Grace Under Pressure (Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Deadlines)


By Roadmap Top Tier Writer Kathryn Rushent

Kathryn Rushent is a screenwriter, novelist, high-realist artist, singer/songwriter, and cat rescuer. She recently sold her first feature, a sci-fi/dramedy feature called "The Stadium", which will go into pre-production in April, 2017.


Imagine this: You've broken into the screenwriting business. Maybe you've sold a hot spec or two and now production companies and studios are looking to hire you to write screenplays for them. One company has sent you a treatment - it's your genre, has a truly fascinating twist, and you've always wanted to work with this company or the attached director.

There's only one problem: Because of time limitations or financial considerations, they want a first draft in two weeks. 

Do you hyperventilate at this, imaging all kinds of horrors, and certain you can't do it? Or do you become even more excited, and sit down to write?

If it's the former, then get a paper bag and breathe into it. Calm down. You're going to be fine. You can do this. I'm here to tell you how.

Look, I love deadlines. Really. 

No, I'm not on any kind of illicit drugs, either. 

Why do I love deadlines?

Well, for one thing, I love to write. Since you're also a writer, I assume you do as well. But, more importantly...I love a challenge. If someone tells me to have my first ten pages done in three weeks, I'll likely have them done in two days, rewritten five times in the next week, and be well past the midpoint in my feature screenplay in those original three weeks. Give me a deadline, and I'll always do you one (or fifteen) better.

I do this because I realize paid gigs are going to be my bread and butter. Sure, I want to sell my specs, but writing assignments can help me do that, too. So, if I rise to the challenge and do more than is required (for instance, not just a rough draft, but a semi-polished second or third draft), I'll probably get hired again. Even better, I'll gain a reputation for being reliable. That will lead to more work, better pay, etc... And hey, I get to write even more!

So the question is, how do you come to love deadlines? I'll get into more specifics in the next blog for getting into that headspace but, for now, here's a few "dos" and "don'ts".

Don't panic

Consider whether or not you need to put off other projects to get this one done in time. Also, take note of others things that might be happening in real life, such as doctor's appointments, etc., and how you can work around them. 

Do stay organized

Ask any questions you need to right away. If you write with a beat sheet, make your beat sheet up as soon as you can.

Don't watch the clock

If you don't already have a schedule and a place for your writing, make one and get one. Try to write an appropriate number of pages per day. If you're on a roll, keep going. But, if you're genuinely tired, stop. You'll only do your screenplay a disservice if you force yourself to continue. At the end of the day, try to finish on a high note - complete that scene you wondered if you could write, create that twist that breaks everything wide open for the third act. That way, when you start writing the next day, you'll be eager and excited to get back to it.

Don't niggle!

This is the most important - niggling is where you question your writing at the least important level - for example, asking yourself repeatedly if the word "dozes" or "sleeps" flows better in one piece of description. Niggling only brings your flow state to a grinding halt. Moreover, whether you use one word or the other is completely meaningless to a reader or exec, unless you use the same word multiple times on a page. Then, it's time to use the Thesaurus function in Final Draft - and move on.

That's the real point to meeting your challenge: Always keep moving, stay encouraged, and do what you do best - write.

Next time: why there is no such thing as writer's block, and how to get into the flow state.

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