It’s a common cyclic rhythm to rest during the winter holidays and enter January with renewed energy and excitement. If you’ve been planning on writing a new screenplay or revising a draft you wrote last year, January is a great time to begin.
It’s also a brand new year of festival, fellowship, or screenwriting contests submissions, so now is the time to begin so you have months for rewriting and finalizing.
Let’s talk about how to make and meet those goals successfully!
Table of Contents
Make Your Goals “SMART”
SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound
SPECIFIC: An example of a specific goal is “I will write a new multi-camera TV pilot.” Whether you’re writing for TV or film, comedy or drama, a spec script or something original, make it as specific as possible. From there, each following step should also be specific: write the outline, write the character descriptions, write act one, write act two, etc.
MEASURABLE: A goal is measurable when you can answer the question how will I know when I’ve finished? An example of a measurable goal could be “I will write a new pilot this month.” It might also be “I will write four pages every day this month” or “I will sit down and write for one hour every day this work week.” When you have completed your goal — celebrate and rest! You did your job and your work is done for now.
ACHIEVABLE: An example of an achievable goal would be “I will write a script and submit it to NBC Writers on the Verge.” Accomplishing this goal is entirely within your power. An example of a harder-to-achieve goal might be “I will write a script that will get me into NBC Writers on the Verge.” You can’t necessarily control what the outcome is of your script and excess pressure can often discourage you from keeping your goals.
If, however, it is your goal to get into the NBC program, then you will have to adjust your SMART goal accordingly (“I will do everything in my power to write the kind of script NBC Writers on the Verge looks for during the acceptance process”). Your goals will start to include measurable actions like researching the program, reading scripts that have made it into the program before, listening to podcast interviews about the program creators, etc.
The goal needs to be attainable for you — only you know what your potential and abilities are!
RELEVANT: This is about selecting the most important goal for you right now. If you want to submit to NBC Writers on the Verge and the Nicholls Fellowship and the WeScreenplay Shorts competition then you’re starting to look at a lot of diverging directions. Ask yourself a few questions about your goal: Why do I want to achieve this goal? Is this the right time? Which script idea will help me achieve my most pressing career ambitions?
If you know you want to be a television staff writer, it may be best to set your feature film idea aside for awhile so you can concentrate on reading and writing for television.
TIME-BOUND: It’s very easy for writers, especially emerging writers, to put off writing “until tomorrow.” If you don’t have a deadline that you have to meet because someone else depends on it, then it’s common to let that deadline slip.
Do whatever it takes to set a deadline you will keep.
Pro tip: many writers find that planning to enter a screenwriting contest by the submission deadline helps as a concrete goal.
Maybe try swapping a certain number of pages with a friend each week. Maybe it means setting up a table read at an attainable point in the future. Maybe you need to declare your deadline on social media and update your social circle with your progress. Whatever it is, make sure you’ve got a deadline that exists more concretely than just in your sweet little procrastinating soul.
Stay Motivated — and Accountable
A challenging part about being a writer is the solitude of it. You write by yourself with a goal you’ve set for yourself. No one is asking you for pages. No one is paying you (yet). The thing is, all writers are in that boat together — so find your community!
Join or start a writers group. Find a writing partner to swap pages with. Set up a table read so you can hear your work out loud. Let other people help you — and help other people by offering to give them notes.
Another great way to stay motivated is to find a competition you want to submit to — and submit to it! Do your research to make sure it’s worth your time and money, but then go for it. Writing contests and fellowships can be a great way to get some feedback about how your writing and story are being received by others.
And hey, you just might win something or make a professional connection as a result!
Avoid Common Mistakes
One of the biggest mistakes a writer can make is to set unrealistic goals. Writing a new feature screenplay in a weekend isn’t fun. It’s rarely rewarding. Writing a feature in a month, however, is just about four pages — or one hour of writing — every day. Whatever your goals are, make sure they are SMART so you can build your confidence and satisfaction as you achieve them.
Another mistake is the all or nothing mindset. Maybe you set a goal to write those four pages every day in January, but you took a break for a few days. You could just call the whole thing off…or you can pick right up and start writing your four pages a day. Writing takes time and consistency. Just get back to your chair and begin again.
A final mistake to avoid is getting burned out. Learning to recognize the signs of burnout and avoiding it in the first place is critical. By making SMART goals (especially realistic and attainable goals) and creating healthy habits for yourself that include rest breaks, exercise, nutritional foods, and decompression time, you can avoid burnout and continue to enjoy the satisfaction that comes from being creative.
Elizabeth Gilbert has said to “create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.” The blank page can feel like a daunting thing but you know by now that when you sit down to write, you tend to start writing. Approach your work with curiosity and excitement and try to release any expectations. In the future, you will revise the work. You may even revise it enough so it’s good work. First you must write something.
Connect with friends and colleagues, share your goals, and, as always, just keep writing.
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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!