Deliberate Practice for Screenwriting

I’m a huge fan of Cal Newport and what he has to say about deliberate practice:

Similar findings have been replicated in a variety of fields. To become exceptional you have to put in a lot of hours, but of equal importance, these hours have to be dedicated to the right type of work. A decade of serious chess playing will earn you an intermediate tournament ranking. But a decade of serious study of chess games can make you a grandmaster.

Read the whole post, it’s good stuff. Actually, just read his whole damn book. It’s one of my favorite books I’ve read this past year and it’s more than just about how to get better at things, it’s a a treatise on “doing what you love” and why that is not very good advice — to paraphrase, you fall in love with what you get good at. There’s more but it’s late and I don’t have the brain power to paraphrase better. Just read it.

Anyway, so I had a thought last night while reading one of Newport’s blog posts. My thought was that while I’m fully on board with what he’s preaching, I haven’t really implemented it in a deliberate way. I do practice writing almost every day and I do read great screenplays and study films but when I write, I just set out to write something good with the goal of eventually writing something great.

But I haven’t taken the time to identify my weaknesses and deliberately work on them.

So. This morning I wrote out a list of what I think my weaknesses are. They’re based on feedback I’ve received from writer friends that have read my work, or from intelligent audience members at staged readings, or from industry script readers on the Blcklst. Plus some things that I just want to get better at, even if I’m already pretty good at them.

The goal is to stretch myself and also to generate a lot of new material that will eventually find its way into a film that I can shoot in 2016 on a low budget.

Here’s what I came up with:

  • Writing stories with premises or ideas that are big enough to carry a movie but small enough to be shot with a micro-budget.
  • Writing absurd comedy that also has character depth.
  • Writing fascinating main characters (my supporting characters tend to be more interesting than the main character, which is not good).
  • Writing unconventional but believable courtship/love scenes.
  • Writing physical comedy.
  • Writing suspense.

I’m going to tackle these in my weekday morning writing sessions (weekends are for other ongoing projects that need longer dedicated time periods to work through) by either brainstorming multiple ideas, scenes, or treatments for each item, depending on the nature of the skill.

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