7 Writing Tips from Screenwriter Dan Levy

“You have to have the totality of the idea.”

Brock Swinson
3 min readJan 15, 2024

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Photo Courtesy of GQ

Dan Levy, renowned screenwriter and co-creator of Schitt’s Creek and the new film Good Grief, is celebrated for his exceptional work.

His witty and insightful writing on the Emmy-winning sitcom has earned widespread acclaim, showcasing his talent for humor and keen social commentary.

Levy’s contributions to the show have solidified him as a prominent figure in the entertainment industry.

Here’s a few things I learned in my recent interview with Dan Levy

1.

Observation makes the work easier. “As an observer of people, writing felt like an easy outlet to express my curiosity about who people are, how they work, and the flaws and joys of who we are as people.”

2.

Don’t put yourself in a box. “As human beings, we have to laugh to get through things. I’ve never subscribed to the idea that you should only do one thing — only comedy or only drama — that they can’t live together. Life is both drama and comedy living together. That’s what everyday is.”

3.

Personal work will drive you. “It’s a huge commitment of time,” he says of the process. “To sit down and write is an incredibly isolating experience and then to direct, to build something up from the ground, it takes everything you have. It’s such a huge investment of time and energy, emotional energy, physical energy, that if you’re not totally in love with what you’re doing, it’s going to catch up with you.”

4.

You must develop the full idea. “Clarity of focus is so important. If you have it, it allows the multiple hats to feel less overwhelming. You have to have the totality of the idea. If you’ve done that kind of work, while it’s incredibly difficult, it’s not as difficult if I didn’t know the answers to people’s questions.”

5.

Create a trusted inner circle. “While it’s not mentorship, the advice I would give to someone new is not to let your ego stand in the way of involving friends, or people you trust to read things, and don’t let their feedback be met with hesitation. Be open as you possibly can. The conversation is so valuable.”

6.

Focus on the direction you’re pulled to... “Sometimes you get notes and [it’s unclear] if it’s a note in service of the story or a note in service of the sale of the story. You have to pick and choose what you want to do.I’m a subscriber to the idea that we have strong attachments to things we don’t understand but want to understand.”

7.

Actively communicate with your audience. “If we’re a half step in front of the audience, it forces a kind of active communication, active participation, to understand, question and disagree. That’s the exciting dialogue. There are compromises that have to be made for a variety of reasons, but knowing what you want to say clearly enough, ‘I’ll do that but not that’ because it’s softening the edges. That’s the dance.”

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Listen to my full conversation with Dan Levy on SoundCloud, Apple, or anywhere you get your favorite podcasts.

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