INSIDE THE ART, CRAFT AND BUSINESS OF WRITING for Film, TV, Books, Stage, Print or Digital Media (with Particular Attention to Comedy)
Productivity (Phase 3: Rough Drafting)
“I regard the piece of paper as my employer. I have to fill that piece of paper. How I feel—whether it is difficult or not, whether I am stuck or not—is irrelevant. What the difficulties are is irrelevant. They are my problem and I will solve it.” — Ayn Rand
I’m a maniac for accomplishment, especially in the rough draft phase.
I want to see the pages add up as fast as possible. I constantly save my computer file and obsessively check the page and Kb count. I’ve even had partners tell me I write too fast, but I don’t believe that’s possible in Phase 3 (although it is possible and even likely in Phase 4: Revising).
In Phase 3, quotas and benchmarks are usually much more useful than a ‘deadline’ per se.
When writing for a magazine or newspaper, you’re hired to deliver an article containing a specific number of words.
Screenplays are 95–120 pages in standard screenplay font and format. Novels are usually 60,000–80,000 words.
Teleplays are written in the format of the individual show. Half-hour comedies are 24–30 pages and hour-long dramas are 44–55 pages.
Whatever you’re writing, you can aim to draft 3–5 pages per day. That’s only one scene—totally achievable—especially if you have a rough outline already. That’s how your draft is going to get written: one bite-sized piece at a time.
The planning you did in Phase 2 should give you a good idea of How, Why and Where each chunk fits into the big picture of your project. That’s the skeleton. The rough draft puts organs and muscles into place. Later, in Phase 4, you’ll add the skin and breathe life into the project. You are still just building foundations, assembling elements, laying your cards on the table.
Here are some quotas that can provide a frame of reference during Phase 3:
• 10 pages or more in a day is stupendous output
• 5 pages a day is impressive (especially if its consistent)
• 3 pages a day is decent (especially if you work 3–5 days / week)
• 1 page a day will get you there (eventually)
One scene per day is good. Two is great. If you can do 5–10 pages, that is super productive and you’ll be done that much sooner.
One chapter a week is another reasonable quota. If you’re writing a book, you probably don’t have more than 13 chapters, which means you can produce a rough draft in 3 months. It’s rare to produce more than 30 pages of a script in a week, but that will be enough to finish a draft in a month.
The story goes that one evening a friend visited the great, but notoriously slow, writer James Joyce, and asked how his writing went that day. “I wrote 10 words”, says Joyce. The friend congratulates him, trying to be encouraging. “Yes,” says Joyce, “but only 5 of them were good.”
Here are some average productivity levels of successful writers based on the writers’ own accounts:
• 2000 words (10 pages) a day—Nicholas Sparks
• 1000 words (5 pages) a day—JG Ballard
• 600 words (3 pages) a day—Arthur Hailey
• 75 words (half a page) a day—Gustave Flaubert
For screenplays, the most impressive output I’ve heard is Richard Curtis (“Love Actually”), who says he can write 20 pages a day of a rough draft—but then spends a year rewriting. If you can draft 5–10 pages a day, that’s great and you’ll be done that much sooner. If you do have a 10-page day, congratulate yourself, but don’t expect to have a lot of those. In fact, a really productive day is often followed by a day when little gets done.
If you can do more, always do more. If you’re rolling, keep rolling. Phase 3 is a great time to binge. If you can write several hours a day for several days in a row, do it.
The goal of drafting is TOTAL IMMERSION. You know you’re there when you often lose track of time while you’re writing and when you’re not writing all you want to do is get back to the project.
If you can only manage one writing session every few days, don’t beat yourself up or lose confidence. The only race you’re in is with your own expectations. Unless, you have a concrete deadline from an editor / producer / publisher / agent. Then you are in a race with your quotas and you better keep up the pace.
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This material is excerpted from “How To Be A Writer Who Writes: Strategies and Tactics to Start and Finish Your Book or Script” by Greg Miller. Get the book for Kindle or any other e-book formats.
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Brilliant art is “Swell” by Thomas Allen