A Strategy Primer for Writers: Part I
February 4, 2021
Every new year comes with a rush of hope, resolutions and optimistic goal setting, but inspiration, writing tips, and a new calendar page aren’t always enough to help you reach your goals. In 2019, only 7% of those surveyed kept their New Year’s resolutions, and 80% of those who broke their resolutions did so by February.
This may feel like daunting news, but there’s no reason to be discouraged. As a person obsessed with strategies, let me tell you that realizing how hard it is to reach goals and keep habits is actually good for you.
Most articles you’ll find out there — and some I’ve written — tackle the practical writing tips and creative exercises that can get you up and typing. But it’s a good long game (and a good strategy) that addresses the practical and psychological blocks that writers have between them and their final drafts.
This series will dig into strategies to aid you in your journey — and psychological mindsets to be aware of that could be holding you back — because we’re all better off with a good game plan.
CLARIFY YOUR GOALS / AKA : SETTING THE TABLE
In his book Eat That Frog!, author Brian Tracy advises that clarifying your goals — or what he calls “setting the table” — is one of the most important steps in productivity. He adds: “Clear written goals …stimulate your creativity, release your energy, and help you to overcome procrastination as much as any other factor.” (1)
But clarifying your goals and writing them down isn’t just a nice tip. Psychologists agree that there’s a lot more happening when you do so, with studies reporting that “People who very vividly describe or picture their goals are anywhere from 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to successfully accomplish their goals.” (2)
Why does writing it down help?
“Neuropsychologists have identified the “generation effect” which basically says individuals demonstrate better memory for material they’ve generated themselves than for material they’ve merely read. It’s a nice edge to have and, when you write down your goal, you get to access the “generation effect” twice: first, when you generate the goal (create a picture in your mind), and second, when you write it down because you’re essentially reprocessing or regenerating that image.” (2)
So as simple (and therefore skippable) as WRITE THOSE GOALS DOWN sounds, there’s some psychological oomph in this strategy that’s worth trying out.
CHUNK DOWN YOUR GOALS
First off, “chunking down” your goals is one of my favorite time management related phrases. Second, there’s a lot more to it than just breaking up your goals into smaller, bite-sized pieces.
Author Marelisa Fabrega offers three different methods by which you can break down your goals: by time, by quantity, and by actionable steps.
Give your on-going to-dos a time limit. If you want to write more or spend more time studying screenplays, those open-ended infinite goals could feel overwhelming. But set a timer for 5, 15, 60 or 90 minutes a day — and limit yourself to that window as you build it from a goal into a regular habit.
Instead of breaking down your tasks by time, you can assign a quantity per day or week. Read one screenplay a day. Write 2-4 pages a day. Read one chapter of a screenwriting advice book or one article you have saved in your queue.
By Actionable Steps
Write down the goal you want to achieve, and break it into the sub-goals required to reach that goal. Then break each sub-goal into the individual tasks or actionable steps you’ll need to achieve in order to complete each sub-goal.
Once you’ve broken your goal into these actionable steps, you can assign a step or a whole sub-goal to a deadline, for whatever pace you like. The most important thing to keep in mind is to make sure your actionable steps are CRUMBBs.
CRUMBBs is an acronym coined by the author of “Master the Moment,” Pat Brans, and it stands for a “Clearly Realizable Unit that is a Meaningful Building Block.” (3)
Whether you break your goals up by time, quantity or steps, the satisfaction of tallying up these incremental actions and CRUMBBs will eventually bring its own motivation to the tasks, too.
DO, DELEGATE, DEFER, DROP
Once you have a clear list of what you want to do, and what needs to be done — whether it’s breaking story, revising a script, or following up on correspondence — you’ll need to organize the list to prioritize the DOs from the DO LATERs.
David Allen’s developed a concise time management method in his book Getting Things Done (4) that does just this. He advises that you go through your to-do list and assess each item as something to either DO, DELEGATE, DEFER, or DROP.
Allen’s whole book is packed with great time management advice, but this 4D strategy is a game changer, so I’ll highlight it quickly here: With all of your to-dos/emails etc., ask yourself: "Is this actionable?" As in, can you do something about it? If the answer is NO — Either Drop/Delete it, or save or file the item away as an easily findable reference when needed.
If the answer is YES — and the action takes less than 2 minutes, Do the action immediately. If it takes longer than 2 minutes, Delegate the task to someone else or Defer it to a later time that you set on your calendar.
Once you’ve gone through all of your to-do items with this filtering process, it will be easier to tackle the projects you’ve deferred.
- (1) https://paulminors.com/blog/eat-frog-book-summary-pdf/
- (2) https://www.forbes.com/sites/markmurphy/2018/04/15/neuroscience-explains-why-you-need-to-write-down-your-goals-if-you-actually-want-to-achieve-them/?sh=28319eb67905
- (3) https://daringtolivefully.com/chunk-down-goals
- (4) https://gettingthingsdone.com/
Written by: Liz ThompsonLiz Thompson is a screenwriter, playwright, and development consultant, and has sold shows to CBS (sitcom) and NBC (crime/mystery). Raised on a mix of Gilda Radner sketches, Columbo reruns, and neuroscience conferences, Liz’s love of comedy, mystery, and the puzzle of human behavior is woven through every story she writes. In between outlining and pitching she runs The Writer’s ARC group on Facebook and can be found at www.BletchleySpark.com.