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Arts & Entertainment

Writing Habits

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 15:34 min

Even Aaron gets writer's block. Learn how he gets unstuck and what writing tools he uses to make sure he's ready when inspiration strikes.

Aaron Sorkin
Teaches Screenwriting
Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting.
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From the moment I say I'm starting until the moment I deliver it, is usually about an 18 to 24 months on a screenplay. But most of that time is spent trying to think of it and being depressed. There are people for whom it is 10 weeks, 12 weeks. In fact, I'm pretty sure the contracts that I sign say that I'm going to have to deliver it in 12 weeks, and nobody ever believes that. Most of that 18 to 24 months is spent not writing. Most of that 18 to 24 months is spent bulking up, preparing to write. Once I start typing the screenplay, if everything is going great, I can usually do it in two or three months. What came before that was months and months and months, probably a year of not writing, of banging your head against the wall, doing a lot of research, whether it's reading or meeting with people. Banging your head against the wall. One of the mentally challenging parts of being a writer is that most days, you don't write. Most days, you wake up in the morning, and you go to sleep at the end of the day, and you haven't written anything. And it's a demoralizing feeling. On the other hand, those much less common days, where you did write, and you wrote something good, you feel like you can fly. [MUSIC PLAYING] When I start writing the script, by writing now, I mean literally typing the script, I have to have the intention and the obstacle-- I have to have it already in my head. Or at least have the intention and obstacle of the first scene of the thing that I'm writing. It's OK if you don't know what the second scene is. With The American President, it's not like I had a genius idea or anything. It felt like a genius idea at the time, when I said, you know what? I'm just going to start by beginning the President's day. I'm just going to have him walk from the residence, from the East Wing to the West Wing. And along the way, he'll run into various staffers. And we'll introduce various problems. And we'll be charmed by this guy who ordinarily in popular culture, our heroes, elected leaders, are portrayed either as Machiavellian or dolts. And in this case, he was going to be a very bright, very charming guy. So I was going to introduce us to that. And for some reason, it felt like the greatest idea in the world. And whatever it was, it got me writing. It got me actually typing. And then once I started, I couldn't stop. And then just talking about the first scene. Once I know what the first scene is, once I'm ready to write the first scene, I write the first scene in roughly the amount of time it takes to type the first scene. And if you're doing that, you're doing well. If it's coming out like ketchup out of a bottle, then you don't have it yet. You haven't pinpointed the conflict. [MUSIC PLAYING] The software I use is Final Draft. It took me a long time to get to Final Draft, because when I first started writing...

Your script starts here.

Aaron Sorkin wrote his first movie on cocktail napkins. Those napkins turned into A Few Good Men, starring Jack Nicholson. Now, the Academy Award-winning writer of The West Wing and The Social Network is teaching screenwriting. In this class, you’ll learn his rules of storytelling, dialogue, character development, and what makes a script actually sell. By the end, you’ll write screenplays that capture your audience’s attention.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

This was such an amazing course on different elements of screenwriting. Sorkin's advice on introducing characters with something they want rather than who the characters are has helped me write better characters. I take less time into writing a character's traits than I do writing about the desires and obstacles of that character.

Loved the little gems what would appear. Just one or two lines that was out of topic, but SO on topic. Epic. Sorkin makes me feel better about my goals and what I intend to do with my stories. Thank you.

As writers, we're always learning, improving and enriching our craft of storytelling. I thank Mr Sorkin for sharing his knowledge and experience, and for reminding us all to stay true to our own unique and diverse voices.

Would have liked maybe just a little more technical information and see a script get written from scratch and edited (kind of like what Shaunda was talking about when she said one of her new hires would read each phase of the script from first draft to final draft to get a real feel for the show)


Shell W.

I believe in investing into my writing like I am a full time writing professional at all times. I don't spend on trifles but Final Draft is a must for me as I've used it for years. As one who spends megabucks from pocket to educate myself at UCLA TFT and formerly at others, I believe in investing into my writing as much as possible. That being said, the push towards automating all writing and moving away from hard copies in hand is a folly in these difficult unstable times. I tend to move my compass to more than just what industry may or may accept in my pitches which is I write from a POV of human suffering and how my characters are more often than not working to heal themselves..

Reme P.

Final Draft has a Educational license for a hundred bucks. I think this MasterClass would make us all qualify as students. If you don't want to spend more money to get started you can search for alternatives. There is a FREE software app called Trelby that has great reviews. I've just downloaded it and am going to try it out. Also, I'm an IT Project Manager by trade and use a lot of programs that provide virtual note cards and cork boards. I'd recommend considering a virtual solution. There's a ton of options and lots of free apps to consider. The good thing is that being virtual you can create and refer back to your notes anytime and anywhere. This can be super helpful while doing research or writing while you sun in Hawaii or wherever.


Playwright Neophyte I am still plugging through this information and pondering.

Shan C.

Aaron keeps cracking me up, I would like to work in an industry with his kind of people.

Joan H.

"Write what you like and write for yourself." Loved this...I have tossed so many pages trying to write what I think I "should" write.

Starla B.

I love how many times Aaron says he feels like he wants to hit his head against the wall, haha. This is how I feel on the daily, so it's good to feel like I'm not writing any wrong way.

Guy N.

Wow - just wow. I can't wait to do a rewrite because I see my story with so much more clarity. Well done to Aaron and young screenwriters.

A fellow student

Thank you for revealing your thinking and how you handle blocks. I do some of those things and thought they were silly. Didn't want others to know that I did them in case they laughed, but they had value in terms of making one feel positive with energy to continue.

Grady O.

Haha, I do literally, literally the exact same thing as mentioned in "Listen to Music". Except it's not the 405; I live in rural New Mexico, so my highway is 82.

Larry M.

Loved this section - especially the last part. I think if you tried to explain what it's like to a non-writer (and I have), you'll get nowhere. Must be something in our corrupted writer's DNA when it comes to process. I've tried to explain that to so many people - the fence thing is a good example - that when you're a writer, time is no guarantee of producing anything good, and that tons of hours can produce nothing, but ten good minutes and a flash of insight, or the right rhythm of words in a row thrown down on a napkin can elevate your world and make it all worthwhile...well, I guess it's good to know we're not alone in this ;)