Back to School: How to Get Back In the Writing Class Groove
As the blistering days of summer fade into the crispness of autumn one thing, and one thing only, is on the minds of students everywhere: school will be starting again soon. Say goodbye to lazy, hazy days and hello to study, stress and hectic schedules. Film school is no different. In fact, going back to screenwriting classes might be more taxing than diving back into other college coursework. Screenwriting demands ideas, working those ideas into cohesive structure; outlining, plotting, and writing, writing, writing.
So how do you get back into the groove of classes and writing after indulging in a summer of fun and sun? Coming back to intensive work can be stressful, daunting, and, frankly, hard. Classes start and suddenly homework and writing assignments start to pile up. So how do you tackle the deadlines and get yourself back on track?
Start with timed writing. Set a timer or alarm for thirty minutes (or an amount of time you feel works best) and don’t stop writing until the timer goes off. Afterwards, give yourself a break, surf the Internet or watch an episode of your latest favorite show, and then repeat the timed writing. This eliminates distractions and gives you a manageable goal to get your writing in each day.
Other tricks that can get you back into the habit of writing on a deadline include snacks! Reward yourself with a snack or make a small purchase after completing an assignment. Finding a place with no distractions to get focused is also key, like a coffee shop or bookstore. Watch a film or TV episode that inspires you or find a book of short writing prompts or exercises and complete a few.
While these practices help get words on the page, one of the hardest aspects of writing is fighting the need to write a perfect first draft. We all want to write that perfect, genius first draft. One so amazing we don’t have to go back and fix anything. The truth is, even the most talented writer will have to rewrite. So on the first draft, don’t worry that this or that word isn’t the exact, perfect word to convey your character’s conflict. Instead focus on just getting the story out on the page. Write “The Vomit Draft,” if you will. Save perfection, or as close to it as you can get, for a later draft.
And that’s just the writing. Your actual screenwriting classes can be intense. They demand a great deal of writing and, at the same time, require copious amounts of listening, note taking and paying attention. That level of focus and work can be tiring, especially day in and day out. So how do you get the most out of those classes? The most obvious answer is the best: take notes. Write everything down. Take detailed notes on lectures and be sure to jot down any and all feedback your instructors and classmates give on your pages. Don’t worry about whether or not you want to take that feedback, or if you even agree with it, just write it down. The act of writing it down will help you remember it. But beyond that, review your notes. Don’t trust your memory to help you, look back on the things you wrote down and apply them to your projects.
Also, don’t forget that your screenwriting instructors can be a real asset. They know story structure inside and out. They’ve plotted features and television pilots, they can answer questions or consult on story outside of class. Film school is your first connection to the industry. Treat it as such. Go to classes. Do the work. Work with your classmates; they’ll be your peers and contacts once you get out into the business. And above all, work with your instructors. Be open to notes, listen, participate in classes and ask questions. Also, don’t forget that your instructors are in the industry and have a breadth of knowledge and industry contacts that can benefit you as you move into your career. They are the ones who will remember hard-working students and students who are capable of being flexible when it comes to story; and most importantly, they are the ones who can help you while you try to make a name for yourself.
The transition from summer relaxation to fall intensity is a hard one. But before you know it you’ll be juggling projects like a pro, writing up a storm and powering through classes. Just remember to eat well, exercise, and sleep in between all the scripting.
Jenny Sterner is a creative artist and storyteller with an MFA in Screenwriting from the New York Film Academy. She is currently the Coordinator to the Dean of Faculty and Screenwriting Department at NYFA’s Los Angeles campus, where she helps develop curriculum and oversees student and alumni relations for the department.