Writing the Screenplay: One Pomodoro at a Time

by Charlotte Winters

By now, you know that the key to writing a 110-page screenplay is to break things down.  Break your story down into acts, break your acts down into beats, and break your beats down into objectives, obstacles, and stakes.  Maybe you’ve already done this, exhausting an entire pack of 3X5 cards, a spiral notebook of outlines and ideas, or eight previous drafts filled with other people’s notes.

But you’re stuck.  Bored yet overwhelmed.  Burned out but just beginning.  Time-starved yet aware that a story should only take up two hours of reel time.

You know breakdowns are key…but do those include mental ones?

To relieve yourself from this “anti-flow” state, I highly recommend the Pomodoro Technique.  Developed by Francisco Cirillo in the 1980s, this time-management trick is all about focusing on one task without distraction for no more than a 25-minute increment; once that time has elapsed, you’ve earned a 5-minute break.  After you’ve done three or four iterations of this exercise, you’ve earned a 15-30 minute break.  The theory behind the Pomodoro Technique is that the brain can only focus on one thing for a short amount of time before it tunes out.  It wants a break.  It needs a break.  (And why on Earth would yourself deprive of that?)


For screenwriting, here’s the process I recommend:


  • Choose one thing you want to accomplish during your Pomodoro.  This could be character work, reorganizing your act one, etc.


  • Set your timer for 25 minutes.  You can use the timer on your phone, a kitchen timer, or a free Pomodoro app like ClearFocus (found on the App store).


  • Work on the task without distractions until the timer rings.  No Facebook,  No Twitter,  No phone calls,  No email.  If your Pomodoro is research-oriented, use it to browse a pertinent topic online, but that’s it.  If you finish your task early, go back and review your work until the timer goes off.


  • Once the timer rings, take a 5-minute break.  Stretch.  Eat.   Watch this random YouTube video of kernels popping in super slow motion.  Chill.


  • Log your time either by writing a checkmark on a piece of paper or even on a  

spreadsheet if you like to track your data.


  • Repeat the process until you have a set of three or four checkmarks (your choice).  Once you do, you’ve earned a longer break (15-30 minutes).  Hooray!


There are variations on this technique; for example, some people, if they lose focus, insist on starting the Pomodoro over.  Experiment with that if you want, but I find that to be a little legalistic for screenwriting, an already-demanding medium.  In my experience, if I’ve achieved a flow state, then I keep going.  And since one set of four will yield you 1:40 minutes of actual writing, I will sometimes do a “victory lap” of 20 minutes so that I know I’ve accomplished two meaty hours of deeply-focused writing.

Screenwriting’s tough, but not impossible.  

Using the Pomodoro Technique will get you to the finish line by working smarter, not harder.


A graduate of UCLA’s MFA screenwriting program, Charlotte Winters is known for comedies and dramas featuring smart and sassy females.  Her work has placed in the Austin Film Festival, Nicholl, ScreenCraft, Creative World Awards, and KairosPrize competitions.