The Three Essential Rules of Successful, Effective Editing!

Blog post header; text on blurred pink flower petals reads, "editing your writing. The three essential rules of successful, effective editing."

I’ve learned one really important thing when it comes to writing, which is entirely different than editing. This trick makes a world of difference whether you’re writing a screenplay or a TV pilot or a novel or memoir or blog or ad copy. If you’re writing, you need to be doing this one thing.

In fact, you might already be doing it.

I call it the “fuck it” draft. Other people have different names like “scratch,” or “ideas draft” or something else, but I like the irreverence of swearing, so it’s “fuck it.”

It’s a draft that’s even rougher than your rough draft, and it definitely bears no resemblance to what your final draft will look like (that’s why we edit). Rather than trying to get a decent draft on the page, you just say, “fuck it!” and have a grand old time. If you’re anything like me, you flit between writing normally to bullet points to doodles that just sort of getting the idea of what you’re going for. No details, no rules.

Having a “fuck it” draft is a great way to get your words and world out of your head and onto the page. There is no necessity for perfection, and in fact, perfection is deeply discouraged. A lot of the “fuck it” mentality is to channel what you want to say about your world, and to have fun with it! That’s the point of writing, right? It’s supposed to be fun!

Now, that said; writing is the fun part, editing is the hell part.

How to Work and Write and Not Go Crazy

Finding a balance between following your dreams and working to pay the bills.

Writing is amazing if you love it. But for most of us trying to break into the business, it isn’t lucrative. (In fact, I wrote a whole dang post about things I do to manage my money specifically so writers can keep writing.) Maybe your novel will be the next big thing and get on Reese’s book club list, but the chances of that are slim, and in the meantime, you gotta pay the bills. Work comes first. And that’s okay.

In the past few years, I’ve had a myriad of jobs; service-oriented, administrative and editorial, and a few weird things in-between. Working full-time (while also balancing depression, anxiety, and PCOS, ugh) made the idea of coming home from work and writing seem utterly ludicrous. I imagine it’s the same for many of you.

Balancing life and a passion for writing is so freaking hard.

As I reflect on my past, working full time and writing, I’m surprised by how much I was able to get done. (Right now I’m living at home and not working and feel like I’m getting nothing done! Thanks, Covid-19 angst!). I had a whole slew of projects and was pretty productive on all of them. I realized that I had worked out a few little systems to balance my writing life with my work life. Again, it was hard; I wasn’t having the best time, but I knew I had to keep going up that mountain.

Here are some things I’ve learned that make the climb a little easier;

Write 100 Words (or 3-5 screenplay pages) before work.

(or after work, it’s your life)

Every day, sit down and try and write 100 words. It’s that simple. Usually, by the time you hit 100 words, you’re on a roll and can keep going until you lose steam. It’s not a lot of words, I get that. In fact, it’s a downright negligible amount of words if you’re trying to write a novel. Even then, sometimes 100 words can feel like pulling teeth. If that’s the case, hit your 100 and walk away; you’re still 100 words richer. (And if you’re one of my screenplay audience, 100 words is comparable to 3-5 pages of screenplay. If you can get 3 pages of screenplay done a day, you’ll have a 90-page screenplay in a month.)

It doesn’t have to be good either. Just getting the words on the page is an accomplishment. You can edit later

(And look, this section was about 130-ish words! See? it’s not that bad!)

Rage! Vexation! Empurpling! – Writing Effective Anger.

Anger is a weird emotion. It’s very basic — compare it to envy or trepidation or love — but that does not mean it is necessarily easy to write. It can be both basic and enormously complex. Anger sucks. Being angry is hard and raw and weird. As with most things, even though the concept of anger is a simple one, the execution of it on the page is complicated and people often fail.

Translation: A lot of times dialogue that’s supposed to be angry comes off as flat. Oops.

Post Header, B&W Lion roaring with text 'Writing Anger, with a free printable'.

Why is this though? We all know what anger is. We’ve all felt it at one point or another. Furthermore, we have all experienced many of the various shades and forms anger can take. Everyone over the age of ten has probably felt various nuances of anger. The anger you felt as a young child when your sibling was being a jerk is different than the anger you feel when a professor critiques your work in front of the class. This, in turn, is different than the anger you feel when you believe a partner may be cheating on you. Maybe all these things make you scream, but they’re all different and all stem from different places.

Here’s the weird truth: anger itself is not a base emotion.

Kids Like Pizza: Writing Realistic Children!

Let’s talk about the differences between writing children in screenplays and novels, versus writing adults!

This post is part of the Dialogue Doctor Series, where I talk about writing effective dialogue!

Blog Post Header; a young girl walking through the woods. Text reads 'Writing children effectively.'

I wish I could say writing child characters was the same as writing adults but I’d be wrong. Further still, I wish I could say that writing children was an easy task. That’s even more wrong. We’ve all seen movies with children in them, which means we’ve all seen movies where the child’s lines are either exceptionally on-point or awkward and stilted. 

(Note, this has nothing to do with the performance of child actors, but rather the lines they’re given within the script. Sure, sometimes children aren’t very good at acting, but that doesn’t mean they deserve bad dialogue.)

Oftentimes you can tell if someone has interacted with kids or not based on the dialogue they give their child characters. Frankly, being around children makes writing children’s dialogue easier, but sometimes we just can’t hang out with kids for no reason other than to hear them talk; that’d be weird.

Read on for a few key tips to focus on when it comes to writing children’s dialogue.

The 6 Worst Screenwriting Mistakes You Can Make

Are these common mistakes holding you back?

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I read and edit scripts professionally (as well as for my other writing friends, because that’s what friends do), and I’ve noticed some mistakes that happen over and over again, especially with new writers. These common mistakes cripple a story! Screenwriting and the film industry is a brutal business. Avoid these common mistakes to give your screenplay a leg up from the competition.

1. No conflict.

One of the main tenants of screenwriting —literally something drilled into every class meeting in my screenwriting program at UCLA — is, “add more conflict.

What does that mean though? The phrase ‘adding conflict’ is almost like a shibboleth within the film industry. Conflict does not mean the dictionary definition of conflict, it means challenge.

But it’s still true that the best way to make a screenplay better is to challenge your character’s goals and motives. All characters want and need to do* certain things throughout their story arcs, and making it harder for them to achieve those things makes your story better. This applies to both screenwriting and regular novel/short story writing.

To come about it another way, think of your favorite movie. Is there a scene where ‘nothing’ happens? I imagine there isn’t, (unless it’s a really artistic piece.) If there is one character in the scene, they’re trying to get something done (the ’trying’ is the challenge/conflict). If there are two characters, they are having a conversation or interaction with their unique wants and motives (their motives and interaction is the source of conflict).

Adding conflict is what makes a scene a scene. Again, it’s not adding fights and fisticuffs; if anything, it’s adding ‘story.’ The best stories happen in the conflict.

*The very first article I wrote on medium a few years ago was about ‘wants and needs’ and explaining what that actually means! Check it out!

Do you still believe these film industry myths?

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There are plenty of misconceptions about the world of screenwriting and film, just like any industry. The pervasive untruths that people believe about filmmaking, in general, are pretty wild, and before I got enmeshed in this world I believed plenty of them myself. (Heck, part of me still wants to believe that I can make bank with screenwriting. Ce n’est pas vrai. C’est la vie).

Here are some of the most common and most untrue myths about screenwriting and the film industry that I have come across.

Myth: It’s lucrative.

piggy bank

Fact: This one makes me laugh. For the most part, you cannot make a living on screenwriting alone. At least until you’re fairly well established, and even that can be a bit of a tossup. The majority of screenwriting gigs for movies are commission based; you don’t know where the next job is coming from once you’ve finished the one you’re working on. Sometimes big payouts for a script get publicized. Various entertainment and industry publications will tell you about the latest acquisition by big-name directors and up-and-coming writers, utmost scripts rarely get bought. Those that do rarely make the kind of seven-figure payout you think of when you think of Hollywood.

I don’t write screenplays for the money; it’d be nice to make some but I’m not kidding myself. I write because I love it. (And because I want to eventually have someone buy my script and Chris Evans star in it, and then meet me and fall in love with me. Obviously. This is a sound plan.)

(If you’re a poor writer like me, here are some of my favorite financial resources for making and managing money!)

Competition conniption.

I’m trying to decide if I want to tweak and submit one of my pilots to competitions again. There’s a few that are due on the 31st, and the pilot did okay last year (AFF Second Rounder good! Yippie!), so it’s not a completely impossible option. Hell, it might be a good shot even. I’m almost optimistic. Almost

I just don’t want to get my hopes up. That messed me up last year. Even when I got the email saying I was a second-rounder, I felt bad about it. Good, but not good enough. I’m older and wiser this year, but I know if I submit to anything there will still be that small flicker in me that says “This is it! This is your chance.” When it isn’t “it,” it ain’t great.

This industry can be a real kick in the pants sometimes. Just a real wallop of angst.

And I feel kind of duplicitous because I tell my clients and anyone reading this blog that a good screenplay can go a long way. But I’ve had a few good screenplays under my belt, (like actually good, I’m not just being arrogant), but they haven’t made it very far.

I’ll figure this all out, but I also don’t want to be dishonest about how draining this career choice can be. Everyone’s writing screenplays, which means competition is fierce. And I’m probably the least competitive person on the planet. If nothing else, getting into screenwriting has been an exercise in not just rolling over onto my back and letting the world mow over me.

I’ll do it. The submission fee isn’t that pricey, and every little bit of exposure matters in this industry.

Wish me luck, and tough skin.

Overused film tropes that will get your screenplay trashed!

Header image depicting Cher and Dionne from Clueless. An example of the Black Best Friend tropes. Text reads; "are you guilty of these overused film tropes?"

There are some things in storytelling that we repeat, rehash, and make anew. That’s part of the human condition; we love telling stories and boy howdy, do we love hearing, reading, and seeing them on the screens. Chalk it up to the hero’s journey, but humans are just super into that rising-action/climax/conclusion cycle. And within that cycle we come up with literary tropes as well; the wise old mentor, the sidekick, the monster. These have been around since humans first sat around a fire together telling stories.

As storytelling evolved, so to have these tropes. In fact, with regards to film and TV, there’s a whole website dedicated to cataloging them. Sure we have wise old mentors, but we also have The Hacker, who can smash a keyboard and get into any computer system. We have The Jock and The Cheerleader and myriad other roles we slot our characters into. There are themes that get repeated, lines of dialogue that pop up again and again — i.e. techno-jargon followed by a, “Speak English!” — and even plot holes that writers fall into again and again.

Writing and storytelling are hard; it’s easy to walk on the well-trod path that others have set before. In fact, in many ways it’s a good thing; the hero’s journey speaks to us on a nearly primal level. Humans like it, and your story probably already follows obliquely; let it. Have fun with it.

But there are some tropes, particularly in film and screenwriting, that we do not need anymore.

The following list is a collection of some of my least favorite writing tropes. They’re just malarkey. Frankly, they are dated and offensive. You can do better.

5 Unexpected Books That’ll Make Your Screenwriting Better (and one popular one you can trash!)

There’s a slew of books and lists of books about how to write screenplays, and they’re all fine, but let me tell you, it’s the weird and unexpected books that really added to my writing chops. Read on for a list of books you need on your shelves to up your writing game, and your life!

(This article contains affiliate links from bookshop.org! Buying through these links gives me a small commission and supports independent bookstores! I’ve also included my regular amazon affiliate links for you as well if that’s easier.)


1. The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook – Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht (amazon link)

If you’re my age or older you may remember when this book, (along with a handful of offshoots and sequel books), came out. I bought my copy from the now-defunct Border’s to give you an idea of the time period (ah the early to mid-aughts. What a time to be alive).

This may not seem like the kind of book that would help with writing at all, but it is in fact a gold mine of plots, solutions, and tips for living in a dangerous world. If you’re writing an action movie, this is your bible! Not only does it outline what to do in weird, worst-case, situations (which actually eases my anxiety a lot) but it’s a trove of inspiration. Put your characters in these predicaments and see how they react. The best part, your characters probably don’t know the ‘right’ way to react in the situations in the book; these worst-case scenarios can get even wilder! 

How to write accents in your screenplay!

Charlie Brown going to Lucy in her Psychiatric Help Booth; The Doctor is In! The Dialogue Doctor!
The Dialogue Doctor is In!

Let’s learn all about writing accents in this latest installment of the Dialogue Doctor. The Dialogue Doctor is back after a long hiatus, mainly due to quarantine depression (because seriously, this situation is depressing…). Got a question about writing dialogue? I’m here to help! It’s the one thing I know how to do!

So you have a great story idea, something really whacky and fun! Congrats. And the best part? there’s a zany character who speaks differently than ‘normal people!’ You’re excited to write out each word they mispronounce in detail in your screenplay! Sounds like it’s going to be a great source of both comedy and plot!

Maybe not. Actually, one million percent not.