Ask the Coach: Odds & Ends – On Script Mag

Welcome to the latest installment of my “Ask the Coach” column on Script Mag! This month I’m addressing a collection of shorter questions that haven’t quite warranted a full article but are useful nonetheless, from screenplay formatting to finding feedback for horror short stories, capitalizing nouns and proper nouns, and more! 
 
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the questions and choices and decisions we have to make as writers. The good news is that as you build a library of trusted resources, coming by those answers gets easier and easier over time. 
 
 
Read my responses to 5 reader questions and get a glimpse into the resources I turn to when I have writing-related questions, on Script Mag: 
Ask the Coach: Odds & Ends 
 
 
 
If you’ve got writing questions, please send them my way!
I’d love to answer them for you in my column.
 
Photo by Jess Bailey on Unsplash 

Ask the Coach: How Much Should I Plan My Writing Time? – On Script Mag

Welcome to the latest installment of my “Ask the Coach” column on Script Mag! This month I’m addressing a reader’s question about how much (or whether) to plan writing time:
 
“How much should I be planning my writing time vs. just showing up to write each day?”
 
Much like the answer to most writing-related questions, it depends.
 

Here are some things to think about:

1. Showing up to write consistently is one of the most consequential actions you can take as a writer.

Whether you plan or don’t plan, showing up to write consistently and regularly throughout the year is the best way to see your body of work building over time.

Writing regularly has other benefits as well: According to a study by researcher Robert Boice, writers who write daily are twice as likely to have frequent creative thoughts as writers who write when they “feel like it.”

Writing consistently is also the best way to “find” or develop your voice, something writers often ask about too.

I typically advise most writers to aim to write 5 to 7 days each week, leaning to daily for newer writers or writers getting back on track after time away. Longer gaps between writing sessions make it harder to restart.

On the other hand, “just writing” without any kind of plan won’t necessarily help you see a script (or other writing projects) through to Done. Yes, ideas and voice development, as well as personal growth and insight are valuable. But planned writing leads to completion. At the same time, you can design it in such a way as to allow for flexibility. [more…]

 

While you certainly can be detailed in your day’s planning, I recommend working within the context of a well-structured goal and overall plan and setting up daily average targets in terms of time, page counts, and/or to-do’s. 

 
 
 
 
If you’ve got writing questions, please send them my way!
I’d love to answer them for you in my column.
 
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Ask the Coach: Is an MFA Worth It? – On Script Mag

Welcome to the latest installment of my “Ask the Coach” column on Script Mag! This month I’m addressing a reader’s question about whether or not to pursue an advanced writing degree

 

“Is it worth it to pursue an advanced degree or are there now enough classes and tools and webinars and retreats out there to make a degree in writing superfluous?”

While I have chosen not to pursue an advanced degree in writing (which may tell you something right there), there are many writers who have done so and been glad they did. Writers I’ve spoken with who’ve completed MFA programs were appreciative of the rigor, focus, and structure of the coursework, and some later went on to teach themselves. The degree also gave them a sense of credibility as a professional writer.

On the other hand, many writers struggle to keep writing without the rigor and structure of a formal program once they’ve completed their degree, and I’ve spoken with more than a few writers over the years whose writing practices have simply fallen apart without their courses, deadlines, fellow students, and instructors to keep them going. This is a common issue for writers across the board, to be sure, but what I’ve seen with MFA graduates with this issue is an intensified sense of loss, guilt, and shame around not writing.  [more…]

 

There is no right answer, in my opinion, but personal reflection about who you are and what your goals and motivation are, as well as objectively evaluating how MFA programs work and how their graduates feel on the other side can help you make a clear-eyed choice. 

 
Read the article on Script Mag:
Ask the Coach: Is an MFA Worth It?
 
 
 
If you’ve got writing questions, please send them my way!
I’d love to answer them for you in my column.
 
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Make More Time to Write with the End of Daylight Saving

If you’ve been wanting to establish a morning writing habit, now is the PERFECT time to do so.

With the end of Daylight Saving Time, we’ll be getting a natural boost for setting up earlier morning writing time. This time change happens Sunday, November 7 in the U.S. (the time changes on Sunday, October 31 in Europe and elsewhere).

Here’s why, and how the time change helps us MAKE (not find, mind you, make) more time to write:

Your Internal Body Clock vs. the Clock Time

We’re all setting our clocks back by one hour, so what was 7 a.m. in Daylight Saving Time will now be 6 a.m. in Standard Time, for example. 

But your internal body clock is still set to 6 a.m. feeling like 7 a.m., so you’ll feel fresher and more awake “earlier” in the day according to clock time. In other words, if you’re used to waking up at 7 a.m., 6 a.m. will feel entirely normal, but you’ll be up an hour earlier by the clock.

Your internal body clock will also help you feel ready for sleep an hour earlier than what the clock says. If you’re used to going to sleep at 10 p.m., for example, that will be the new 9 p.m., so your body will be ready for sleep an hour earlier than it was before the time change. 

What this means is that because your body clock is attuned to going to bed earlier and waking up earlier than what the clock will be saying, this is an excellent time to adjust your schedule to allow for writing time in the morning.

Yes, you COULD allow yourself to recalibrate to the new clock time and get used to staying up till 10 p.m. again (or whatever your current schedule is), but you don’t have to. If you’ve been wanting a morning writing practice (or an earlier one) this is a great opportunity to make a change.

Here’s what this could look like.

Current bedtime: 10 p.m. Daylight Saving Time

Current wake time: 7 a.m. Daylight Saving Time

 

New bedtime: 9 p.m. Standard Time (feels like 10 p.m. still)

New wake time: 6 a.m. Standard Time (feels like 7 a.m. still)

New writing time: 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. 

 

Common Objections … & Solutions!

But Jenna, I need downtime at night…

If your first response is to shudder about giving up the “downtime” you’re used to at night, I want you to ask yourself how valuable that time truly is compared to making time for yourself to write in the morning.

I don’t know about you, but my night time “downtime” these days isn’t actually that restful and it doesn’t necessarily help my writing. I’d much rather get myself to bed earlier, be fresher in the morning, and ready to write than get caught up doomscrolling or whatever else is distracting me. I’m going to use this time change to give my writing habit a boost.

But Jenna, my kids will wake up early too…

“But wait, Jenna,” you say, “my kids will also be waking up early too!” Why, yes, they will. But you have a chance to do something about it, right now (at least if you’re in the US because we have a one week lead time).

You can do this by gradually adjusting their body clocks to match the external clock time.

The way to do this is to incrementally have them stay up a little bit later each night over the course of the coming week.

Let’s say they normally go to bed at 8:30 p.m. Each night, for the next 7 nights, let their bedtime be about 5 or so minutes later, so that on the last night their bedtime would be 9:05 p.m. We’ll change our clocks that evening. Starting the next night, you’ll push their clock time bedtime a little bit the OTHER way until it matches up with 8:30 p.m. again. 

Here’s how this works out night by night, starting on a Sunday.

Bedtime at:

  • 8:30 p.m. Saturday (stay with regular bedtime)
  • 8:35 p.m. Sunday 
  • 8:40 p.m. Monday 
  • 8:45 p.m. Tuesday 
  • 8:50 p.m. Wednesday
  • 8:55 p.m. Thursday
  • 9:00 p.m. Friday
  • 9:05 p.m. Saturday + Change your clocks!
  • 8:10 p.m. Sunday (old 9:10 p.m.) 
  • 8:15 p.m. Monday (old 9:15 p.m.)
  • 8:20 p.m. Tuesday  (old 9:20 p.m.)
  • 8:25 p.m. Wednesday (old 9:25 p.m.)
  • 8:30 p.m. Thursday (old 9:30 p.m.)

And NO, you don’t have to do this perfectly, this is meant as an example of a gradual process. You can even make the switch in 10 minute increments if you want it to move faster. My experience is that 5 minutes is easier. :) 

Bottom line: you change their body clocks but you don’t change your own.

YES, you might be going to bed early while they’re going to bed later for a week, but it’s a small investment in order to free up writing time for yourself in the morning. If you don’t make this adjustment, they may well be up when you’re wanting to write. 

But Jenna, I don’t like writing in the morning…

Okay, fair enough. While I’ve found early morning writing to be one of the best times to write for many writers, primarily because our inner critics are quieter then and we feel the pull of other obligations less strongly then, it’s not for everyone, and that’s 100% okay.

If you prefer to write at night, you may want to use the body clock adjustment method I describe above in order to keep your hour at night without feeling jet lagged. :) 

Want an extra boost of support to make writing happen?

Join my Called to Write community where we have “writing salon hours” between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. Pacific Time on weekdays, 60-minute writing sprints at 9 a.m. Pacific Time daily, and have bonus community led sprints at 1 p.m. Pacific Time.

We’ll be starting a new theme for the month of November, so it’s the perfect time to join us!

In addition to our sprints we offer weekly Zoom meetings (no meeting Thanksgiving week), goal setting and check in support, writing progress journals, and more. 

Financial aid is available. 

Find out more and register here.

 

Have questions?

Email us or leave a comment below and we’ll respond.

Stay safe, and happy writing!

 

 

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Ask the Coach: How Can I Expand My Script? – On Script Mag

Welcome to the latest installment of my “Ask the Coach” column on Script Mag!
 

This month’s question is about fleshing out a story:

“My problem is, I grew up writing short stories, and now I am trying to write a screenplay. I ‘finished’ my script, and if it is true as they say that one page equals a minute of screen time, I have a movie that is roughly a little over 45 minutes. How do I expand my script without making it boring with just a lot of filler?”

Great question. Assuming you’re writing a feature, yes, 45 pages is short. In your shoes, I’d first focus on making sure I have a story with strong enough legs to last a full feature length, then, I’d dig into the specifics. Let’s discuss.  [more…]

 

The big idea here is to look for ways to deepen the experience you’re creating for your audience, taking them on a powerful journey through the eyes of your primary characters.

 
Read the article on Script Mag:
Ask the Coach: How Can I Expand My Script?
 
 
 
If you’ve got writing questions, please send them my way!
I’d love to answer them for you in my column.
 
Photo by Ron Lach from Pexels
 

Ask the Coach: How Can I Find the Right Reader for My Script? – On Script Mag

Welcome to the latest installment of my “Ask the Coach” column on Script Mag!
 

This month’s question is about finding the right reader for your script and genre:

“Hi, I’d like your advice on how to select a reader who will give you a fair evaluation. I’ve had my script ‘read’ several times by Pros who didn’t really enjoy the Fantasy genre. At least, that’s what seemed obvious to me from their comments. For example, one tried to talk me into writing a murder mystery using the bones of my story instead.

“Should I use a service like IMDB PRO for leads of studios who produce fantasy movies? My story falls into the Field of Dreams, Big, Groundhog Day type stories, each using a fantasy element. I feel that you have to like the genre first to give a fair evaluation. I know I wouldn’t be able to give the same respect to a war movie…”

I feel you on this one. As a sci-fi writer, I want someone who understands my genre expectations to give me feedback on my script, and someone who genuinely loves and appreciates the genre as well. I’m reading your question to mean you’re looking for a professional reader to hire for script notes, not for coverage, and not for a studio executive to query, however, given that you’re mentioning IMDB Pro, let’s look at that too. [more…]

 

“…while it is valuable to have a reader who understands the genre conventions and expectations, your script should still transcend genre and be transparent and legible enough to any reader to be able to understand its story, structure, character, and intent, and to appreciate your voice, tone, and writing…”

 

 
 
 
If you’ve got writing questions, please send them my way!
I’d love to answer them for you in my column.
 
Photo by Ron Lach from Pexels
 

Ask the Coach: Who Owns the Sequel Rights to My Script? – On Script Mag

Welcome to the latest installment of my “Ask the Coach” column on Script Mag!
 

This month’s question is about who owns sequel rights to your screenplay and why adding an entertainment lawyer to your team is beneficial when negotiating screenwriting contracts.

“I’m writing a script which has obvious sequel potential. If I am fortunate enough to sell the script, (assuming boilerplate contract) who will own the rights to the sequel, me or the studio? Asked in another way, when I sell the script, am I selling the brand as well? I have several script projects with sequel potential, so this is a big question for me.”

Such an intriguing question, and I’m sure one many writers share. Since this is ultimately a question for an entertainment lawyer, I reached out to Michael Saleman of www.movielaw.net for his expertise. To a degree, the answer about how these types of rights work can be dependent on a writer’s leverage.  [more…]

 

Whether you’re wondering about sequel rights or making sure you’re signing a good option agreement for a single script, having a lawyer on your writing team is an excellent move.

 

Read the article on Script Mag here:
Ask the Coach: Who Owns the Sequel Rights to My Script?
 
 
 
If you’ve got writing questions, please send them my way!
I’d love to answer them for you in my column.
 
Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash
 

Ask the Coach: Help! Do I Abandon My Current Script for a New Idea? – On Script Mag

Welcome to the next installment of my “Ask the Coach” column on Script Mag!
 

This month’s question is about whether to abandon a current script in favor of a new idea, or not:

“I recently committed to working on a particular script idea, and almost instantly became fascinated by another story entirely. Should I move to the new idea? Or is this a distraction getting in my way?”

Great question. Ultimately, this is a choice no one else can make for you, but here are some possibilities about what’s going on, and some possible strategies to consider.  [more…]

 

When it comes to choosing what to focus on, and possibly letting go of a current idea, there’s a lot to reflect on. Brand, career, preference, genre, instinct, market, and more. And because there’s often a fine line between recognizing resistance versus intuition, pay attention to how and when new ideas come cropping up. The beauty of writing is how it begets new ideas. It’s your job as a creator to corral that surging herd into a manageable strategy that works for you.

 

 
 
 
If you’ve got writing questions, please send them my way!
I’d love to answer them for you in my column.
 
Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash

Ask the Coach: Do Experts Help or Hinder Writers From Reaching Their Goals? – On Script Mag

Welcome to the next installment of my “Ask the Coach” column on Script Mag!
 

This month’s question is about whether or not writing and marketing experts and gurus help writers or just get in the way:

“With so many claiming to have the secrets to either writing or marketing, is this just another layer keeping new writers from their goals?”

My short answer: It depends — not necessarily — but there are some things to look out for.

Here’s my longer answer.

When writers endlessly pursue study or looking for the “right” mentor with “right” secrets, we can absolutely keep ourselves away from the best and truest learning ground for writers — writing. Particularly if we’re seeking system after system to plot a novel or develop a script or learn to market our work without taking our writing projects all the way through to completion, we’re doing ourselves a disservice.

There IS a lot to learn

Many if not most of the folks out there teaching writing and the marketing of writing are doing it from a sincere desire to help writers (as well as making a living) and much of it can be valuable. There’s insight to be gleaned from various systems and experts, and as you study, you’ll develop your own methodology (and in an ironic twist, perhaps, might even someday end up with a process you want to share with other writers yourself). Sometimes one expert will nail one piece of the writing puzzle that fits just perfectly for you, and another expert will arrive with another one. The process of trying and testing other people’s methods gives you the chance to explore what works for you and what doesn’t, and assemble your own approach bit by bit.  [more…]

 

One important rule to keep in mind: There really is no one right way to write, and anyone who tells you they know the only or the best way is either egotistical or selling you something or both. At best, you can learn their method and take from it what you like. Be mindful of being swept into the orbit of gurus who never teach you how to do the work yourself but hold themselves out as the only one with all the answers.

 

 

 
If you’ve got writing questions, please send them my way!
I’d love to answer them for you in my column.
 
Photo by Ron Lach from Pexels

Ask the Coach: How Can I Find an Idea Person for My Story? – On Script Mag

Welcome to the next installment of my “Ask the Coach” column on Script Mag!
 
This month’s question is about getting past feeling stumped and how to find an “idea person” to help make that happen:
 
“My writing style is that I get an idea and start writing to see where the story goes. I don’t do outlines. I’ve gotten ideas for stories from thinking up a name, or a killer last line comes to me, or from a writing prompt. I’ve written complete novels from those particular starts. A few of those I set aside for months (or years) before the idea for where to take the story comes to me. On one I’m working on now, I’m about 10,000 words in and stumped. I need an idea person. My question is: are there idea people who can take your progress and give you thoughts for where the story should go? I write really well if I have a direction to go. I don’t need someone to write the story for me, I just would love a shove in the right direction.”
 
I love the many rich layers in this question. Let’s dive in.
 
To start, there absolutely are “idea people” out there. From writing coaches to story experts to script mentors, you can find someone to help you tackle story problems and figure out what comes next. Sometimes it’s incredibly helpful to have someone to bounce ideas off of and get input from to help us move past the places we get stumped.
 
And I want to plant the seed that this may be a place to grow your structure and development skillset as well. Even if you’re not a writer who likes to outline, you may still benefit from sorting out the big moves in your story so you can write toward them as you pants your way through your actual writing. [more…]
 

 

 
If you’ve got writing questions, please send them my way!
I’d love to answer them for you in my column.

 

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