Film & TV

Writing Habits

Aaron Sorkin

Lesson time 15:25 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.

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Aaron Sorkin
Teaches Screenwriting
Aaron Sorkin teaches you the craft of film and television screenwriting in 35 exclusive video lessons.
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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.



Reviews

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

I have learned so many valuable lessons from this class! I always felt like I'm not good enough as a writer and Aaron just brought himself to my eye level to make it clear that nobody ever thinks they are. They just sit and write and fail and write more. Thank you for this amazing boost!

For anyone looking for some great insight into not only screen writing, but writing story in general, this is a wonderful class!

So far, I've just finished lesson 7, I think the course is terrific. The discussions seem to ramble, but that's true in all classes.

Hearing it from an accomplished writer gave me more confidence that it's ok to have days go by when writing is not taking place but instead a lot of thinking and researching along with the need for a great support group of writers in a writing room to bounce ideas off of.


Comments

Joyce S.

Whenever I hear Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley I think of West Wing... <3

Jess J.

Hi everyone! Message from the MC Community team -- make sure you join Aaron Sorkin's Class Community! There you can discuss writing techniques and other class material, network with other students, trade tips and reviews, and stay up to date on class contests & activities. Link here: https://community.masterclass.com/c/film-tv/as-workbook Also, FYI! We recently launched a contest to win 2 tix to Sorkin's latest screenplay adaptation on Broadway, To Kill A Mockingbird. Learn more and enter here: https://community.masterclass.com/t/contest-win-tix-to-aaron-sorkin-s-latest-broadway-show-to-kill-a-mockingbird/35249 Contest closes this Sunday, Nov 24 at 10pm PT. Can't wait to see your submissions!

A fellow student

Refreshing. Honest description of the relationship between research, fermentation and writing.

Jennifer

Another great lesson! I enjoy listening to music as well when I write and to get inspired to write. I will definitely use index cards to help me stay organized and motivated. Whatever you choose to do, all of the hard work, sweat and tears will be worth it in the end.

Coach T.

I am sure everyone approaches ideas differently. I have a project, my baby, that I have researched and want to write it. My problem is that I want to write more before I write my baby. So I am almost halfway through the screenplay of a romantic comedy type that has a lot of my own experiences at the core, so it is easier to write. I don't know if that makes any sense, but writing this screenplay, with all the mistakes, roadblocks, and other bumps will hopefully make me better prepared to write my baby.

A. Giovanna

He makes me feel like I'm not alone. I always feel terrible when I'm not writing. He makes me feel less terrible.

Katharina R.

"The most of that time is spent in thinking and being depressed" Glad to hear that it also (and still) happens to experienced screenwriters. I love you :D

Sophie C.

"On the days when you don't write, for whatever reason, you feel demoralised. But when you write, and when you write something good, you feel like you can fly." So true! So much good information to absorb.

James S.

This helps SO MUCH. I've been pressuring myself to get on top of a project because i need 5-7 projects to put on a creative Resume for my college application by next February and I'm at 1. I've stared at my screen for HOURS just to try and get something put down.

Brandon S.

It was relieving to hear someone as talented as Mr. Sorkin to state that he too struggles with having days where he doesn't write anything. That is something that has played a huge part in my lack of self-confidence because I believed that because this occurs sometimes more often than not that I was a failure. Thank you for the encouraging words Mr. Sorkin definitely needed that reassurance.