Writing Solo


Recently, I talked about writing partners, but this time out, let’s get into writing solo. I prefer writing by myself these days. Not because writing partners are bad or anything. In fact, they’re great if you’re partnered with the right person or people.

On my current project, I have an idea that I need to get down and writing solo is the best way to bring it to the page. Any outside input would distract and slow me down. I workshopped the idea before I began writing with my Skype collaboration group. They gave me some great ideas. And then, I needed to go off and write.

Melisandre knows all about flying solo

Conquer your demons before they conquer you. Photo Courtesy: HBO

The Night Is Dark and Full of Errors

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot from running into stop downs and roadblocks even though they suck big time. I don’t know if this happens to you, but many times along the way, I find myself wondering if I should be writing a particular storyline or if a character is working. Or if the structure is wonky. Or that my outline isn’t working out or I’ve veered from it and now I’m in the weeds. Or that old familiar demon, maybe I should have been an accountant, fire fighter or goat farmer.

Pretty much all of these have happened in the past two weeks. Most times I find that I need to stop second guessing myself and questioning the universe and get up and take a break. Or write one sentence or piece of action or character dialogue and then call it a day. Simple as that. Stuck and stopped are part of the gig.

We all approach the process differently, so maybe you have other methods. Whatever gets your out of your head and away from the boat anchor of blockage is great.

The last thing I let myself do is panic. Not going to lie, I still panic but with a lot of experience and a decade of seeing that panic is a waste of time, it rarely happens. Every time, that feeling comes on, I tell myself, panic doesn’t write screenplays.

Discipline with Wiggle Room

I have a set writing schedule but I’m not legalistic about it. I’ve learned that if I force it some days, I end up writing a bunch of pages I have to cut out later. I can’t write by page count, either. It just doesn’t work. I’m not handing this to a professor for a grade. I’m trying to tell the best story I can.

I don’t always write every single day during a project, but I do spend time nearly every day thinking about the project. I also research something that I didn’t get to in the beginning. It also saves me from falling into a dark pit of tail chasing.

Having said that, I don’t wait for inspiration to strike. When it’s time to write, I write.

Medusa Clash of the Titans

Unless you like turning to stone, don’t look back to the top of the script. Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros.

Don’t Look Back, Seriously, Don’t Do It!

We’ve all heard this one and it really does work for me. Most of my writer friends live by this motto. Do not go back and reread from the top of the script before you start new work.

Hey, if that works for you, don’t let me tell you otherwise. But I gotta tell you, this was the source of a lot of the panic and work stoppage for me in the past.

If I’m taking the right time and moving steadily followed, I find that I can get to the end of the draft without too much self-torture. I have to fight myself on the regular from going back and reading from the top or several scenes back. Mostly, I just don’t do it.

If I truly need to augment the outline a little, I will. But only if it’s taking me in the direction I’m headed. No huge swings allowed. This is how westerns turn into vampire movies.

Issa Rae from Insecure

Issa’s most trusted advisor is Issa. Photo Courtesy: HBO

Talk To Yourself

Do any of you do this? I do it all the time. If you walked into my office at any point during writing days, you might think I’ve lost my mind. But, no, it’s just me having a little talk with myself.

I run ideas by myself. I talk to characters. I give myself pep talks. I tell myself jokes. I’m a tough room. I don’t usually laugh.

When I’m walking the dog, I put in my ear buds so that passersby think I’m having a conversation with someone. I love technology. Because back in the day, talking to your murderer character while taking a walk didn’t go over so well.

Hearing yourself out loud can do many things. For me, I can jar myself out of a hole. Talk me out of something of a bad decision. Or talk me into giving a character another chance or deciding when he or she will most certainly die. I also remind myself not to retread or over think things I’ve mentioned above.

Audrey Tautou in Amélie

In a tight spot? Give someone a quick call. Photo Courtesy: Miramax

You Can Always Phone a Friend

If you’ve decided to write solo, you don’t have to force yourself to stay there if it’s not working. But before you go in search of a partner, it’s completely fine to talk out a problem with a trusted friend. I will call a writer friend and we’ll talk through a problem several times during a particularly tough project.

Sometimes, I just need that second brain for a minute to help me work through a hard push. Choose this person wisely. You don’t want someone to derail you.

I also get these calls from my writer friends so I know what to say and what not to say for the most part. I listen carefully to the issue and see if I need to add anything or simply encourage them to keep going. I do not take their project in a brand new direction. This is how rom coms turn into documentaries.

I also bounce things off of my husband, who is not a writer but has amazing instincts. He has zero interest in highjacking the story. He tells me if something is interesting or not. He doesn’t tell me how to fix an issue unless I ask. I rarely ask. Many times, I just monologue and he nods his head. He knew I just needed to talk to myself with an audience.

Love What You’re Doing

I’m not talking about the project. Although you should certainly try to enjoy what you’re working on. We’ve all had to write something that maybe we weren’t completely into. Those bills are not going to pay themselves. No, what I’m suggesting is that you love why you’re here, writing and creating worlds, building characters, and all of the madness in between.

It’s pretty much part of our collective to dread writing some days. It’s lonely. It’s thankless. It’s so very quiet. Even if you’re blasting speed metal while you write, you’re in there by yourself.

Some writers are not like that at all. I had Jenna Milly, our editor here at ScreenwritingU, on our podcast last year and she said something that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. I asked her if she ever dreaded writing. She didn’t even let me finish the end of the word “writing” before smiling and saying, “I love it. I love the blank page. I can do anything I want.”

It changed my attitude on the spot. I realized that I love writing as well, even on the days that it sucks because you’re lost or your character won’t cooperate or you’ve got the flu and a deadline. I love all of it.

The end result matters, sure, but for me, it’s not the thing that I most enjoy. I actually enjoy this.

Mahershala Ali and Alex R. Hibbert in Moonlight

You got this. Photo Courtesy: A24

You Can Do This

I know it’s cool to be an asshole these days, but I believe in encouraging other people. Even my super successful friends need to be told now and again that they can push through a challenge and that it’s going to be all right. You got this.

I’ve had a lot of days where I wanted to abandon a project and even take a break for a long time. Price out some goat farming acreage up north. Don’t. Just don’t. Keep at it. Rarely, are we masters out of the gate. I have never been. I’ve come to the end of a script after many passes and maybe it’s not the best thing I’ve ever written but I finished it. And that always feels good. We only get better when we don’t stop.

Why do you like writing solo? Share your tips and experiences with us in the comments.


Lisa Waugh worked her way through six years of a state college and then decided to work only one job in radio as opposed to three to get a degree that would help her land a job in… radio. She then moved onto TV news, then cable news, and then a fun-filled place that made cartoons. There was a ghost involved. She’s been paying the bills as a writer for over two decades. Screenwriting, copywriting, script doctoring, tons of web content for startups that are digital dust by now, joke writing, and a lot of entertainment writing, mostly about TV. She loves writers and wants to see them succeed because writers rock.

18 Replies to "Writing Solo"

  • comment-avatar
    Paul Bright August 24, 2017 (7:33 am)

    You could get acreage up north and still write. One doesn’t preclude the other, though you won’t make fortuitous contacts. Goats rarely negotiate film deals.

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh August 24, 2017 (7:54 am)

      So very true. And they want too much off the front end. I’ve often thought of combining goat farming, tax prep, and writing.

  • comment-avatar
    Paddy August 24, 2017 (8:00 am)

    So Lisa, you know I love you! Thanks – that was the best ever. Some people know themselves too well. You see, I love to collaborate – I’m really good at it. But I have been putting off this theatre project because it doesn’t need anyone else. Not-no-more! I’m going to partner with myself for the next 40 days and coax the first draft! It’s time.

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh August 24, 2017 (8:08 am)

      Back atcha, Paddy. Go rock out that draft!

  • comment-avatar
    David M. Stamps August 24, 2017 (8:08 am)

    It’s so very important to keep going! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten to the end of a project and just felt good for having completed something that I’ve started. And I always reward myself once the project is complete. It gives me something to look forward to. Great article Lisa. Keep it up!

  • comment-avatar
    Ken August 24, 2017 (9:30 am)

    Christopher Hitchens once said, “if you feel like writing is something you have to do, you’ll be just fine.” I couldn’t agree more.

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh August 24, 2017 (6:32 pm)

      Yes! Thanks for that one, Ken.

  • comment-avatar
    Francisco August 24, 2017 (9:33 am)

    Hi Lisa — Wow! I am not always the most confident writer and I hope I remember this sentence when I am hard on myself or am lazy about writing — “We only get better when we don’t stop.” Thanks for that sentence. I think i’ll make a postcard of it and glue it next to my keyboard. Truly encouraging. Thanks.

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh August 24, 2017 (6:31 pm)

      Thanks, Francisco! It works for me. I hope it works for you as well.

  • comment-avatar
    Denice Hughes Lewis August 24, 2017 (2:43 pm)

    I’ve written by myself and with a partner or partners. I love both, if the partners are committed. The best thing about writing alone is the freedom it allows. I can write at midnight, 4 a.m. , or noon any day of the week without having to wait on someone else.

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh August 24, 2017 (6:30 pm)

      Probably one of the best things, Denice. Excellent point. I also don’t think a writing partner wants to see me in my Goonies t-shirt and ratty sweats.

  • comment-avatar
    Ron August 24, 2017 (2:51 pm)

    Thank you for the article. Honest and from the gut. I have written and published 2 books and at the completion of the second felt as if I were unstoppable. Now… I find myself jumping from one project to the next without completing a single one. In other words, getting stuck happens to everyone – unless your initials are SK! Maybe it’s because we sometimes have to live with a story before we can commit to putting it down on pages. As long as it’s in my head it’s malleable like Play-do, a thing I can play with, but once it goes down it feels like stone. Just a thought. Again thanks Lisa you rock.

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh August 24, 2017 (6:28 pm)

      “Maybe it’s because we sometimes have to live with a story before we can commit to putting it down on pages.” Yes! This! Thank you, Ron.

  • comment-avatar
    Jan Powell August 25, 2017 (7:08 pm)

    Lisa! Yes, that was chock full o’ wisdom, but it was also sheer pleasure to read. Keep blogging please!

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh August 25, 2017 (7:13 pm)

      I will never put myself out there as any kind of expert, Jan. But I do enjoy holding up writers. We need each other. Thank you for enjoying my stuff. Have a lovely weekend and week ahead and beyond.

  • comment-avatar
    Francesco Emmanuel August 26, 2017 (8:10 pm)

    Loved this article! It was inspiring, down right funny and honest. Thank you.

    • comment-avatar
      Lisa Waugh August 28, 2017 (3:44 pm)

      Thanks so much, Francesco!

  • comment-avatar
    Jenny October 11, 2017 (8:45 pm)

    Thanks Lisa, I also talk to myself when I am writing/stuck in a hole. I talk as if I am teaching someone completely new ” what is happening in this scene” and it often unwittingly jars out nuances that I was unaware of in my messy brain and kick starts something else again i.e. a throw away line like “Shelly knows him, she saved his brothers’ ship!” led to a whole chapter on how this happened and brought out a lot of previously ‘hidden’ plot reveals and intrigue that my brain had hidden from me!

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