If you’re not an employed screenwriter, it can be easy to let your goals slide. Errands and commitments get prioritized and it’s easy to succumb to what Steven Pressfield in The War of Art called “resistance” — that force that keeps us from doing what we feel drawn to do.
“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying,” writes Pressfield. As writers, we know that we have to sit down and write, but resistance is a powerful force.
The best thing I have found to do, if I have not been given the motivation that comes from a deadline by an employer, is to set specific writing goals. Here are a few tips on how to keep them.
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Get Thee an Accountability Partner
Since 2017, I have kept a very specific kind of accountability program. It has served to not only motivate me to meet my goals but to remind me of all that I have accomplished. Here’s how it works:
First, each year I start a Google Doc, organized by month. Every week I write a realistic list of what I will accomplish and I organize what I did accomplish in the previous week. On Mondays, I send these two lists to my accountability partner and she sends her lists to me. I add what I accomplished last week to my monthly accomplishments. Here’s a screenshot of what the doc looks like:
At the end of the year, I go through every month and tabulate all my accomplishments in categories such as screenplays written, contests entered, events attended, training/education, networking connections, etc.
By creating that list, I am able to track and organize what I want to accomplish. By sending it to someone else, I become accountable for my actions. I can also notice trends; if I set a goal to write a particular script and I put it off for weeks or months…maybe it’s not the right time for that script.
At the end of the year, I can see how much work I put in and give myself credit for the progress I have made. This is especially heartening if you’re still working towards breaking into this industry. Across the years I’m able to track just how far I’ve come.
Begin With Realistic Goals
I wrote a one-hour pilot in a weekend once. It was not an enjoyable experience. Instead, I have learned that I do really well with one or two 1-hour writing sprints in a day. I average about 4 pages per hour. I can do more, especially if I have taken the time to write a really strong outline, but those two hours are really comfortable and they give me plenty of time to daydream, brainstorm, research, do paid work, and relax.
I’ve learned that if I set a realistic goal, I will not become overwhelmed before I even begin. I might want to win an Academy Award for screenwriting, but I have no real control over that or the many, many steps it will take to get a script made, let alone to the highest award stage in the world.
I can, however, set the goal of writing the first draft of a feature screenplay. Then I can set the goal of revising that screenplay. Then I can get notes and revise again. Each step along the way should be a realistic goal. If my expectation was to win an Oscar or bust…I’ll probably bust. I can, however, set myself up to write the best screenplay I’m capable of writing — one step at a time.
Make Space for Your Goal
If my writing desk is cluttered, I simply will not sit down and write. In fact, I have a series of writing rituals that I prefer: clean desk, hot tea, curated orchestral playlist. Whatever your favorite writing environment is — create it first and maintain it. If your desk collects clutter during the day, tidy it up at night before bed.
I also like to find tactile or visual objects for inspiration. A few years ago I had an idea for a Supergirl script that I kept putting off, so when I went to WonderCon that year I bought a House of El enamel pin to wear every day. It was a visual reminder, calling me to my art. I love to do this for my scripts — seeking the token is part of my process and they serve as a reminder of what I want to do.
I also created a vision board to hang above my desk, urging me toward my goals for the year. For a few projects, I’ve gone one step further and created inspiration boards with stills from similar projects, dream casting, or mood-setting images.
Whatever it takes to remind you that your dreams are valid and exciting — take the time to do them and set yourself up for success.
Block Out Time to Write
Set up writing sessions in your calendar so you save that time for yourself. It’s a commitment that you keep just for yourself. Set up notifications and reminders if you need a little extra urging. When you sit down to write, turn off notifications and hit that “Do Not Disturb” button. Let your family know that this is your time and they need to respect it. The key is to take away any possible excuse until you develop the discipline and habit of writing.
If you still struggle, set up work dates with friends or your accountability partner. Choose a time and place to meet, maybe talk or brainstorm for the first fifteen minutes, and then just write.
Writing can be lonely and it can take years before it comes to fruition in the ways we dream it to — with steady income and produced projects. It’s normal to feel impatient or untried. The secret that any successful writer will tell you is that you must write anyway. Follow your curiosity and set yourself up to create for the sake of creativity. As long as you enjoy the journey, you’ll improve in exciting ways.
Shannon Corbeil is a writer, actor, and filmmaker in Los Angeles with recent appearances on SEAL Team and The Rookie. An Air Force veteran, her articles have been published in Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, and Military.com. She has written and produced hundreds of digital videos with millions of views. You can read more about her on her website or come play on Instagram and Twitter!