Five Steps to a Writing Lifestyle
By Jacob Krueger
From Jacob Krueger’s Screenwriting Newsletter
The following is an expanded version of an exercise I created for my screenwriting students. It is designed to replace the negative feelings often associated with writing with positive feelings of excitement and success. As a result, you’ll not only find yourself writing more consistently. You’ll also discover that you feel better about your writing, and the role of writing in your life.
Set an achievable goal for your writing this week. Something you absolutely KNOW you can EASILY accomplish. 2 pages a day. 10 minutes a day. A page a week. Whatever you know you can make work within your busy lifestyle.
NOTE: For this exercise to work, your goal must be quantifiable. In other words, there must be an objective way of determining whether or not you achieved it. For example “write every day” is not necessarily a quantifiable goal, because it’s not clear how much writing makes this successful. Write for 7 minutes every day or writing one page a day is, because when you complete your 7 minutes or one page, you know you have achieved your goal.
Similarly “write a good scene” is not a quantifiable goal because you would have to subjectively judge whether the scene was good or not, and opinions might vary. “Write three versions of the scene I am currently struggling with” is a quantifiable goal, because regardless of subjective opinion, you can know for certain when you have achieved it.
Now, take whatever goal you set for yourself and CUT IT IN HALF, to make it even more easily achievable. Write it down and post it in your writing space. This is your goal for this week.
Break out your calendar. Schedule the time that you will use to accomplish the goal. Get specific. What time will you start? What time will you end? Will you write every day or on specific days. Where will you go to do this writing? How will you set up your day and your schedule to make sure you are not interrupted. Write it down, and make it non-negotiable. Treat the appointment just like you would treat an important appointment with your boss or a client at work.
Now follow your schedule throughout the week. Remember, when you achieve that goal, you are DONE. You can choose to continue if you wish. But you can also choose to close down your laptop, and feel that sense of accomplishment of a full writing day (even if your goal was only a few minutes or a quarter page of writing).
Accomplishing and CELEBRATING achievable goals is one of the most powerful things you can do to integrate writing into your life. So do something nice for yourself after each successful writing day, just like you’d hope a boss or a co-worker would do after a big meeting. Compliment yourself. Treat yourself to something. Remember, the reward should be equally great whether you simply meet your goal or end up exceeding it. If there is a day when you do not meet your goal, accept it and MOVE ON. Don’t increase your goal for the next day. Don’t punish yourself. Don’t beat yourself up. Just remind yourself that you will do better on your next writing day, and concentrate on meeting the goal you originally set out for yourself on the day you scheduled to do so.
At the end of the week, evaluate- did you achieve your goals? Use the criteria below to set your goals for the next week, and repeat steps 3-5.
IF YOU FELL SHORT OF YOUR GOAL
RELAX! This is not the end of the world. It just means you set your initial goal too high. Whatever you do, DON’T punish yourself. It will not make you a better writer to beat yourself up. All it will do is take the joy out of writing, and make your resistance even stronger. Instead, take note of what you DID accomplish and congratulate yourself for that. If you expected to write 7 pages, and only wrote 3, celebrate the three pages you have written. If you expected to write for an hour one day, and only wrote for ten minutes, take a moment to appreciate the ten minutes of writing you accomplished.
Then, adjust your goals for next week to reflect what you now KNOW you are capable of doing. Whatever you successfully wrote this week becomes the goal for next week. For example, if you’d set a goal of seven pages, and only wrote three, your goal for next week would be three pages. If you planned to write for an hour, and only wrote for ten minutes, your goal for next week would be ten minutes. Remember, the point of this exercise is not to have BIG goals, it’s to have ACHIEVABLE goals, so that writing can start to feel like a joyful, successful, and integrated part of your life.
IF YOU ACHIEVED YOUR GOAL
Great job! You are already establishing a rhythm for yourself, and it will soon pay big dividends in your writing. Set the SAME goal for next week, repeat steps 3-5, and keep that rhythm going.
IF YOU EXCEEDED YOUR GOAL
Congratulations! Often, by setting small goals that we know we can accomplish, we set the stage for even bigger success. To get the most out of your writing, you can now increase your goals for next week, to reflect what you actually are capable of accomplishing.
Set the amount of writing you accomplished THIS week as the goal for NEXT week, and repeat steps 3-5.
In this way, your goals can grow as your ability grows, and writing can become organically integrated into your life. Remember, if there ever comes a time you fall short, you must adjust the goal for the following week back to the level that you actually accomplished. Repeat this process for a full month, and notice what changes for you. Send me an email, or post a comment to this blog, and tell me all about it.