The Importance of Writing FAST | Script Revolution

The Importance of Writing FAST

Introduction: 

I'm a pretty fast writer. My current film in production took ten days to write, the previous one took six, and I once attached an Oscar Award Nominated actor to a script I'd written in just three. If you've read my Turn & Burn Screenwriting Guide, you'll know I encourage good planning and a fast pace for anyone who wants to turn pro. In this article, regular contributor Ronika Merl talks about how she finds writing fast fuels her artistic passion, maintains her motivation, and produces better results overall - CJ

I wrote my first feature length script in 3 months. It was shit. So I scrapped it and rewrote it in a week.  

I wrote my second feature length script (89 pages) in 12 hours. 

I wrote my third feature length script (which then went on to become a finalist at the Oscar’s Nicholl Fellowship and a Second Rounder at Austin) in 16 hours. This one had 93 pages. 

I’ve written 15 features. It’s never taken me longer than a week to complete one. 

I am not saying this to show off. I am saying this because there is an inherent advantage to just banging something out. Let’s dive into why and how that is the case. 

WHY

Why would you want to produce something as quickly as possible? Doesn’t the quality go away? Surely, what you produce is going to be shit? 

Yeah. Maybe. But at least you have something. 

I speak to so many writers, I get feedback from so many creatives. And the biggest challenge many face, particularly when it comes to writing is that they tend to over-edit themselves while they’re drafting. They get stuck over a sentence for an hour. Who cares about one sentence? Who - honestly - gives a darn about whether one sentence in a great story works? Whether one line of dialogue could be better...if the story you want to tell keeps you up at night because it’s so awesome. Any story that keeps you up at night wanting to write it, is a story that has the potential to keep people up at night wanting to read/watch it. 

It is that momentum, that spark, that MAGIC you should be focussing on, capturing. And if you interrupt yourself too many times, if you come back to it, leave it, come back to it, leave or - and this is the worst thing you could possibly do - only write when you feel inspired (*shudder* urgh, please… oh god no!), you lose that spark. The story feels disjointed because it IS disjointed. 

Imagine it now: Imagine your favourite movie. Now imagine if you had to watch it scene by scene, with a day or two in between each scene. How in the ever loving f*ck will you ever be able to enjoy that movie?

That’s what I love about screenwriting: it is short-form storytelling. A mid-length script has maybe 20-25k words. An action that lasts a minute of screentime can be conveyed with one sentence if need be. It’s a fast-paced medium. Why would you want to slow yourself by taking breaks in the middle of your writing flow? 

Writing is not like painting, where you have to wait for the medium to dry. We don’t have to wait for a render, we don’t have to go into minute detail like an editor when they’re colour grading. Writing is the first step. Writing is the “getting the marble block out of the mountain so we have something to work with”. Get that thing out of the mountain, then worry about whether it’ll turn into David. 

HOW

Ok. So we have an awesome idea that could really spark something. How, then, do we get it out onto the page within one, maybe two writing sessions?

Two things: 

A, Craft

B, Plan

What is Craft? 

Craft is the confidence, the knowledge that you know what to do. Craft is - if we want to stick with the “David coming out of the marble block” metaphor - the vision that Michelangelo had, and more importantly the muscle memory in his hands  he had that made David appear. Craft is the 10 000 hours a musician has put into practising her instrument before she becomes part of the Philharmonic Orchestra. It’s how Andrew Hozier Byrne becomes Hozier.  

Craft is what the carpenter has when he assembles a few pieces of wood and KNOWS he will be able to turn it into a table. 

And how do you get it? By making a shit ton of tables. Which, again, feeds back into my “write quickly” argument. 

You cannot learn how to write by reading this blog. I’m good, but I ain’t that good. 

You cannot learn how to write by watching YouTube tutorials, by attending Masterclasses, by dreaming about writing. The only thing that will ever be able to give you confidence, that will increase the value and quality of your craft is doing the thing. 

What’s the Plan?

I begin with a one-pager. I write one page. It looks like this: 

There’s a title at the top (or even just a vibe). 

Then, there’s a logline or quick summary. 

Underneath, I write out the entire script. I write scenes I’d love to see, write snappy pieces of dialogue that spark something, and the whole summary of the script. If it takes more than one page, I get queasy. Because if it takes more than one page, I’m already in a “drafting” mindset, not a planning one. So I thwack myself on the hand, and cut back on the writing, and go back to the planning. 

I have to be relentless in this. I can’t stress this enough: If I start “writing” too much at the planning stage, it becomes muddled. I must have a very small, very linear, very concise plan of what has to happen in my movie. That’s not to say that the storyline itself has to be linear - there can be flashbacks, it gets complicated… that’s all fine. But the very premise is this: Something happens, someone does something, someone feels something, things conclude. That has to fit on a page. 

And now we come to the best part. The part that I love the most. The part that really gets me excited. And the part everyone always yells at me about. That’s why they all think I’m a weird writer. 

See… if I don’t LOVE the page I’ve just written… If I don’t WANT to go into a 24 hour writing frenzy that will make me forget how to breathe and leave me dehydrated and starving… I don’t. 

I don’t write anything I wouldn’t finish in one fell swoop. I don’t put that effort in. I have about 50 of these one pagers floating around. Sometimes, I pick one up to see if I can make it work - and sometimes I do! Sometimes, months after the initial idea, I’ll come back to a one pager and all of a sudden it clicks. 

There is no sunken cost fallacy if you’ve never sunken any cost in!

Armed with craft, armed with a plan, you can now begin to write the thing you wanted to write. Write it quickly, don’t edit yourself while you write. The result is more than likely a bit shit. And that’s awesome. Because then you can go and edit out the shitty bits and love the good bits. 

CONVICTION.  STRUCTURE.  DEADLINE 

In order to create a good narrative, therefore, I need these three things: 

I need to have conviction. My one pager needs to knock my socks off. I need to LOVE the story. I need to think it’s the best thing ever. 

I need to have structure. I need to know the story, need to know everything there is to know about it. 

I need to have a deadline. Because if I don’t have it done in a certain time frame, I allow myself to move on. I allow myself to recycle it at a later point when the story and me click more. 

The block David was carved from went through the hands of lots of artists. All of them tried to do something with it, but none of them succeeded. Until a burly young man took one look at it. He had two things: he had the know-how and he had a plan. The result… you know all about.

About The Author

Ronika Merl's picture
Real name: 

Having placed highly in both the Nicholl Fellowship and the Austin Film Festival in 2019, I have since expanded my slate significantly. My feature scripts range from drama to fantasy to action, and are always centered around women like me: real, honest, heartbroken, and heartbreaking. My latest drama "BlackBird", which is a reflection on my own journey from human trafficking towards a brighter future, has been optioned and is in the early stages of independent preproduction.Read more

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