Film & TV

Writing a Script: Effective Habits

Shonda Rhimes

Lesson time 11:52 min

Writer's block? No time? Shonda breaks through the myths of writing and details how exactly she gets her writing done.

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So to me, a lot of what writing is, is very much like being a runner. If you don't run every day, running is incredibly hard. Those muscles do not know what they're doing. If you exercise those muscles, those muscles have muscle memory. So if you run every day running becomes a lot easier, right? It's the same with writing. So to me I always have this idea of writing as being like there's a long hallway to the door, where when the door opens that's when I access the place where it is to just easily get to the creative space. Until I get to that door, I'm basically just sitting at my desk staring at the wall, feeling really bitter and sorry for myself. And to me, when I think of that hall, if you're jogging down that hall trying to get to that door, the hall is incredibly long and it's filled with candy and pictures of Idris Elba and phone calls I need to make and television shows I need to watch and times I need to sit around and feel sorry for myself. And then finally, you get to the door and it takes forever. But the more I go down that hall, the less interested I am in the food and the Idris and the phone calls and the pity. And I get to the door faster and faster and faster. Until now, because I do it every day and the muscle memory is really there at honed, I get to that door immediately. So it's not a big deal trying to get to the door anymore. Because like a runner, I'm like perfectly fit mentally in that sense as a writer. And it's the same as being a sprinter or something. I'm good to go. That's what it should be like for people. It should be that if you're exercising that muscle you can get there faster and faster. So the discipline actually has a point. It's helpful. [MUSIC PLAYING] I used to think that there was like a special magic golden hour in which I wrote better than any other time. But that time keeps changing, so I no longer think that that's true. It used to be that I wrote the best at night. It had to be midnight and everybody was asleep and the world felt silent. And now I wake up at 5:00 AM and I get a lot of writing done. But I also write really well in the middle of the day at the office. What's happened is really, is that I started writing while wearing headphones with music blasting in my ears. And now as long as I am wearing headphones with music blasting in my ears, I can write at any time of day, anywhere. Any place becomes my office as long as I have those headphones on. And that is the greatest gift I have given myself. Not purposely, but like some sort of Pavlovian animal, as long as I have headphones, on I can write. What I think is interesting about playing the music in my headphones, and this is just a theory I have, I have no idea if it's true. I think a lot of people think, oh, she listens to music and it inspires her in this way or that way. I don't think so. I think th...


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It is difficult to quantify what I have learned. There is so much valuable information in this class that can benefit everyone--not just screenwriters. Shonda is an amazing person with exceptional talent as well as a great educator!

This masterclass was amazing! Shonda is a great communicator and she teaches me a lot of techniques. Through her experience she help aspiring screenwriter to understand how to thinking, how to procede, and how to motivate the talent. Thank you Shonda, thank you Masterclass. Gianpiero

Thank you for an informative and inspiring class.

Shonda left no stones unturned in the prolific insight into the art of writing .


Comments

A fellow student

I know what you are saying is absolutely true. For twenty years I wrote on assignment and had several projects going at once. It was crazy, but I had no problem getting them done. Now, I'm struggling to edit a novel. I need to give myself permission to shift gears. It's funny that you mentioned the headphones. They've worked for me too. I have a playlist of soundtracks. Once I get in the "flow" I don't even hear them, but as you say, they keep out those other thoughts. (Yours and mine are the same, btw.)

A fellow student

I really liked that last comment about "not feeling like your following the rules". I find it very reassuring. I published three novels (in Hebrew), and they are sort of different from one and other, and now I am trying to develop a drama. Sometimes I do feel like I'm not doing it right, like I'm supposed to have more control over my creativity, and not let it run around and control me. but that is the creative process. I find her words here deeper then they seem.

Georgette T.

What music do you listen to Shonda when you write? I love that idea to help you focus...

Marcus M.

It is great how much of this applies to other areas. As a musician, I feel like I have to make at least one piece of music a day. Usually this happens before I go to sleep. Sometimes it is on my commute to and from work...

Leisa J.

I’ve been practicing journaling daily which is a lot different from writing a script everyday. I’m reminded how important it is to tell a great story and from what person.

EK T.

The 1-3-5 structure template published by Final Draft is a great method for preventing writer's block. It is great for feature length film. (Doesn't work as well for TV). The program forms scenes into index cards, and has a feature that allows the writer to assign voices to each character, to read the scenes aloud while you write.

Mikaylynn W.

I have discovered for me, conquering writers block is to journal everyday. It takes the pressure off me getting defeated when I dont write my best work and it allows me clear my head. Something else that has been working for me is approching my writting with an agenda and give my all when I write anything because its all practice. I loved that Shonda said switch in between projects, it works. I'm definitely working on figuring out where and how I work best to where the words just flow out of me.

Donald E.

New knowledge fuels me., Lagos Wearing headphones is one of the habits I often utilize when writing, especially a scene that I feel like the whole dialogue is ready in my mind. It works for me in the sense that external noise can just distort the lines in the way I want them to flow. Funny, but great that that helps the process individually and Shonda has hers.

Mary Louise D.

I have never had writers block - have been writing in one form or another since I was 8 (wrote a novel at 8, toured on poetry I wrote 9-11, ....) But I do a lot of editing to get me in the mood and into the voice when I start a session, and then I am transported into a world/the world of the current story. If I don't know what is next it means I haven't researched enough. Anyway, I was intrigued when Shonda said what she did about not believing in writer's block. I agree!

Jonathan S.

ON WRITER'S BLOCK There's a great discussion between John Lescroart and John McHugh here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=35&v=X9ucP9cdX7E Near the end they discuss writer's block. But I can save you some time: quit bellyachin' and do your freakin' job. Write! Here are some quotes: I think actually the essence of writer's block is trying to edit while you write. [If somebody says they have writer's block] Well, you know right away they've never been a reporter, but number two, all you have to do if you have writer's block is write one true sentence. And if that doesn't lead you to someplace else, then you're not a writer. So if you came in, let's say, to the sports department and said, "Boss, I'm just not feeling it today." (Holds up a fist.) He'd say, "Would you like to feel this?" Then you're motivated. You can't say, "Oh, I wonder if today I'm going to really write great prose," you know? As it turned out yesterday I did write great prose. Two days ago I wrote awful pros. But you know what? By the time I'm done, and I rewrite them, I don't think I'm gonna be able to tell the difference between the day that felt awful and the day that felt good.