Screenwriting : How Long for the First Draft? by Ellecina Eck

Ellecina Eck

How Long for the First Draft?

How long does it take you to finish your first draft? The most common time frame I've heard/read appears to be a minimum of a few months, sometimes as long as a year. But I've also read of a few writers who insist any longer than two or three weeks is wasting valuable rewrite time. What's been your experience, and what are your thoughts on cranking that terrible first draft out as quickly as possible?

Shawn Speake

How much time do you have to write each day, and how much homework have you done on your story?

Lisa Clemens

Usually a few months, though on my first work for hire, I was given a crazy 4 week deadline to produce a first draft!

Ellecina Eck

I can devote most of my days to writing during this summer. And I've beat my story out, refined the logline, taken the essential steps according to the Save the Cat technique. So I feel ready to write. Just wondering about other writers' perspectives and what they feel works best when it comes to their first draft.

Phillip "The Genuine Article" Hardy

The fastest was six days and longest six months.

William Martell

When is my deadline?

Craig D Griffiths

There is a direct correlation between how complete my story is and how long it takes. Sometimes I'll start a draft to better learn my characters and help nut out a the story. I use celtx cards to work on story. I'll sit looking at a cards with nothing working, jumping into script can help dislodge a nugget.

Michael L. Burris

4-6 months but I only write global theme if I do screen and usually keep fresh with a television endeavor or two while doing so. If I were in an isolated work zone all the time it would probably be about half that time if I didn't do more than one television project on the side. Most of my time consumption is research. Writing a 90-120 page first draft without detail work is very easy and a few weeks but not worth it. No exact science to it though.

Jorge J Prieto

First draft for me about two - three months, if I write everyday . I then put it away for same time and come back to it, hopefully with fresh eyes to proof read and rewrite it at same time.

CJ Walley

It's always hard to determine how long a first draft really takes because sometimes you've been pre-writing a story in your head or via notes for a long time.

Fiona Faith Ross

Good question. I will have a first draft of my spec script by the end of August, a total of 12 weeks. This is fast-track on steroids, I know, but I should mention, I have been working on this concept as long-form fiction for five years. I already have masses of material and I knew my characters well before I started. I wouldn't recommend forcing it out like this. Like Jorge, I'm writing it every day (amongst other stuff I have to do). The thing is, it formed my project for an 8-week intensive screenwriting course, and it has been extremely useful for me. I now have a complete beat sheet, and I have to add the dialogue, and address a couple of plot holes and inconsistencies, before I can say "First Draft completed."

Jean-Pierre Chapoteau

It takes me forever to write a feature. I'm talking years. BUT if I have a deadline I'm quick with it. I've spit out a final draft in two months and then placed second in a contest for it. Clearly I need deadlines, or else I'm taking my time...

Anthony Cawood

Unless you have a specific deadline... then surely the answer is, as long as you like ;-)

Allison Chaney

My first screenplay took longer (a couple years) than my second (a few months) and so on. My second TV pilot's first draft took me about three weeks, whereas the first took me many months. That said, you need to get through the first draft, learn structure of what you're writing. The more you write, the faster you MAY get, but it will all depend on your style and your goals. Rewrite is important, but you need to make sure to take time with your story and let the voices get out in the way they want to. It's a very good idea to write an outline or even a treatment first. If you steer away from either these, that's okay, but at least you'll have it with you in rewrite, and it will help you write faster in most cases too.

W. Keith Sewell

Now, I try to do a 3 - 5 page outline, to keep things structured and on path. I'll write up the 'tentpole' scenes in detail, individually, and after a little backstory on my principles - dive into the 1st draft... If I'm writing everyday, 1st draft will usually take anywhere from 2 -3 months, or should... Lately, I've been too distracted with marketing, and networking, this could be a detriment to your writing. You can lose a lot of time and continuity by not writing something everyday... So now I concentrate on my writing and try and stick to a self-imposed sked. At least 3 hrs a day or 3 pages...

Philip Sedgwick

Let's say you have a well-developed beat outline. And that you can write 2 hours a day on average and in two hours you can rough out 5 pgs. So, if you were to write a 110 pg script in rough draft that would be 22 days of two hours each. A similar logic line is useful if applying for a work-for-hire project and they want to know how much to come up with a first draft. The polish is another matter.

Leonardo Millán

My first screenplay took about 2 months, but it was fairly easy as it was in my second Language Spanish and adapted from the directors story notes. So it was relatively easy. as time progressed and I learned more about depth, characters and plots (still learning something new that can be applied to the craft). Just a few months ago, an email was sent to me to submit for a project. had one week! So, I punched in my first draft of 122 pages in 4 days. I already had the synopsis and notes, even made changes along the way. Cut scenes, did some work and corrections and was ready by the deadline. It's nice to know I can punch up to 25 pages in one day, when I'm feeling it. So, it really depends on you and how to keep those creative juices flowing! And yes, 1 of my scripts took me almost a year to complete (kept putting it aside).

Ellecina Eck

Thanks for all the input, everyone! It's fascinating reading everyone's different schedules/timelines.

Shawn Speake

You're not done yet? :) Good luck, Ellecina! Finish your draft in TEN WEEKS, and be in touch. I'll help you with a story memo.

Anthony Fertino

My process? I find that writing as much as I can every day without compromising the amount of effort I'll have to put into rewrites and correcting simple errors like grammar and continuity is best. You can write an entire 120 page script in one day flat, but chances are, you'll have to fix a lot. Typically, I take about two weeks per script, between 90 and 120 pages. Take as long as you need to ensure quality balances with quantity, I say =)

Travis Seppala

For a feature, 1-3 weeks. For a TV show episode, 4-14 days. Keep in mind, this is for the SCRIPT... I do lots of outlining/treatments before hand that go through multiple drafts until I know exactly what's going to happen and in what order and just need to figure out the dialogue to go with it.

Jorge J Prieto

Wow, Travis, I hate you, bro. I which I could overthink my scripts like that. I, once an idea enters my head, I worke out the beginning scenes and my climax, for two weeks in my head (sleepless nights, which I hate) but a necessity, then I hit the keyboard and the characters start speaking to me and they just surprise me, but again I which I knew "exactly what's going to happen and in what order" to quote you, it would be awsome, but like CJ says, what ever works for you... The main factor is to write, write, write and re-write. Best of luck to all you fellow writers.

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