being an isolated screenwriter. People who repeatedly attend and do their homework absolutely improve their scripts, which is a good to experience, and one goal of the group. I started a FaceBook page for Screenwriting Tribe, which people are beginning to join.

    1. SRP says:

      Sounds great, John. THIS is what more aspiring screenwriters should be doing – getting out there, joining writing groups, meeting other writers and making things happen!

  4. me says:

    Why does a person has to be under 30 to go to school? Why is age such a matter? Thanks!

    1. SRP says:

      Hi, well age shouldn’t matter as you say, we were just pointing out the fact that it’s usually easier for writers under thirty as they’re less likely to be tied to a location, have kids, mortgage and so on.

  5. Scott Murphy says:

    It’s ironic that every comment posted here by readers has at least one grammatical error.

    1. Raychard says:

      I write scripts and then film them with local drama group actors. This way I can see the strengths and weaknesses of my work.

  6. Andrew says:

    I am a writer. I’m not yet ready to share my work. I’d like to think when I am done with the gift of telling a story I will contact someone at scrip readers But first I want to look for the works that was listed above before I do. Thank you for the input.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Sounds good, thanks Andrew.

  7. John says:

    Can I be the film director of my script when I make it? Or do I have to be just the screen writter

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      If you’re making it yourself, sure thing 🙂

  8. Anton Godfrey says:


    As always so much useful advice.
    I wouldn’t mind joining the writing group but I live in the UK.
    I’ve finished my script. I’ve left if for now so I can go back into it with fresh eyes. I think this will be when the REAL writing begins.

  9. Karen Crider says:

    I am a lifetime writer. I am largely a pantzer, but since I found screenwriting, outlining has become mandatory. Yet, I find myself going on tangents outlining does not grant permission to. It has been hard transitioning between the two. I find myself rebelling and returning to my old pantzer ways. I often wonder if rebelling can hinder me, until I hear myself laughing. Is there ever a set way of doing anything in screenwriting, or is it as unique as all the writing I have done since my youth?

  10. Lanenabennett says:

    You’ll are right about where people live.i live in texas.have sent scripts to producers.some respond,some dont.i have not sold a script yet.but want give up .we all new writers have to remember.content of what we are writing it selling.

  11. Jesse says:

    I’ve got 5/10. Film school at K.D. Conservatory, networking, reading, breaking down scripts, and writing groups. Working on the rest. Really like the idea of moving to L.A. Might have the opportunity someday. Meantime, working with script coach to reach the rest. I dont give up easy.. especially on something fun.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Sounds good, Jesse! We also have a Mentorship program that you can do from anywhere in the world.

  12. Freddy Horbridge says:

    You missed #11 – marry Angelina Jolie!!!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:


  13. Ellie Kamara says:

    Nice ideas. Thanks you very much.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Ellie.

  14. Josh Furman says:

    I wouldn’t move to LA now its too expensive but most other points I agree .

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      It’s true – it is becoming more expensive, unfortunately.

  15. Eric says:

    Excellent advise all round. Thanks a million!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Eric!

  16. Angel says:

    This was great! Thank you for the pointers!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      You’re welcome, thanks for the shout out, Angel!

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