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Film & TV

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.

Learning the craft of screenwriting from one of the best, is its own reward. But in addition to that, when that writer is Aaron Sorkin, a professional who you respect and whose work you admire, tells me to keep doing what I'm doing, it reinforces the fact that I'm on the right track.

Very accessible and comprehensive. Interesting outlook on writing and film. A heap of case studies and relevant tasks to complete which have helped me

more structure in assignments and partnering up people to complete them OR more assignments that don't rely on finding writing buddies within the community.

Always great learning from the best. Understanding more about what it takes and how to approach writing in general. I have a few scripts I'm working on and now have a better idea in terms of direction and preparing for different parts of my career when the time comes.


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 ;)