BALLS OF STEEL™: Realistic Writing Goals Minus the Punching Bag

If you fail at your writing goals, treat yourself like you would your character...give yourself another opportunity to succeed. Jeanne shows you her tricks.
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Jeanne Veillette Bowerman is the Editor of Script Magazine and a screenwriter, having written the narrative adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Slavery by Another Name, which was honored in the Top 25 Tracking Board Launch Pad Features Competition. Follow Jeanne on Twitter @jeannevb.

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As the month of January draws to a close, many of you are scratching your heads wondering how you got sidetracked from the writing goals you were determined to meet.

Welcome to my world. My name is Jeanne, and I fell off the writing-goal wagon.

Let’s get real here. It’s inevitable a few steel balls will drop now and then. But it’s what we do under pressure that defines us as humans and as writers. Pressure. It’s the killer of creativity – the pressure of meeting a goal, the pressure of not making a deadline, and the worst pressure of all, the pressure of having let ourselves down.

Ouch.

So, what are your options? Instead of beating myself up, I imagine myself as a character in my story. What if I had a goal for them and they kept getting sidetracked? Am I going to let them say, “F*ck it, I’ll just go back to my ordinary world and stop pursuing that goal”?

My story would be a yawn and no one would read it.

Uma Thurman in 'Kill Bill'

Uma Thurman in 'Kill Bill'

Instead, I’d give them another opportunity and another and another until I find ways to make them actively pursue their goals that made sense for both the character and the story.

Why not do that for yourself too?

Your perfect writing plan is not working. The first step is admitting that. Whether it’s because your day job is busier than usual, your kids are tugging on your shirt sleeve, the gym is calling your name to shed the ten holiday pounds you packed on, or maybe the bar is even more tempting, the writing just ain’t happenin’. Some writers get so bogged down in researching their scripts, they use it as a procrastination tool. That's a problem we can fix this very minute. Brad Johnson shot me over a link today from WGA with a ton of free research resources for writers. No excuses now!

Now let's fix the rest of your problems...

Whatever it is that’s distracting you is not going to magically go away. You need to figure out how to control it… and your time.

Let me be the example: I set a goal to write one hour a day. Simple. I could do that. And then… BAM! A slew of projects hit my desk, holiday decorations are collecting dust (yes, my Christmas decorations are still up… don’t judge me), and despite working 12-hour days, dinner needs to be put on the table. My normal routine of comfort is to accomplish all my “must do” items first, and then take “me” time to write.

Guess what happened? There was no “me” time until 11:00pm, and this chick was pouring a margarita by then. Writing was not getting done.

So, I did what I do for my characters. I started brainstorming ways to accomplish the goal. I wrote a list of all the things I needed to do that day, put them into a spreadsheet with hours, and realized I had short spurts of time and not a solid one-hour chunk. The sigh was heavy. Then I remembered something writing coach Jenna Avery shared – writing 15 minutes a day counts and will lead to words on a page faster than you think.

FRRRREEEDOM! Yes, I said that with the Braveheart slur of the “r”.

For the last week I’ve been meeting my goal of 15 minutes of writing a day. It has been liberating! By taking just that tiny slice of time and dedicating it to my passion, I have smiled more and beaten myself up less. After 15 minutes, I realize the sky didn’t fall because I stopped to take care of my needs as a writer. When I could, I set the timer for another 15 minutes, and another, until most days, I ended up accomplishing a solid hour of writing.

Be realistic. Stop beating yourself up. Steal whatever time you can and put it toward the goals you have set. A few minutes of something is better than a whole lot of nothing.

One other tip: Have more than one project going at a time. That way, when it is time to write, pick the one you are most in the mood to work on. Like today, I was having a Kill Bill mojo moment, and really wanted to write a murder scene. I put the Slavery by Another Name rewrite down and picked up my trilogy project. I set the timer for 15 minutes and did a stream-of-consciousness writing sprint where I splattered words and blood on the page. I don’t know if it’ll end up in the novel, but it felt damn good to get out the gory details.

Now I need to shower the blood off. Or I could do another writing sprint instead! I’m beginning to understand why writers are always dirty. Goals get in the way of cleanliness. But damn, there’s nothing like that feeling of fresh words on a page.

What’s keeping you from meeting your writing goals? Share it here, and perhaps some of our readers have a creative answer to help!

P.S. As I added the Kill Bill image to this piece, I couldn’t help but remember the scene in which Uma Thurman’s character escapes her coffin. Quite a monumental goal… and she did it one punch at a time. Just sayin’.

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