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Weekend Writing Inspiration: 12 Common Mistakes in Setting Screenwriting Goals

December 29, 2018
6 min read time

(Goal Setting for Screenwriters, Part I)

“What’s the best way to set goals as a screenwriter?”

With the new year approaching, goal setting is on our minds (or will be soon!). In this three-part series, I’ll address common goal-setting mistakes, help you dig into your overall vision for your screenwriting career, and teach you how to set smart screenwriting goals.

Setting goals as a screenwriter is a valuable way to keep your focus on your writing. It’s much easier to make progress when you know exactly what you’re intending to do.

However, many writers set themselves up for frustration, disappointment, and feeling like failures when they don’t set goals properly.

Mistake #1: Not setting goals in the first place

The first mistake I see screenwriters making is not setting goals at all. Goals — when set properly — are motivating and help you know if you’re on track to reaching your larger screenwriting career vision and hitting the smaller incremental steps along the way. 

When you don’t set goals, you’re leaving your efforts to chance and to mood — and neither are reliable predictors of completion or success.

Mistake #2: Not learning from the current year

As the end of a calendar year rolls around, writers tend to fall into a kind of magical, delusional thinking about the new year, as if it will be a blank slate where nothing will go wrong, we’ll have no demands on our time, and we’ll write like machines. Odds are you felt like that last year, too.

And while that’s not to say we can’t do better next year than we did this current year, start by taking inventory of what worked this year, what you accomplished, and what was challenging, so you can go into the coming year with your eyes open and your head on straight.

While you’re at it, factor in space and time for life and the unexpected to crop up when it comes to your goal setting — and your writing life.

Mistake #3: Not looking at where you are in your career

When you’re setting goals, think about where you are in your screenwriting career. You’re better off setting goals that are connected to the next logical steps in on your own path, than setting goals that are pie-in-the-sky and impossibly far out of reach — or driven by someone else’s ideas about what you “should” be doing.

Mistake #4: Stretching too far

Sometimes writers target such huge goals that they are essentially unattainable. Setting goals that stretch too far, requiring extreme Herculean efforts to reach them, puts you in the awkward position of being unable to reach your goals before you even start. Jon Acuff, in his book Finish, recommends either halving your goals or doubling the time you’re allotting for its completion as a way of reining in your over-ambition and bringing your goals into the realm of attainability.

Mistake #5: Not stretching far enough

On the other hand, you’ll also want to make sure your goals are enough of a stretch that they feel exciting, motivating, and inspiring to you. Much of a screenwriter’s work is about the inner game of writing — how we keep going even when the going gets tough or look grim — and goals with a bit of a kick to them help you take them seriously and stay motivated. 

Mistake #6: Using page count goals

A big mistake I see many screenwriters setting is the all-too-common, “I’m going to write a page a day, and then I’ll have 3 screenplays written by the end of the year!”

The logic is lovely until you recognize there’s so much more that goes into writing a script than writing new pages, like the story development work you need to put in before writing pages, the many hours of revision and refining needed to make a script truly sing, or the marketing work you need to do to get your screenplays into the hands of the people who can get them on the silver screen.

Page count goals prioritize quantity over quality, and ultimately your career will benefit more from high quality writing than from cranking out page after page just to say you did.

Mistake #7: Setting goals in a vacuum

Setting goals in vacuum without any kind of implementation plan, accountability, or support is another mistake many screenwriters make. And while some screenwriters are internally driven enough not to need external support or accountability from other people, we still benefit from using other motivating forces of accountability, like deadlines.

Give your goals a time frame, a plan, and a context to help yourself actually meet them.

Mistake #8: Setting goals outside your control

Another common goal setting mistake is to set goals outside your control. You can’t make someone buy or option your script or hire you for a writing assignment, but you can set goals for anything within your own control, like how much writing or marketing you’ll do. 

Mistake #9: Not setting measurable goals

Speaking of how much writing and marketing you’ll do, another common mistake is not using some form of measurement when you set goals.

For example: How many screenplays are you aiming to complete this year? How many pages? How many hours of writing? How many queries will you submit? How many connections and relationships will you build online?

Using numbers is a powerful way to boost the impact of your goals. When you know, for example, you have 25 more pages to write or 10 more connections to make on LinkedIn, you’ll know exactly what you need to do to complete your goal.

Mistake #10: Not defining what “done” means

While you’re at it — also decide what completion looks like. How will you know when you’ve achieved your goal? Measurability is one component, but there’s also an aspect of defining what done means. When it comes to screenplays, “done” can be a particularly slippery term.

Is your goal to write a new script this year “done” when you’re written the first rough draft? Or is it done when you’ve revised, received feedback, revised again, and submitted to a contest?

Make sure you’re clear with yourself what done means when you’re setting the goal in the first place. That’s how you’ll know you’ve completed it.

Mistake #11: Using a too-long time horizon

A year is a long time, and a lot can happen over the course of a year. Although we’re on the cusp of a new year and our collective tendency is to set year-long goals, you’ll also want to set shorter term goals to break down the big goals into smaller, doable increments so you don’t get overwhelmed, paralyzed, or slip into procrastination mode.

Mistake #12: Not checking in with your goals frequently

Too many people set goals on January 1st and wake up mid-December, wondering where the year has gone and why they are no closer to achieving their goals. In addition to having a plan to helping yourself implement your goals, you’ll want to find ways to keep your goals front and center, or establish a regular way of checking in with them frequently.

Your Weekend Writer’s Assignment

Reflect on how well your goal setting has worked in the past. Is there anything here that stands out where you can see you’ve gone off the rails with your goal setting? Take an investigator’s approach here. There’s no failure — only information you can use to make improvements as you move forward.

Stay tuned for next week’s article where we’ll dig into your overarching vision for your screenwriting career so you’re setting your goals in the context that to you.

Got Questions You Want Answered?

After working with hundreds of writers over the last seven years, writing coach and Called to Write Founder Jenna Avery has answers for you about how to balance your life and your screenwriting, trust yourself more as writer, fulfill your call to write, and more. Submit your questions to finaldraft@calledtowrite.com or via Jenna’s online form at  https://calledtowrite.com/final-draft and she may choose your question to answer anonymously in a future article. 


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