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Is Perfectionism Ruining Your Screenplay? 9 Tips

1. Don’t compare your writing with Quentin Tarentino’s. 

perfectIf you fall into the category of so-called “neurotic perfectionists,” (and I feel that all writers share some of these traits), you may be thinking in black and white.  That is  like, “I’m either a total success or a complete failure. There’s nothing in between.”

Don’t start off comparing your screenplay with “Pulp Fiction.” You’ll come up short. You’ll feel like a “failure.” Remember there are six million shades of grey.

2. Don’t just sit down at the computer and start writing.

It’s overwhelming. Break your overall goal into small, doable (preferably one day) projects. Start with a character description. What is the protagonist like? Then, day two, what is the antagonist like? Write a brief plot summary, with a beginning, middle and an end.

Then flesh out act one. Give act one a beginning, middle and an end. Make sure it sets up the major characters, with character arcs.  Remember characters change through conflict.  Don’t rewrite randomly, stick to the plan.  Allow the characters to grow.

3. Make lots of mistakes.

As a creative professional, you’re going to make mistakes. You’ve got to take risks if you’re going to be original. Without risk, when you play it safe, everything turns out bland. Bland characters. Bland story. And so on. No surprises.

You’ve got to be willing to try something new. You’ve got to be willing to make mistakes.

4. Don’t be perfect. Be yourself.

Find your voice. Don’t try to painstakingly craft perfect dialogue. It’ll seem stilted. You want conversational dialogue. How does it sound to your ear? Keep it natural, but not boring.

Stay authentic.  Steal from real life. Pattern characters after people you know.  Write dialogue that’s entertaining and feels real.  If you write what you know, you’ll have a lifetime’s worth of original ideas.

5. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Some of my writing clients will write a sentence, and then start rewriting. They’re not following a plan. They’re not moving on.  They’ll rewrite that sentence six different ways.

Don’t get hung up on details. Perfectionists tend to over-write everything. Remember, it’s the whole screenplay that matters, not every word. Keep the big picture in mind while you’re writing. But don’t get overwhelmed.  And don’t obsess over every decision, you’ll make yourself crazy.

6. Don’t be judgmental.

Perfectionists write something, then look for flaws. They’re highly critical of their writing, and everybody else’s writing.  The idea here is to take it easy on your friend’s work.  Cut them some slack.  And go easy on yourself.

If you’re less critical of others, you may find yourself being less critical of yourself.  Be kind to yourself.  Don’t judge, yet.  Leave that for the second draft.

7.  Remember, nobody’s born talented.

Some people think talent is something you’re born with.  They feel that you either have talent or you don’t.  You can’t afford to think that way.  You want to think that your writing gets better with time.

The more you practice writing, the better it will be. Keep a journal with you.  When you have time, practice writing scenes.  Practice writing dialogue.

Watch how  people behave.  Observe them in action.  Write down your observations.  How do these people look, dress, and sound?   Write down bits of dialogue.  Your writing will improve.

8.  Don’t take everything personally.

Perfectionists tend to take every setback or criticism personally.  Setbacks are supposed to be part of the process.  For the perfectionist, though, setbacks can stop the process.  They lose confidence in themselves.

Don’t let setbacks kill your enthusiasm.  They’re going to happen.  You want to be resilient.  Set the screenplay aside and come back to it in a better frame of mind.

Don’t give in to the perfectionist’s worst nightmare; thinking your errors are evidence that you “aren’t good enough.” You don’t want to lose interest in the project. You want to take another look at your outline, stay the course, and bounce back.

9.  Trivialize the process.

Perfectionists tend to over-think the importance of their screenplay.  They might see it as the first step in their screenwriting careers.  Their expectations grow. They imagine life as a screenwriter.

All their hopes and dreams rely on writing their first screenplay.  Some perfectionists will never finish one project.  They’ll get bogged down with details.  Especially when it feels like their entire future depends on it.

If you’re a perfectionist and you start off thinking “the rest of my life is riding on this screenplay,” every detail is going to haunt you.  If you say to yourself, “I’m just moving words around on a page” the process becomes less threatening.

The “shitty first draft” is the term Anne Lamott,  author of “Bird By Bird,’ came up with to trivialize the process of writing novels.  You want to think, “it’s just a first draft.”  Furthermore, it’s one of many. There will be dozens, maybe hundreds of screenplays in your future.   So relax.  And keep writing.

If you have been having trouble finishing scripts, or preparing for auditions, or whatever, contact me for a free consult to discuss what you need to do to free up your creativity, just click here.


Image credit: Creative Commons Icon/Logo Design 2014 by LordEfan is licensed under CC By 2.0


Is Perfectionism Ruining Your Screenplay? 9 Tips

David Silverman, MA, LMFT

A lot of careers can really knock you around. The compettiion is fierce, in graphic design, architecture, you name it -- especially in creative careers in Hollywood. Writers and performers get slammed with rejection constantly. If you're going through something -- anxiety, addiction or depression -- I help people like you get through it. And thrive. Let me help you get your dream back on track.

Please check out my website: My story: my brother grew up with a severe case of OCD, and while I just a kid --- in family therapy with him, I witnessed a miracle as he was transformed, and now is enjoying the life he deserves. I went to Stanford University to study Psychology, and USC Film. I've worked in FIlm/TV and experienced high levels of anxiety, and got slammed with rejection myself. I learned how to get through it. Today, I love to help people to regain the lifestyle they deserve.

David Silverman Psychotherapy

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APA Reference
Silverman, D. (2014). Is Perfectionism Ruining Your Screenplay? 9 Tips. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 20, 2019, from


Last updated: 17 Nov 2014
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