Writing Goals: 2014 [Part 4] — Practical Matters

December 19th, 2013 by

In Part 1, we looked back at the Past, what we had accomplished as writers in 2013.

In Part 2, we considered the Present, assessing where we are now.

And in Part 3, we looked at the Future, visualizing where we’d like our writing to take us.

When trying to lock down writing goals, considering all those permutations is necessary, well and good.

However there is this little thing that impacts our plans. You know it, don’t you? That little thing known as Life?

It’s great to generate a list of things we want to accomplish, but if we don’t take into account the realities of our day to day, week to week, month to month existence, the practical matters of Life, then that set of goals becomes… unreachable. And if unreachable, it becomes… dispiriting. And if dispiriting… over time all our story ideas get dispatched to the dead-end land of dust and tumbleweeds… and our writing dreams wither and die.

To avoid that fate, you’ve got to be realistic.

Today: Practical Matters

It’s important to have goals, but you have to be S.M.A.R.T. about it. Once again: Smart, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely.

Aim high. But deal with reality.

You have a job. Maybe you’ve got a second job. Or you’re in school.

You have friends. You have family. Maybe a spouse or a lover.

In other words, Responsibilities. You have them. I have them. And we can’t ignore them when coming up with a plan to reach our writing goals. Otherwise it’s not really a plan, is it, but rather nothing more than a wish list.

As I’ve done for the past three days, let me share my own experience of this writing goals process.

When I look at that S.M.A.R.T. list, the one that opens its jaws and roars at me, desperate to get my attention is this one: Realistic.

I am great at coming up with ideas. I am also great at making the leap. So when I have ideas, I am prone to jump into them.

Part of this is my belief in The Spirit of the Spec. You get an idea. You act on it. You put it out there. My decision to take a break from academics. Accepting an invitation to visit Aspen to see if I could make it as a musician. “I can do that,” my response to a question about if I could write a screenplay (when I had never written one before). The spec script K-9. Taking up teaching part-time. Starting this blog. Partnering with the Black List. Launching Screenwriting Master Class. Doing the Quest Initiative. On and on and on it goes, my life a litany of having ideas and acting on them.

Part of this is the sense of my own mortality. I turned 60 this year. One of my best friends Kurt Brown died suddenly this summer. By actuarial charts, I have precisely 5601 days left on this Earth. I want to make each day count.

And part of this is I am an instinctual person. At critical moments, I go with my gut. More often than not, my gut says, “Go!”

Now that’s all good, of course, with respect to being a self-starter. Combined with being a military brat and having zero aversion to work, along with a pretty good track record for sticking to things and seeing them through to the end, I get a lot done.

The problem is I take on too much.

There. I said it. Yep. I ain’t Superman. I can’t answer all my emails. I can’t say “yes” to every request. I can’t take on every idea I come up with.

The simple fact is one key to setting realistic expectations is to be able to say NO.

In 2014, I am making a commitment to one particular writing project. And in doing that, I’ve got to say NO to some other things. I know this will be hard. I will have to fight my instincts more than once.

But in order to create quality with regard to this particular project, I’m going to have to be extra careful about the quantity of things I do.

Can anyone else relate to this issue? Do you tend to do too much?

The reality is unless you are single, have zero interest in a social life, live like a monk so don’t require much in the way of income, and can afford to write 20 hours per day, you have to figure out a way to handle the requirements of your life and make progress as a writer. Which means whatever writing goals you choose for 2014, they have to be realistic. Be honest with yourself. What of these things can I reasonably expect to accomplish next year?

One big note to remember: It’s not just about writing a screenplay, it’s about becoming a screenwriter. The idea that you would write a first spec script, sell it, then immediately transition into a working professional screenwriter is a flawed end game. You not only need to learn how to write screenplays, but also how to think like a screenwriter, how to work like a screenwriter, how to handle yourself like a screenwriter. All those simply take time. More than likely for you to have any realistic chance to succeed in this craft, you must give yourself more than one or two years of writing and preparation. Therefore my advice is not to think of 2014 as a year in which you will do everything, but rather one step in a process that may well take several years. The downside: Acknowledging you will be doing this for some time. The upside: You’re not laden down with an unrealistic set of goals, instead you have some achievable things on your list.

In other words — as noted above — an actual plan, not a wish list.

And for me, I need to work on this whole realistic thing in 2014.

Let’s continue this conversation in Comments, shall we? How do you make time to write? How do you find a balance between your Writing and your Life? How many years have you given yourself to pursue your writing aspirations?

Tomorrow is the big day: To lay out our specific writing goals for 2014. In public. I will be doing that. And I invite you to do the same. By committing to something in public, we make those goal more tangible and our commitment to them more real.

Let’s do everything we can to make 2014 our best creative year yet!

10 thoughts on “Writing Goals: 2014 [Part 4] — Practical Matters

  1. […] It’s great to generate a list of things we want to accomplish, but if we …read more […]

  2. Joel Enross says:

    “In 2014, I am making a commitment to one particular writing project. And in doing that, I’ve got to say NO to some other things. ”

    That is super-tough if you’re trying to make a living as a writer without the safety net of a day job or trust fund. I think in 2014 my commitment is gonna be to say YES to every crappy little paid job that comes my way, and to hate myself all the way to the bank.

  3. 2014 minimums:

    Three pages a day.
    One hour of prep per day.
    One hour of reading per day.

    Seven days a week. No excuses.

  4. JoniB22 says:

    “Write every day” — great mantra, but I feel it needs tweaking, as it doesn’t speak to either volume or quality. Hence, I’ve had too many days where I have little of either to speak of .. and I’d like to avoid that in ’14.

    Balance … being at home now and writing full-time, you’ think it’d be easy to DO IT ALL — write, take care of home responsibilities, still go to yoga classes and train for marathons, or whatever. But I think I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself in the writing wedge of the pie, and thereby still struggle with balance. Not sure how, but I want to find a better approach to scheduling my time in ’14 to improve that balance.

    I’m sort of on the “however long it takes” plan. Thankfully, my spouse is supportive and believes in my aspirations. This also puts a lot of pressure on each and every project, and part of ’14 will be to manage that pressure (and my own expectations) better.

  5. Paul Friend says:

    Probably the most pertinent post of the four Scott. Particularly this line:

    “…my advice is not to think of 2014 as a year in which you will do everything, but rather one step in a process that may well take several years.”

  6. Chris H says:

    “And for me, I need to work on this whole realistic thing in 2014.”

    -I second that ^^….each year.

  7. cgusmann says:

    This post reminds me of Rod Serling, whose biography I recently read. He was notorious for not being able to say no and it wreaked havoc on his nerves. Joel alludes to a similar conceit in his comment, but if Mr. Serling said no to a project he was worried all of his success and opportunities he worked so hard for would slip away from him. He never learned to manage that.

    For next year I just want to stay focused. As Scott mentions, this year was a great first step for me (once I scaled back my expectations and stopped anxiously waiting to succeed within this year) so the next logical thing for me to do is the next step. That means at least two new features and a television spec, more short stories, perhaps finishing the novel I started, but most importantly getting my name out there. Query letters, attempts at getting published, and more contests.

    Good luck to everyone with their plans for the upcoming year. I hope to see many of you around GITS and other screenwriting-related resources.

  8. DaniM says:

    As a brand new writer (introduced myself in part 2), my primary goal in 2014 is pretty simple: become a better writer and more adequately understand the art and business of film. I will accomplish this by:
    1. Entering at least three local or major screenwriting competitions and finishing as a semi-finalist in at least one.
    2. Gaining enough technical knowledge to feel comfortable shooting, producing, directing and editing a very short film I’ve written by the end of the year.
    3. Obtaining the financial competence to help finance a small film in 2015 and understanding the risk/rewards of such an investment.
    4. Attending at least one small, intensive writing seminar.

  9. Realism – I’m 46, well over the “norm” for Hollywood writers. I expect to write the rest of my life, but everything is on a 20-year-max plan and everything above that is bonus.

    I am single and mostly a secular monk, but I have a full-time job four days a week. I can’t and don’t want to spend 20 hours a day writing. But I can do 1.5 hours a day and more on my three days off. I spend a good deal of time building up the screenwriting group I have, so time is carved off for that – but that work supports my writing, too.

    And my main problem is not taking on too much, it’s not doing enough. I work nights, so when I’m off, I tend to veg out in front of the Xbox – mostly streaming movies and TV shows to be sure, but there’s just so much of that you can call research and not procrastination.

    So I guess a practical goal this year is to get to the point where I have to learn to say No!

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