10 Things You Don’t Need to Write A Screenplay

by Gordy Hoffman

People are always telling you what you need to write a screenplay. Even I will tell you what’s required or demanded or unavoidable in writing screenplays. But I want to remind myself, and you, what you don’t need, specifically what you absolutely will never need to write a screenplay and become a professional screenwriter. I believe there’s too many things I think I need to do to accomplish my dreams.  Here are a few of those:

1. Faith

Sometimes we believe we have to think it’s going to all work out for our story, our screenwriting, our hopes and dreams. People think they have to believe in themselves to write screenplays. I’ve found that you don’t even have to do that. You can laugh at your lack of faith that anything will come of your writing today, and go ahead and write anyway. Don’t wait around to believe it will work out for you to write a scene today. 

2. A book

Books about screenwriting can be very helpful, blog posts, essays, articles, podcasts, you know how much you’ve gained from listening to others, but in the end, you absolutely do not need any more information about how to write a screenplay, or how to be a screenwriter, or what you should never do as a screenwriter, nothing. The stories came before the books about making the stories, not the other way around. 

3. A plan

I spend so much time thinking about how I’m going to get started writing, what I should do to get ready, what my process is, that the path to actually writing becomes an obstacle course. I need to remember that I am the one telling myself I need to do this to prepare, or that to organize, or one more thing and then I will be ready. Surrendering is the crucial action, not preparation, when it comes to writing honest stories. 

4. Software

I use software, most everyone does, but if you’re waiting around for that when you have a pen within 5 miles, you might not be that interested in writing movies. 

5. Money

Sometimes we think we need to focus on practical things, and we do have to be practical, but there is always room to write in any waking day, and if you’re telling yourself that your responsibilities are keeping you from writing, then you might have a different way already to provide for yourself other than writing, and more importantly, you might not be interested in writing. 

6. A class

I love teaching, I love my students and I believe in education and film schools and can bear witness to how writers do change and develop in the classroom, but do you need to take a class or go get your MFA or receive a piece of paper declaring you did it? Well, maybe, you might need it for some reason, but you absolutely do not need to take a screenwriting class to be an incredible screenwriter. 

7. An ending

If you don’t know how your screenplay will end, and that’s keeping you from writing any other part of the story, you’re making an excuse to get out of working hard. Writers that won’t write until they know how it’s going to end are trying to avoid wasting time, but writing is never a waste of time, and its really more about not wanting to write any more than you have to, and didn’t I want to be a professional writer? You don’t need an ending to write. 

8. Partner

Some writers like to work with a partner. You might want to collaborate, and that’s fantastic, but you absolutely don’t need one to start writing, unless you absolutely need someone else to do the writing. Remember, poems have never been written by partners.

9. Heart

Please don’t wait around for your heart to be in the right place. Your heart will find its way into your story and provide everything that your audience will love it, but you don’t have to feel a certain way to write, which leads me to

10. Happiness

Don’t let joy get in the way of getting some writing done. Or the lack of it. If you’re miserable or completely happy, try to set it aside and not let it ruin another day of writing stories. I think I should feel a certain sense of happiness or unhappiness to do anything as a writer, when in reality, I can write in the eye of a storm or sitting on the edge of a sleepy country field. It doesn’t matter. I’m a writer, it’s already happened, and I need to let myself do my job today. 

What else isn’t necessary to write a screenplay? Plenty, but I sure will find something if I look for it. Instead, let me forget about thinking about the action of writing, and write today. 


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17 Responses to “10 Things You Don’t Need to Write A Screenplay”

  1. Chris Caleo Says:

    June 18th, 2017 at 12:58 pm


  2. charlie eilert Says:

    June 18th, 2017 at 6:18 pm

    “Keep writing even if it feels like you are shoveling shit uphill with a typewriter.”–some guy who lives Maine.

    “First drafts are always shit.”–some old man by the Sea.

  3. Terry L Probert Says:

    June 18th, 2017 at 9:36 pm

    Thanks for putting the points together, I write novels mainly but a couple of years back wrote a screen play just to practice dialogue. I found the whole thing refreshing working without much in the way of description or direction. Cheers, Terry

  4. Gailee Wells Says:

    June 19th, 2017 at 10:49 am

    You don’t need anything to write anything (screenplay, play, novel, short story, poetry) but something as simple as paper and a pencil/pen. Actually, it’s been said that writing from the heart takes a pen and paper rather than keyboard. What you do need is discipline to write every day.

  5. Q-ell Betton Says:

    June 19th, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    All true. Took me a while to get there, but now I write everyday, even if I don’t feel like it. Even when I feel i have nothing to say, I write anyway. Just do it.

  6. Susan Branch Smith Says:

    June 19th, 2017 at 4:35 pm

    I don’t know what this means:

    “I use software, most everyone does, but if you’re waiting around for that when you have a pen within 5 miles, you might not be that interested in writing movies.”

    Is there a word or more left out?

  7. BlueCat Says:

    June 19th, 2017 at 4:39 pm

    It means you don’t need computer software to write a screenplay, you can use a pen or pencil. Thanks, Susan!

  8. Rina Says:

    June 19th, 2017 at 8:17 pm

    I love this post, its humor, and its naked truth. Thank you.

  9. Jesse Says:

    June 19th, 2017 at 9:23 pm

    Good feedback. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with excuses. I will get right on it.

  10. Tylie Says:

    June 20th, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    “… stories came before the books… ” -great takeaway!

  11. Rick Meyer Says:

    June 21st, 2017 at 8:44 am

    I wrote huge sections of my first novel between cues sitting backstage while I worked on Broadway shows. Then when I got home I will type them into my processor. Worked fine. I have yet to find a need to know how a screenplay will rather I let the characters and their story tell me what will become of them at the end.

  12. Yaj Kindermann Says:

    June 21st, 2017 at 9:55 am

    So love these articles. Hits the nail right on the head.
    I write most scenes in notepads, on envelopes, even on bills which often get thrown (before I’ve typed up) but is that such a bad thing I ask myself?
    I stamp my feet a lot, then find another bill.
    It is wonderful to find error – the joy of re-shaping is almost as exciting as the initial ‘spark’.

  13. Renaud Kolb Says:

    June 23rd, 2017 at 3:52 am

    In my humble opinion, you don’t need to write every day to become a screenwriter. You only need to write when you feel like it. Writing is about being passionate, and you can’t control your passion for your story. There are times you want to distance yourself from it.

  14. BlueCat Says:

    June 23rd, 2017 at 6:54 am

    That’s number 11!

  15. Mickey Greco Says:

    June 25th, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    Love it – thanks Gordy Hoffman! MG

  16. Dougie Brimson Says:

    August 8th, 2017 at 12:29 am

    Brilliant and absolutely spot on.

  17. Ronnie Tharp-Garber Says:

    January 1st, 2018 at 11:10 am

    Thanx for these pieces of advice. There’s some truth in all of the points you make – So, I think we can all take away useful info. I would add that writing is sort of like playing a game of tennis or any other sport – Specifically, what happens on the court is that when you’re up 5-1 in a set, the kiss of death is to see yourself walking to the net a winner and shaking hands. At that moment, you’ve lost the set. What can happen is that you forget to take your eye off the ball and are thinking of winning and shaking hands. You then lose the next game and now, the score is 5-2. Then it goes to 5-3, 5-4. You’re thinking: “How in the hell could I let this happen?” Now, you panic. Your opponent serves and wins her serve, so the score is EVEN, 5-5. You are a wreck. You make errors. You “foot fault,” you hit an easy shot into the net, etc. Low and behold, the score is 5-6. You lost your serve and your nerve. Your opponent wins, 5-7. So, with writing and the kiss of death being that you see your name in lights; you envision a paycheck; you see yourself at the Academy Awards…Just as with my little analogy, you gotta keep your eye on the little yellow ball and play it step by step, point by point and you’ll be a winner in the end. It’s the process that matters. Every inch, even if you write 15 minutes in one day; skip 2 days; write 5 hours the next day, etc. Hard to follow my own advice, but I try for it. I really do.

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