They all say practice makes perfect. But does it help you become a better screenwriter? Maybe there’s another issue here that you need to address if you are going to succeed in movies or TV.

The Guardian’s Matthew Syed has written an article How practice does make perfect which gives a number of examples of studies from General Electric to Stanford University. They all show that sticking to the job is one of the best ways to improve performance.

But hold on: surely it’s also a matter of what we practice, and how?

I could spend 100,000 hours trying to put up a shelf and never succeed. Why? Because I need someone to show me how. Practising the wrong way to do something will just get me really good at doing it wrong.

Practice doesn’t make perfect – it makes permanent.

Many screenwriters keep making the same mistake over and over again, because nobody told them any better. Or suggested a more useful way to learn.

Perfect practice makes perfect.

Here’s some random suggestions for better practising. These exercises take you outside your script to give you a new perspective:

  • Read a script. Take a scene from it and copy its shape and structure exactly but in your own words, with your own characters and situation.
  • Go somewhere. Set a scene in this real location, then bring in an invented character and see how they interact with the environment.
  • Describe a real person you know very well, and put them in a totally fictional setting.
  • Write a line of dialogue. Write a response (or lack of one). Keep on going. Watch what appears.
  • Now take all that dialogue and see how much you can convey by cutting it out and creating visuals instead.

So, don’t just slog away at that script. The quality of your practice is as important as the length. Step away from time to time. Get good advice and good tuition. And find some fun ways to keep fresh and sharpen your game.

Perfect.

If you’re interested in doing more of this, check out my next workshops which give you a chance to practise the full range of techniques – fromfirst draft to final pitchclick here for details.