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.

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


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.

I really appreciated Aaron's walking me through his process (his good and bad days). He made me feel like I am a writer and on the right path.

I am very happy to learn that I was on the right track all along and its ok to fail and ok to take two years to write! I feel much more confident and empowered to write and determined to succeed!

I love to imagine and I have ideas but to Penn it down I need to know how to write. .I am learning and will start writing.

Learnt a great deal from the exercises as well as observing your thought process in the group workshops. Thank you.



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.

Tara Jade B.

"That's what every writer is thinking: that they are fulling everybody." LOL

Tara Jade B.

He says it so well: "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." :))) Spot on!

Tara Jade B.

18 to 24 months! Oh, yes, thank you, Aaron! This makes me feel so much better! :)))