Balls of Steel™: Focus, Focus, Focus

Let's be plain: Writing, revising, refining, polishing, re-revising your screenplay is an often arduous process. Keeping your eye on the prize -- and Jeanne Veillette Bowerman's 10 tips -- can help you focus.
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After last week’s announcement that Slavery by Another Name (SBAN) was a finalist in the2011 Expo Screenplay Competition, the most asked question was, “How long have you been at that script?

Three years – not all of them writing, but three in total, from the day I pitched the author until today.

To which most responded, “Damn, girl.”

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The long road wasn’t without its bumps. The first year was spent wooing the author and learning each other’s work patterns. I equate that process to flying to Vegas, meeting a complete stranger, dragging them to the Elvis chapel and skipping out married, expecting bliss but quickly realizing you might be heading for divorce court before the weekend is up.

I wrote about the learning curve of our partnership in a past post, "Patience, Crazy Patience."

Despite the trials, we never lost focus of our goal. That’s the key.

Focus, focus, focus.

1. Keep your eye on the prize. Be hungry. Want it like your life depends on it. Quitting isn’t an option. Yes, they’re all clichés, but whatever it takes to keep your mind clear and focused.

2. Curb the distractions. That means shutting down the Internet, saying no to dinner invitations, and working long into the night. Success is not easy, nor does it come without sacrifices. I have taken less than a dozen days off since I started this script. I kid you not.

3. Surround yourself with support. Purge your world of friends who drain your energy and who constantly create roadblocks. If they can’t support your writing dreams and only try to sabotage you, they aren’t your true friends. Find truer ones and keep moving forward.

4. Vomit that first draft out. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just get it on the page. Resist the urge to keep going back and rewriting the first 30 pages a hundred times over. Just get it down on paper.

5. Set goals. We used Sundance Screenwriters Lab to drive our first draft to completion. We also submitted to other contests last year, and when we could, got judges' notes.

6. Be open to notes. It’s okay to accept help. Don’t assume notes are critical and judgmental. Most of my fellow writers give brutally honest notes, not because they want to cut me down, but because they want me to be the best writer I can be. So raise the bar for yourself, ask for honest feedback, listen objectively, and decide which ones you want to implement. Accepting help doesn’t make the script any less yours.

7. Write every single day. No matter how passionate you are about your script, there will be days you just can’t stand the sight of it. Always have another project you’re working on. While writing SBAN, I wrote a draft of a novel, a short film, and another feature script, not to mention countless freelance articles. If you don’t have the energy to juggle major projects, start a blog. If nothing else, it’ll give you a place to showcase your writing voice. Nothing clears the mind better than a quickie blog post. Well, except maybe tequila, but that’s another topic entirely.

8. Nurture yourself, not just your script. I realize I said earlier you need to sacrifice and work tirelessly, but this is one of those “do as I say, not as I do” tips. I’m not good at nurturing myself, and I had a bit of a breakdown a few months back. I even wrote about it because that’s what recovering insecureaholics do. So stop and enjoy the fruits of your hard work every now and then. Re-energize your body and spirit so your mind will flow more freely.

9. Put a quote or picture that motivates you on your computer. Mine says, “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.” I also have a picture of young slave tied to a pick ax to remind me who I am truly writing this script for.

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10. Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite. I can’t tell you how many changes we’ve made to SBAN from draft one to the version that made the Expo finalist list. It’s endless. In fact, we’re still rewriting it! If only I could resubmit the draft we’re doing now to Expo, I’d feel better about our odds of walking away with a win.

But regardless of whether we win or not, we’ve already won on so many levels.

This past three years hasn’t been about winning a contest. The goal has been to write the best damned script we possibly could. This latest rewrite, post-contest, is that script.

Always ask yourself, “What else can I do I’m not already doing to make my dreams come true?”

You might be surprised to realize you are your own biggest obstacle.

Push the script aside and take good long look in the mirror. Look at that person staring back at you. Do you believe in him/her?

You need to be your own biggest believer. It’s the best way to stay focused.

Let's face it, our time here on Earth is limited. If a writer is what you truly want to be, there's no way around it other than sitting your ass in a chair and putting your words on paper. Time is ticking.

In the scope of a lifetime, what is three years? A blink of an eye.

Now pull out that script you know is “the one” and write your fingers to the bone until it’s fantastic. If you don’t, you have no one else to blame but yourself.

Focus and get the job done, even if it takes years.