Tips for organizing your screenwriting life
New screenwriters looking to break in to the industry often struggle with questions like “How do I get there?” and “Where do I find the time?”. Balancing the workload, planning and organization needed to reach writing goals can often feel daunting, especially given that new writers are often working full-time jobs in other industries.
“Failing to plan is planning to fail”. It feels like whoever said that had a lot of time on their hands to plan. But alas! There is truth to it. According to Harvard Business Review — goal setting works. Investing a small amount of time to plan and set goals can drastically improve your odds of getting to your end result.
Here are tips and tricks to create a screenwriting annual plan.
Reflect and set your goals
Start by thinking about what you would like to accomplish in the year ahead and writing the goals down. The Harvard Business Review study found that ten years after graduating, the 3% of MBA graduates with written goals ended up earning 10x as much as the other 97% combined!
Make your goals as specific and as full of realistic expectations as possible. Define not only the goal, but the behaviors that will keep you on consistent track towards your outcome.
Some examples could include:
- “Write consistently” — Hours or words to write per day or week
- “Get my work out there” — Enter a number of screenwriting contests, labs, fellowships, etc
- “Improve my current scripts” — Get feedback on and rewrite a number of scripts
- “Hone my craft” — Read, watch or listen to a number of content pieces, or enroll in free or paid coursework
- “Build my writing community” — Start or join a writers group, class or organization
Research your goals and define what it will take to accomplish them
Once you’ve established your goals, it’s time to go one level deeper. This is the step where you take a goal, such as “Get my work out there” — Enter a number of screenwriting contests, labs, fellowships, etc and make an action plan to get it done throughout the year.
For this example, research what contests/labs/fellowships are available, the various types, which interest you, what the entry process involves and when submissions are due. Define how long you think it will take to apply, and what work you need to do to to submit based on the requirements— which could include rewriting or polishing an existing script, writing a personal statement, creating a portfolio, etc. After selecting a doable number of entries, work backwards from the submission dates based on the level of effort and time needed to get the submissions ready. Note the individual steps you would need to do monthly, weekly, daily to get to your goal.
This “working backwards” strategy help with a variety of goals — such as finishing a script. Calculate how many pages you need to write per day to get to 90–120 pages, given how long you have each day to write, and your average word count per day.
Choose a planning tool that works for you — digital, physical or both.
Now that you’ve seen an example of the process of goal setting, it’s time to choose a tool that works for you. These tools can range from a simple notebook, to more structured tools like Google Docs and Calendar, to sophisticated tools like Notion.
Notion is a strong contender for its multi-device accessibility, folder structure, to-do functionality, page organization, notifications, templates and ease of sharing. It is a great home base for defining goals, specifying them, creating to-do lists, and more.
It can also be helpful to visually see your writing plans over a yearlong calendar view. According to Forbes, making your goals visible activates a different part of your brain and stimulates creativity. With simple wall calendars, you can write out when you plan to work on what, and see how you progress through milestones throughout the year.
Create support systems
Now that you’ve set, defined and written down your goals, it’s time to own them. Sharing your goals with family, friends or other writers in your network can increase a sense of accountability towards meeting your goals, and you can also ask others directly to hold you accountable.
Creating deadlines and having set check-in points is also useful. A great way to do this is with a writers group, that you can attend at a certain cadence to present and discuss progress towards your goals, as well as receive feedback on your work.
To further support hitting your goals, remember to nurture your creative self. Consider setting Artist Dates with yourself — self-defined, solo expeditions to explore artistic interest you have which may, or may not be, related to screenwriting, but will help fill your creative cup.
Celebrate your accomplishments big and small
Working towards goals is a process of daily commitment. Be sure to celebrate wins, large and small, along the way. This could be anything from hitting your daily page goal or getting a great note in your writers group about a scene or line of dialogue, to making it to the quarter finals in a contest or securing representation. It is truly a long and winding, vastly-varied road to getting to your personal screenwriting goals, so remember to enjoy the journey.
Reflect and plan for the next year!
The road doesn’t end on December 31st, it begins again! Take time to reflect on the past year, the highs and lows, and the learnings. Incorporate the insights into the plan for your next year, knowing things will change in your screenwriting adventures as you charge forward toward your goal.
Best of luck in your planning and happy writing to all!