Writing Goals: 2014 [Part 1] — Looking Back

December 16th, 2013 by

I thought I would reprise something I did this time last year at GITS with the hope it would benefit as many of you as possible in taking concrete steps forward next year with your writing aspirations. It’s a very simple thing, really — setting goals — but for many, if not most people, it is an invaluable part of their creative process. You can go here to read some background on why setting goals is important and how to be S.M.A.R.T. about it.

You may be someone who likes to set goals. Or someone who hates it. Maybe you’ve never really tried to formalize the process.

Whatever your inclinations or prior experience has been, I encourage you to try it for 2014. Three big reasons why:

#1: With all its distractions, life has a way of dissipating our positive energy. We may have some general sense of what we’d like to accomplish, but the mere fact we live with the gigantic time-suck that is the Internet, that alone has a way of squandering countless hours of time when we could be writing. One of the best ways I know to deal with this natural tendency toward dissolution of focus is to take a definitive stand: Declare your intentions, and stay fixed on those goals every day.

#2: If you remember Script Girl, her tagline offered one of the most fundamental truths about the screenwriting business there is: “You can’t sell it, if you don’t write it.” You have to finish that script. In fact, to maximize your chances at success, let me amend that last statement: You have to finish those scripts. As in plural. The more scripts you write, the more you understand the craft, the better you get as a writer, and the more you prepare yourself for a possible career as a screenwriter. Plus you have more content to show to agents and managers. And each of those scripts represents a story you can sell potentially. But if you don’t write them… cue Script Girl.

#3: There’s an anecdote I believe in William Goldman’s memoir “Adventures in the Screen Trade,” still perhaps the best book about screenwriting even twenty plus years after its publication. As I recall the story, Goldman was friends with a top NBA basketball player, a man renowned for the amount of time he spent practicing. Even after he had become a successful professional athlete, he was the kind of guy who would be shooting jump shots in a lonely gym after midnight. Goldman asked him, “Why do you practice so much.” The player’s answer: “Because when I’m not practicing, someone else is.” The screenwriting version: If you’re not writing, someone else is. Screenwriting is an incredibly competitive field. To give yourself an edge over the competition, you simply have to spend time — a lot of it! — writing.

Three reasons for you to be serious about setting writing goals for 2013. I’m sure you could provide even more.

With that as a frame, here is what I’m thinking about this Writing Goals series: I will share my own year-end process with you. Not only that, at some point I will make a public declaration what my writing goals are for 2014. I’m hoping at least some of you will have the courage to do likewise.

Again just to be clear, all I’m trying to do is to motivate you to be productive next year, the same spirit as the Go On Your Own Quest initiative.

Thus each day this week (Monday-Friday) and as well as next week, I will be posting something about setting goals as well as tips and inspirational observations to achieve them, sharing my own process, and inviting any of you to join in.

Today: Looking Backward

An important first step in setting writing goals is to look back at what you accomplished in the last twelve months. If you’ve achieved a lot, great. By reviewing your accomplishments, you can use that as a springboard to propel you into the New Year. You can also assess what you’ve done to provide a logical transition from these projects this year to the ones you choose to write in the upcoming year.

On the other hand, if you look back at this year and realize you did not get nearly enough done on the writing front, that should serve as motivation as well. You don’t want to let another year slip by without making significant progress, correct? All the more reason to try establishing some simple, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely goals for 2014.

Looking back at my year:

* I wrote and uploaded over 2,000 posts on GITS including new series such as 30 Things About Screenwriting, If You Are a Beginning Screenwriter…, Studying Aristotle’s “Poetics”, and Writing and the Creative Life.

* I did a special 20-part Business of Screenwriting series called Everything You Wanted to Know About Specs.

* I conducted dozens of interviews with screenwriters which I serialized on the blog including all of the 2012 Nicholl Fellowship winners, numerous writers whose scripts have made the Black List, plus several writer-directors of indie movies, my continuing effort to Declare Your Independents.

* I ran The Quest Initiative for the second year in a row selecting 6 writers to work with me for free over a period of 24 weeks, immersing themselves in screenwriting theory and practice, then pounding out the first draft of an original script. In addition, I continued to work with several of the Questers from 2012 on their script projects, moving them toward the marketplace.

* At Screenwriting Master Class, I worked with hundreds of writers in everything from 1-week Core and Craft courses, Prep, Pages I: The First Draft, and Pages II: Rewriting Your Script workshops, and private one-on-one programs including The Quest.

* At the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, I continued to teach screenwriting through the Writing for Screen and Stage program with several of my students successfully launching careers in Hollywood.

* Then there were the countless emails from writers I responded to either directly or sometimes in the form Reader Question blog posts, part of my ongoing attempt to provide whatever insight and advice I can about the screenwriting craft and business, always telling the truth about how damn hard it is to break in as a screenwriter, pushing writers to find their own creative core by watching movies, reading scripts and writing pages, while providing some inspiration based on the fact that if I, a complete Hollywood outsider could make it, anyone can as long as they love movies, have a passion for writing, and are willing to work their assess off.

* On my own writing front, I’m just about done rewriting a $1M indie drama. Plus I’m breaking a mainstream commercial high concept comedy which I’ll be writing next year.

How about you? Why not take the time to look back at your year in writing? I invite you to head to Comments and share with us what you accomplished in 2013. How many scripts did you write? How many story concepts did you generate? How many short stories or poems did you write? Maybe you signed with an agent or manager. Maybe you sold a script. Maybe you started your very first script. Anything you accomplished is worth celebrating, so I encourage you to share that with us so we can celebrate together.

The next step in this process of setting writing goals for 2014: Assessing where you are as a writer. Sit down with yourself and take a critical, honest look at where you are, what you’ve done, and where you want to be. Zero in on finding those areas about which you feel really passionate. That’s where we’ll start when we pick up the process tomorrow.

Bottom line: Set some specific, achievable goals for 2013.

Tomorrow: Part 2 — Assessing Where You Are.

17 thoughts on “Writing Goals: 2014 [Part 1] — Looking Back

  1. […] You may be someone who likes to set goals. Or someone who hates it. Maybe you’ve …read more […]

  2. Debbie Moon says:

    Yaay, Scott! I’m genuinely in awe of how you achieve all this…

    Okay, well… My children’s TV series got renewed for a third season, and was nominated for multiple awards (even won a couple!) It was also shown in a lot of new markets, including the US –

    Which led to me signing with a LA manager! All being well, I’m coming to LA for the first time in the new year (*wibbles in terror*)…

    Perhaps unsurprisingly with all that going on, I didn’t end up producing as many new scripts as I’d hoped. I wrote a TV pilot that’s just been optioned, and a feature screenplay, and I’m determined to finish the vomit draft of another by the end of the year…

    Being British and easily embarrassed, I hate to boast, but I’m grateful for a really good year – and I hope everyone else had an equally productive time!

    1. Scott says:

      For those who will read these comments and not know what Debbie is talking about, her TV series is “Wolfblood”. You may read my interview with Debbie here.

      L.A.! Debbie, you’re going to love it, although there is thing there perhaps uncommon to folks in the U.K. called “sunshine,” so please prepare for that.

      Good luck with all your creative endeavors in 2014!

  3. sharpreef says:

    Hi Scott,

    Major thanks for all the time and insightful posts. I wish I had this resource when I started writing fifteen years ago.

    This year was solid for output and I’m hoping to see returns on that work in ’14. I’m putting the finishing touches on an independent feature that I wrote, directed and shot on an island off the coast of Chile. I feel like we will have something special to share with the world, if we ever finish!

    Approaching the completion on a spec which I’ve been working on for a long time. I did something different with the process this time (my 15th script) that may be of interest to your readers. I paid for professional coverage on drafts in an attempt to gauge where I was along the way. It’s been very encouraging to receive some considers as the script improves. It’s also been humbling to see the detached critisism and reports that are usually only reserved for producers, but I think, overall, that it’s been very helpful in taking the material to the next level. We’re close to the recommend level on scoring and hopefully the new draft will cross that barrier. This process has also made me realize just how subjective this business is. One reader’s major critisism was exactly what another reader found so compelling about the project. In the end, the criticism is valuable, but as writers, we have to trust our gut above all else.

    Thanks again for your generosity and posts. I wish you and all fellow writers a happy and productive New Year.

    1. Scott says:

      sharpreef, thanks for sharing and congratulations on your movie.

      Re script coverage / feedback: Can’t recommend it enough. Even if it’s a writers group, that can be helpful. Obviously it depends on the writers. Short of that, then by all means get some pro feedback. I use them sometimes for my own material, just to see if I’m on target or not.

      The thing is your script is going to be read by professionals at some point, so best to get feedback from the pros to help you know if you’re on track.

      Best of luck on all creative fronts, sharpreef, in 2014!

  4. Paul Friend says:

    Not quite as rock ‘n’ roll as sharpreef and Debbie’s achievements, but this year I finished my first script – even got a few reads after querying. Pretty pleased with that.

    Just finishing up my second effort, with a plan to send out in the New Year. Also had some great ideas to keep me busy over the next 12 months – couple of ideas for Hollywood & something I’d like to submit to the BBC Script Room.

    Good luck to everyone in 2014. Thanks Scott for a great resource – a daily read for me!

    1. Scott says:

      Paul, if you are getting reads from queries, that’s a really good sign. Speaks to the quality of your story concepts and ability to articulate them in a concise and clear manner (read: logline).

      Just. Keep. Writing. A point I stress over and over is it’s not just about the script, it’s about the WRITER. The more you hone your understanding and practice of the craft, the more prepared you will be for the pressures and realities of the daily grind of being a professional writer.

      Good luck to you in 2014! Go Into The Story will be here to support you along the way!

  5. Scott, congratulations! The fact that you still have the time to email us after all that blows my mind and can’t wait to hear more about your progress with your own scripts (amidst inspiring the rest of us writers, glad you are taking time for yourself to pursue what you are passionate about)

    And kudos to everyone who has replied so far!

    In my case, my goal earlier in the year was to have one or being really enthusiastic, two kick-ass scripts complete including one I restarted the previous year – but again, part of the learning process – I am still working on those.

    On the other hand, I have doubled the scripts I am working on to four (along with brainstorming two more) so I have finally learned to stack (yay!).

    I have also doubled the scripts I used to read now (four a week vs. one) and that’s helped me learn how to write better, not to mention finally joining the great blackboard, being inspired by fellow writers and swapping notes with them.

    Perhaps my only disappointment this year is that I am still waiting to reach the final edit stage with at least one of those scripts I am working on… but otherwise this year has been the most educational, writing wise for me, so hope to get there eventually…

    1. Scott says:

      Aarthi, it’s not a rule – I don’t believe in rules – but it’s generally true that the more one writes, the better one becomes. And as noted in a previous response, all of that helps to prepare you for the writing life as a professional. Keep at it and best of luck with all your creative endeavors in 2014!

  6. Markham Cook says:

    Amazing Scott. Congratulations.

    This was a big year for me in some ways, and not so perfect in others.

    On the plus side, I signed with my first agent which was significant not least of all because he’s in L.A. and I’m in Toronto. I did many, many rewrites on the script that caught his attention. It did the rounds to generally positive reviews and I did the “General Meeting” tour of Los Angeles. That was serious fun.

    I developed a story to pitch in the meetings, and it was well received. I’ve spent a good deal of time writing that script this year as well.

    The first script was eventually optioned. Much joy.

    On the flipside, I’ve written less than I hoped to. Maybe I didn’t set as stringent goals as I should have. Maybe it’s fear of delivering something sub-par. Maybe it’s the sophomore jinx. Maybe it’s living thousands of miles from the centre of the movie universe.

    I’ve looked to your site over and over for inspiration and help, and you’ve delivered over and over. And now you’ve delivered again. Today, my birthday, I am setting achievable, realistic, but big goals for the coming year.

    Thank you for everything Scott. And all the best to my fellow writers.

    1. Scott says:

      Markham, congratulations on busting down Hwood’s gates. That is a big accomplishment. As hard as that is, the next steps are right up there in terms of difficulty including developing the work habits and focus to pound out material. Your agent’s best friend is a kick-ass spec script and/or a kick-ass pitch. That makes their job much easier. Of course, the only way to give them those ‘products’ is to create them.

      Have you read this Business of Screenwriting post: The Art of Stacking Projects? There’s also this: One Page Per Day. That combo plate is one way to make oneself more productive.

      And there’s this: A big honking blast of creative juju for you, heading up North to Toronto!

      WHOOOSSSH!

      Best of luck in 2014!

  7. cgusmann says:

    I’ve been writing for a long time and have even had a hand in writing a produced independent feature, but this year was the first year I really committed myself to becoming a screenwriter. I think that step alone counts as a success for me, but if no one minds I’d like to brag a bit.

    This year I completed a spec for the Warner Brothers Writer’s Workshop based on the show “Alphas” and two original feature length scripts. I’m very proud of all three of those. “Alphas,” unfortunately, didn’t advance, and the second script I wrote is in the criticism/rewrite phase. However, the first script I wrote was entered in several contests and did well considering I (naively) entered before it was really ready to be seen. It even made the semifinals of Page International! I’ve since revised it quite heavily and feel like it is in a much better place than when I began entering contests. The Black List 3.0 was an invaluable resource for me to get solid feedback on my script at a reasonable price. I am currently queuing up an original pilot script and another feature for next year. I hope to have both in first drafts by May, but that might be a bit ambitious for me.

    On the screenwriting front this year was pretty good, but prose writing didn’t go well. I was hoping this would be the year I get published, but I was only met with rejections. I have pushed forward, using the motivation that is National Novel Writing Month to begin work on a fix-up novel that has been long gestating. I’m less than halfway through what I think will be the final, but I already have several stories finished that I hope to try and get published early next year.

    My biggest accomplishment this year was becoming more disciplined. I was the type of writer that would only write when “inspired” and rarely go back for revisions. This year I made it a point to write as often as I could and constantly brainstorm. Next year should be even more productive for me just because I’ve gotten myself to the point where I am averaging over 1,000 words per day.

    Finally, I committed myself to blogging about the trials and tribulations I’m facing as an aspiring. The year was full of rejections, but it was also full of lessons learned.

    Here’s to the next year!

    1. Scott says:

      cgusmann, if you are pounding out 1,000 words per day, you are SO on the right track! Just keep doing that. And reading scripts. And watching movies. And devouring books.

      Do I have your blog listed on my links? If not, please email it to me and happy to include.

      Go for it big time in 2014!

  8. Eunique says:

    This year, I decided to stop being afraid of a childhood dream and tackle it instead. I have not accomplished nearly as much as the other commenters, but I’ve started. For that, I’m very proud.

    I am only six pages into my first screenplay, but I’m no longer stuck staring at a blank Celtx screen. I’ve been reading one screenplay a week, watching new movies, rewatching old favorites, reading GITS daily and teaching myself formatting. I am also doing a lot of reading and generally trying to get over this hump of second guessing myself.

  9. bolo boffin says:

    I’m coming in late to this post series, but I’m here!

    My looking back:

    * In order to meet with writers on a night I could actually attended, I started Turtle Creek Screenwriters, a screenwriter group in Dallas, and helped build it up to three meetings a month, breaking down screenplays. It’s got some nice momentum now. Every other Tuesday we discuss our own scripts and once a month we break down a classic screenplay.

    * I attended a Blue Cat workshop for one of my potential scripts. The script is still not finished yet and I didn’t like the workshop, but I did get off my hindquarters and go.

    * I went to the Worldcon in San Antonio for prep on a possible sci-fi series.

    * I worked on two different scripts. Neither are finished, but they are always in my thoughts.

    * I’ve broken down six different classic scripts to various degrees.

    * I’ve worked through a couple of tools I personally like from the Tennessee Screenwriters Association, a story premise worksheet and a thematic premise worksheet, to make them more understandable.

    * I’ve started an original Powerpoint to help find a writer’s personal process for writing. I’ve finished one on character arcs and critical decisions, but the information is from a workshop I saw a few years back. It helped me process the information better, though.

    * I’ve helped give feedback to several people and their scripts – three at the BlueCat workshop, eleven at Turtle Creek.

    So clearly my year has been about positioning myself to help others write more than about my writing. I need to keep that going, but I need to have a stronger emphasis on my writing.

  10. Greg Machlin says:

    Great post, Scott. looking forward to catching up on the whole series. Late w/ this post, but at least 2014’s off to a good start…

    2013 year:
    * Released the comedy webseries WRNG in Studio City, which I co-created, co-wrote, and exec produced. 11 episodes, 19 speaking parts, 5 directors, and bonus content totaling 84 mins of material. Also lots of post-prod. supervision. WRNGinStudioCity.com

    * One of six writer/producers on “On the Rocks,” the multi-cam webseries. 24-min Pilot filmed in June, released in Oct. Kickstarter campaign for $25K successful in November.

    * Wrote 3 drafts of Ep 103 of “On the Rocks.”

    * Wrote and presented two public readings of two different drafts of full-length play “Keith Haring: Pieces of a Life” for Skypilot. Full production of world premiere coming in July.

    * Developed pitch and co-wrote 20-page treatment for “Awesome Quest,” following meeting with production comedy.

    * Rewrote “What the Hell Happened on Page 9?,” half-hour pilot.

    * Short plays: Wrote “Smart Phone” for Theatre Unleashed’s 24-hour play festival, which won their “TUNY” award, and “King’s Gambit” for Skypilot’s anti-bullying play series. Also wrote and directed “Love in the Time of Very Bad Things,” about robots in love.

    * Wrote short film script “Ted.”

    onward!

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