Making Your Goals Without Becoming a Victim to Them

As writers, we have all made goals for ourselves. It doesn’t matter if the goal’s daily, monthly, or a New Year’s resolution. They may be specific (which they should be) or much broader in nature. Whatever your goals may be, it’s important to remember the reason you made them in the first place. What do I mean? It’s simple, really. You made a goal to improve yourself in a positive way.

The reality is goals can be a double-edged sword. Are they helpful? Yes, they usually can be. However, they can just as easily throw you into a vicious circle.

Let me preface the rest of this article by saying this is my philosophy on writing goals. In fact, fellow InkTipper Chris read this article and decided to write another article about her goals philosophy. Be on the lookout for that.

Let me speak from personal experience here. At the beginning of this year, I set a few New Year’s resolutions for myself. The relevant one for this article is my writing goal. I told myself that I would write a MINIMUM of four feature-length scripts this year. That gives me three months per script. To delegate my time effectively, I would use three weeks to develop, three weeks to write, six weeks to polish. Of course, a script is never truly finished until it’s made, but this seemed like a desirable way for me to generate my material.

Now it’s February, and I’m not off to the best start.

That could cause anxiety, feelings of failure, and put me in a negative state of mind. I don’t have time for that. Sometimes, we have to think about the “Litany Against Fear” from Frank Herbert’s Dune.

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Now replace fear with whatever is most applicable to you when you don’t meet your goals. For me, it’s anxiety.

You cannot fall into the trap of rationalizing every failure to meet your goal. Don’t tell yourself that you didn’t get it this time but next time will be different. It’s a slippery slope if you think that every time you miss your goal, and you won’t get anything written.

At the same time, wallowing in self-pity won’t put words on the page. Use your goals to inspire you. I may not have started my next script on time, but I’m getting there. Instead of beating myself up about it, I’m pushing forward.

Let’s take a minute to talk about practical goals. Notice that I didn’t say realistic, and I want to distinguish between the two. To me, a goal that is realistic means that it can be achieved in theory. A goal that is practical can be achieved by doing. It’s pedantic, but mindset is an important tool for writing. Changing one word makes all the difference in the world.

Just like in writing, there is no secret formula to goals that works every time for everyone. You have to set goals that work for you. Let’s pretend I’m setting another goal for myself, and to do so I’m going to ask myself these questions first.

What am I doing?
    I want to be as specific as possible here. I can’t just think, “I need to write more.” I need to ask how much more. I’ve already set a goal like that for myself, so I’m going to do something different. Let’s say I want to improve my ability to create tension from dialogue. That’s very specific.

How am I going to do it?
    Again, I’m being specific. I decided that my goal was to improve tension from dialogue. To do that, I’m going to write a limited-location crime script. This could go in a lot of different directions, but if I write something more contained, I’ll force myself to get my characters talking.

Why am I doing it?
    I’m a writer which means I need to generate more content, right? No, I need to go deeper than that. This may be the third question that I’m asking, but I knew the answer before I reached this point. I noticed in my other scripts that my dialogue scenes needed more tension.

    And now I have it. I want to improve my ability to create tension from dialogue by writing a limited-location crime script, and I’m doing that because my dialogue isn’t as strong as it needs to be. I have a practical goal that I can start working toward immediately.

Now go make some practical goals and remember why you made it in the first place.

Originally from St. Louis, Sean Thompson studied screenwriting for six years, earning a BA and MFA from Webster University and Chapman University. He oversees the Marketing Department at InkTip. When he’s not writing, he’s keeping his cats, Simba and Scar, out of trouble.

Written by: Sean Thompson
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