So you’ve finished your draft. Kudos, mazel tov, congratulations. It’s a heady rush and your instinct might be to send it off into the world. Wait. Don’t query that agent, don’t post it to that forum or subreddit, don’t enter that contest, don’t even bug your friends with it. Resist that temptation. Your work is newborn, vulnerable, unready. Sending it off now would be like sending a toddler to fight Floyd Mayweather.
Look, I get it. I’ve been there. My fondest memory is of the time I finished my first script. I was one month shy of my 16th birthday and I was so proud. In retrospect, it’s pretty freaking terrible. It was a 128-page, exhaustively researched World War One script, and the characters spend a lot of the scenes reminding each other that it is indeed 1914. Teenage me rushed to mail it off to William Morris Agency. They were not receptive, nor should they have been. (an agency, which, like mail, used to be a thing). Here’s what I should have done.
1. Let the draft sit.
Give some time between completion and your reread. 2 weeks or more, if possible. Put it in a desk drawer, give yourself some time so you can come at it with fresh eyes. Give yourself time to forget how hard a scene was to crack, or how madly you’re in love with that unnecessary third character. Writing is a labor of love. You’ve done that. Now is a time for cold-eyed emotional distance.
2. Think about where you want your career to go.
Be honest. This answer influences the next project you write. “I want to direct my own film and put it on the festival circuit,” merits a different project than “I want to get into the NBC Writers on the Verge fellowship,” or “I want to write a gritty spec that gets a mid-level agent,” or even “I want to sell a spec for a million dollars and never work again,” (good luck with that one). Once you have your goal determined, it’s easier to visualize the project that helps you accomplish it, be it an original pilot, a spec episode of Modern Family, a commercial feature spec, or a weird indie.
3. Start thinking of next projects.
Keep a pad with you and jot down ideas for screenplays. These may come from dreams, conversations, newspaper headlines, or troubling memories from the past. Start putting these ideas into your trusted filing system. Don’t rush into the nitty-gritty of outlining/writing too quickly.
4. Get re-inspired
You’ve drained a lot of your good ideas into your draft. Now it’s time to recharge the imagination. Watch movies that made you love film, projects in the genre you’d like to write next, or movies in a genre you’re not familiar with. Read a book. Literacy (both filmic and in the book sense) gives sustenance to the imagination. You’ll have new ideas to merge together in interesting ways. Collect ideas for your rewrite. Record and file them so you’ll have them at hand when you’re ready to use them.
5. Reread the damn thing.
Many writers seem to fear rereading there work. It may be out of a fear of discovering that their amazing draft is only “pretty good,” or it may be from a knowledge that rereading a project inevitable reminds us of all the work you still have to do. I’ve had clients who’ve rewritten the same script sixteen times, but never had a clear idea of exactly what scenes and characters were in it. Reread the script, make notes, and jot down a brief synopsis. Compare this to your original outline and make adjustments. It’ll come in handy in the inevitable rewrite.
Finishing a script is a milestone, but a minor one. It’s important to acknowledge the accomplishment without being blinded by it. Once you’ve done these things, now is the time to share it with a few trusted friends, or a screenwriting coach/teacher/service (these cost, but they save you from burning out the goodwill of your friends, which is very, very finite).