TUESDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:
WHAT'S YOUR PLAN, MAN?
Spring is upon us!
You know how important it is for your protagonist to have a tangible goal? Guess what? You are the
protagonist in the movie of your life. What is your goal for this year? What is your goal for this quarter?
What is your goal for this month? What is your goal for today?
You need a plan... and a new year is a great excuse to forget all of the things that went wrong last
year or just didn't go exactly as planned and have a fresh start. Hey, I screw up so much that I also use
My Birthday and Ground Hog Day as good excuses to hit the reset button on my life and start with a new plan
(or just restart the old plan). But I *need* a plan if I want to get anything done, and you probably do, too.
Have you ever gone to the grocery store to buy one specific thing and then got home with a couple of
bags of groceries but *not* that one thing you needed? That's why they invented grocery lists...
but we are going to look at Screenwriting To Do Lists. You may have made all of the regular
New Year's Resolutions (lose 30 pounds, etc) and maybe you have "finish my screenplay" on that list,
but I want you to make a list just for screenwriting - a plan of action for the year 2019.
Tuesday Script Tips are on the business of screenwriting, but screenplays are just part of a movie,
and we need to sell our screenplays if we ever want to see them on screen... so just about every aspect
of writing a script is business related. *Writing* screenplays is the most important part of the business.
You can't control whether you sell a script or not, but you can control whether you write one.
You know what the first step in selling a script is? Having one to sell in the first place.
Figure out what you can accomplish by the end of the year, then take it step-by-step. You can't
write a script in a day, but if you can write a page a day you'll have 360 pages by the end of the year.
If you can only write a third of a page a day - you still end up with a new script by the end of the year.
That's one more script than most people have.
Now, you can just write that page or third page or whatever whenever you get around to it, or you
can have a plan to write and stick to it. Guess which method works best?
THE BIG TO DO
You have probably read in my blog about my big To Do List... and I just made up the one for 2019. Many of the
things on the brand new 2019 To Do List were leftovers from the 2018 To Do List... and some were even still from the 2011 To
Do List - 2011 was not a great year for me. It was supposed to be - with the 1980s hit movie remake gig and several
other projects... that didn't happen that year. I wasted time on some projects that didn't happen, did some
meetings on things that went nowhere, and didn't get to everything on my big To Do List. I also planned on producing
DREAM LOVER - my no-budget thriller film - but my co-producers were busy and it was postponed... and now may never happen.
At first the funding on that film was based on the 1980s remake flick being made, but my revised plan is to do
it as a Kickstarter project since part of the reason for makin the film is research on a book on making your
own film. That film project is off of this year's Big To Do List. Though 2017 was much better than 2011 - I'd planned on
writing a half dozen new scripts last year, but ended the year with a single new spec and three
Blue Book expansions, the couple of short stories and a Story In Action book... I have the LO/NO BUDGET Book that was
*supposed* to be finished last year but will come out this year instead. I planned on having it done
by Holiday Season of *last* year. Hey, no plan is perfect... but without a plan? I'd get nothing done!
So, was last year a failure? Nope! Despite everything that threw me for a loop, I did crank out a some new scripts and
did three Blue Books and some other writing. Without the big To Do List, *nothing* would have been to-done. I think the best thing you can
do is to have a plan, even if things change. Especially if things change. Having a plan with clear goals allows you
to get back on track after things change. Having a plan gives you goals to work toward. You may not cross off
everything by the end of the year, but you'll be able to cross off something. Without a plan you're just spinning
your creative wheels. So make up a big To Do List for 2019. You may not finish everything, but try to.
I break up my big To Do List by months, and decide what I want to accomplish in each month. I used a lined sheet
of paper, and put it in a plastic sleeve that goes inside my laptop as a screen protector. Every month has a
specific goal. Because I write full time, I figure I can pound out a first draft in a month, and often have six
first drafts planned for every year. Actually, not all of those are first drafts - some are page one rewrites on
older scripts, so on my 2019 To Do List one of my scripts is the rewrite of DEAD RUN which I think I have
finally figured out how to fix. This year most of my time will be spent on Blue Books and book projects rather
than screenplays, but there are still a couple on the list. You probably have a job taking up most of your
time, so you'll want to break up your new specs and write a certain amount every month. Have a specific goal,
though - maybe Act 1 in one month, the first half of Act 2 in another two months, etc. That's what I used to do
when I worked at the warehouse - I figured out much time I could realistically devote to writing, then I came up
with an "easy" amount of writing I could accomplish within that time, and then I figured out how many months it
would take me to reach Fade Out and "scheduled the script" on my big To Do List. I wrote 3 new specs a year during
those years, because I had a plan and did my best to stick to it (though, sometimes I spent those great union
3 day weekends catching up). My goal back then was one good page a day, but actually 10 good pages a week - so I
worked a little longer on my days off. That added up to a new first draft every 3 months, and then I'd spend
the next month rewriting the previous script... and end up with 3 scripts a year in pretty good shape.
My plan was to spend 1 hour per page - a goal that was easy some days and close to impossible others. But a page
in an hour is *reasonable* for me. Figure out what is reasonable for you.
On my Big To Do List for 2019, the months when I am not working on a screenplay I am doing something else that
is writing related, like expanding those Blue Books from 40 pages to 200 pages. Except for
July, which is a vacation *and* writing some short stories. Actually, this month (once the LO/NO Book left over from
last year is finished) I plan on finishing the next Mitch Robertson story which has not been crossed off the
Big To Do List for a couple of years now! The reason why I alternate screenplays with other types of writing is to
give myself a break
and allow my subconscious to work on the next script while I'm writing up blog entries or something. Many scribbled
scene and dialogue ideas happen while I'm working on something else.
So, make up your Big To Do List for 2018. Make sure your To Do List is *possible* - this isn't a fantasy list.
Sometimes I find that listing the *steps* to completing a project is helpful - that way I feel like I'm completing
more. I can cross off "Outline new spec" and "Treatment for new spec" and "Act one of new spec" and get some
momentum going. Nothing makes me feel better than crossing something off my Big To Do List! Step-by-step I'm
getting closer to finishing that new spec!
THE 2 BEE DUNG LIST
When I flip over that plastic sleeve inside my laptop there is another list on the back. This is my favorite
list, because I get to cross out something almost every day! I love crossing out things on my lists! I makes me
feel like I am making progress, and I *am* making progress. The other list is my To Be Done List - and it's all
of the steps that lead to finishing a spec script or making sure I get my new article for Final Draft's website finished
on time. Decades ago, when I began making these lists, I drew a cartoon of an angry bee, and then surrounded him
by the number 2 and the word "Dung" (um, this is the Dung that has to be done... and as Monty Python once asked:
"What's brown and sounds like a bell?") and that has stuck to this day. Something about that angry bee cartoon
makes me want to cross something off to make him happy.
The small list contains both small things that need to be done ("e-mail Raindance Film Festival", "notes on novel
adaptation typed up")
and larger projects that are broken up into steps so that I can cross stuff off and keep the angry bee happy.
On the current list I have all of the new chapters for the Blue Books listed and I cross each one out after I finish
writing it. I also have "10 New Script Tips For 2018" with ten little boxes to X out when I finish a new tip...
none are Xed out right now! I hope to get those done in whatever spare time I may have!
Also on the To Bee Dung List are spare time projects which tend to carry over from list to list - but without them
on the list as a reminder they'd never get done. Currently I have a section for Bite Sized Pieces Projects, where
I plan to get a little bit done every week and they will add up to getting a lot done. So on the 2018 list I have
things like The THRILLER Thursday blog entries (I want to finish Season 2) and doing 1/4 of a Hitchcock film for the last Hitchcock Book every
week (I have 10 more to go, so that should get those into rough draft form by the end of the year) and also 1/4
of a movie entry for the next Story In Action books - again, a rough draft chapter every month. What I've learned is
that when you cut anything into Bite Sized Pieces and only need to get a little bit done every day (a page a day, etc)
you can get work done even if you have a day job and a family and a life to live. You can cross out that page or
that 1/4 of a movie or that blog entry every week... and there are 52 of those weeks in a year!
Because my Big To Do List is set up for me to write 5 pages a day when I'm working on a screenplay, the little
list usually has four tasks - one for each week I work on the script - and each task has a little box for each
day's 5 pages. When I finish my 5 pages, I get to X off the box! When I finish the week, I get to cross out that
whole line! I am *making progress*! You can break up your script into pages or scenes or acts or whatever makes
sense to you - and then cross off each part you complete. The problem when you are writing something long, like a
screenplay or novel, is that the end may seem so far away you just can't see it on most days. It may feel like you
are doing a lot of writing but not making any progress. That's why I like to break it up into "bite sized pieces" -
I can accomplish something, and even if the end is still a long ways away, I know that I am one step closer. That
step has been taken, I can cross it out... and try to keep the angry bee happy.
I come up with a new To Be Done List at the beginning of every month, and it usually has things left over from
the previous month. Though you never want to make a list that seems overwhelming, you do want to aim for the stars
so that you can maybe hit the moon. You want to make sure that you have to *work* to complete your list. If you can
easily cross off all of the tasks within a month, you may slack off... and cross off nothing. You want a list with
enough items that you have to keep working. One of the reasons for the lists is to create some "work momentum" -
when you wrote yesterday, it is easier to write today... all of those characters and ideas are still bouncing
around in your brain. If you go several days without writing, you may not remember what the heck you were doing or
who these characters were or what the heck they wanted. You have to get back into the script before you can write...
and that's wasted time. One of those old pieces of writing advice that is completely true is to write every day.
I take Sundays off, and if you want to take a couple of scheduled days off every week, that's okay. But set aside a
regular time period on the other days and write. Don't do anything else. If your house is burning down, finish your
pages before you outrun the fireball! Focus on WRITING during your scheduled writing time. I like to have enough
things on my To Be Done List that if I do manage to finish my pages for the day with time to spare, I can knock off
some small task from the list in whatever time I have left. That may just be sending some e-mails or doing some
quick Google research... but it's something else I can cross off the list to keep that angry bee happy.
Your list may not have a cartoon angry bee, but paste a picture on it or do something that makes that list "fun".
I spent a year laying carpet - heavy manual work that probably ruined my knees for life - and taped to the back
doors of the truck were a bunch of pictures of attractive women and vacation spots the crew leader put there to
remind him of why he was doing this back-breaking work. Every time we opened the truck doors to pull out those
heavy rolls of carpet, there were the gals and the dream vacations. Writing is work, and you want to find some way
to keep it fun. Whether that is some fantasy goal or some silly cartoon of a writer that makes you laugh - putting
something like that on you dreaded To Do List will probably make it easier to look at on those days when you don't
want to do anything at all. Find the ways to make writing fun and you will keep writng.
When you finish your pages for the day, reward yourself. A *dog* gets a treat for "sitting pretty", so why
shouldn't you get a reward for doing the difficult work of actually writing something. Instead of creating
penalties for my failure, I've created rewards for my success. If I get my 5 pages done, I treat myself to a
movie, rent a video, or go out for ice cream with friends. If I end my week with 30 pages, I'll do something
special on Sunday: Go to the beach, take a special bike ride, or take friends out to brunch. I wrap up the week
with something fun that I don't do every weekend. Being your own boss means no one is there to tell you what a
great job you've done... so you have to pat yourself on the back sometimes. You have to give yourself a dog treat
for doing a great job.
But rewarding yourself for success only works if you do not reward yourself for failure. I have a friend who
will get nothing done... and feel bad about it... and go to a movie to feel better. He actually rewards his failure
and does not reward his success! That's a good way to turn you into a bad dog. Though you should not punish
yourself for failure, you probably shouldn't go out of your way to reward yourself. That's like screwing up on the
"lose 30 pounds" resolution by eating something not on your diet... then getting angry at yourself for going off
your diet and eating a half gallon of ice cream to feel better. Yes, as humans we do things like that... but you
are not going to lose those 30 pounds if that's your pattern! If you don't get your pages written for the day, no
ice cream for you!
Pick some rewards for completing the tasks on your list and *reserve them as rewards*. You want these things to
be motivations for you to work, not something you are going to do every day whether you work or not. Okay, some of
you have seen the problem with using ice cream as a reward - if you succeed at screenwriting you probably fail at
losing those 30 pounds. Well, no plan is perfect.
This year I have a whole bunch of great things on my Big To Do List for 2019. Some of those thing probably won't
get done this year, but many of them will... so I probably will *not* be losing those 30 pounds.
This is a good time for you to set your goals for the year. So, what's your plan, man?
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