Evaluation and Goal Setting for Writers
I believe in goals. But like a sea voyage, just starting out in the right direction is not enough. Initially, all of our energy is aimed correctly, and therefore propels us toward our goal. Invariably, however, our course is slowly but steadily altered. It might be because of slight undetected currents and wind shifts, navigating to avoid dangers, and even rest breaks, but soon we can be traveling on a totally different path.
When we are not pointed in the right direction, we have to expel a tremendous amount of energy to make the same amount of progress. We will even pride ourselves on the amount of energy exerted, though we are getting further and further away from our desired destination.
Though new year resolutions are slighted, it is important to use this time to regroup, assess what direction we want to be headed in, and make sure we’re pointed as closely to it as possible. It’s a time not only to make course corrections, but to assess why we went off course, and what we can do to prevent it the next time. Even better, we should set up systems that ensure we keep as close as possible to our path, set shorter term targets, and initiate some kind of accountability.
A CASE STUDY
Early in my television career, I was lucky to land editing work for 60 consecutive episodes of a documentary series. However, the show was hit with numerous problems. After my first season, the executive producers had a nasty partnership breakup. The following season, the remaining EP died suddenly! The show continued with the director as the executive producer, but it was finally cancelled halfway through the next season.
I was supporting a young family of four at the time, and got nervous about continuing in this topsy turvy freelance work. I was offered a steady job as vice president of post-production for a corporate video production company, and took it. My thinking was that I could spend time training, broaden my skills and reliably support my family, and just get back into television when the right opportunity came.
Four years later, I was miserable. I had gotten WAY off course. I thrive on doing creative work that impacts people in a positive way, and that did not describe the work I was doing. The longer I was away from it, the more miserable I became.
So I regrouped. I took a couple of large sheets of paper. On one sheet, I broke down every area of my personal and professional life, and examined strengths, weaknesses, and needs for each area. On the other, I visually mapped out my career. For each of my skills and the possible areas of work, I assigned multiple ratings: 1) what was my level of experience, and 2) what was the desirability.
I realized pretty quickly that my energies were being put into all the wrong things, and that I was no closer to my desired areas of work than I had been 4 years before. I also discovered that even the TV work I had been doing before was not where I wanted to be. Since the age of 14, my dream had been to work as a writer in Hollywood. I had put that on a shelf, but realized that I absolutely had to revive that dream.
So I put together an aggressive plan. To realize my dream, I would need to get back into television, and to work on higher profile shows, especially those with a US audience. I would have to pay off my substantial debts and raise a fair amount of capital. I would need to build a strong network, both in Toronto and Los Angeles, and especially in the world of scripted television. I would need to learn everything I could about screenwriting, and TV writing in particular.
THE POWER OF A PLAN
5 years later, I am stunned at all that has happened. I now have editing and/or writing credits on 180 TV episodes and 40 webisodes, 154 of which were in the last 5 years. Shows I edited have been nominated for and have won Gemini awards, the Canadian equivalent of the Emmys. My podcast for NBC’s Chuck, boasting over 160 interviews with the cast, crew, and writers of the show, was ranked the world’s #1 TV-themed podcast for 40 consecutive months, and saw me featured on CNN and in the Toronto Star. My TV Writer Podcast has interviewed almost 70 writers, authors, show runners and show creators from Hollywood, Canada, and the UK. I’ve developed a strong network of TV professionals in Hollywood and elsewhere. My debts have been completely paid off. And within a few months, I will be moving my family to Los Angeles! I owe ALL of this to that one planning session.
All of this may sound very impressive. Nevertheless, I have discovered that in many ways I am again off course, and need a significant course correction. It is time for some scary decisions!
Though color grading represents 30% of my income, I am giving it up after the end of my current series. Extra-curricular activities like shooting stock footage, YouTube demos, and podcasting need to take a backseat to my writing. Though reality TV editing is supporting my family, my top priority now is to make a transition to writing full-time, as soon as possible.
So it’s time for a new plan!
MAKING A NEW PLAN – TOOLS
There are a number of blogs and resources that can help you make a plan for yourself. Nothing beats a time of quiet reflection, paper, and pen. But beyond that, here are some practicals that I am using this year:
Don’t Break The Chain!
The Writers Store had a great article a couple of years ago (CLICK HERE) about the secret of Jerry’s Seinfeld’s success — he had a calendar where he recorded every day he wrote, and made sure that the chain of days was never broken. I designed a more user-friendly version of the calendar, and updated it for 2013:
– DOWNLOAD 2013 DON’T BREAK THE CHAIN CALENDAR HERE
1, 2, 7, 14
Go Into The Story (an excellent writing blog by Scott Myers) featured a simple but excellent method of planning your writing time. Read about it HERE.
Of course, you will need to modify it if you’re focusing on TV writing. Since TV shows and scripts are shorter, I might suggest reading one pilot and one episode script per week, and watch 4 TV episodes in a week. So for a budding TV writer, it might be “2, 4, 7, 14.”
You may be motivated differently, but I am most effective when I have accountability, so I have decided to log my viewing and reading this year. If you like, you can use my log sheets:
– Screenplay reading (PDF)
– Teleplay reading (PDF)
– Movies watched (PDF)
– TV shows watched (PDF)
– Books read (PDF)
– Weekly Summary Page (PDF)
– All forms (Excel)
TV Writer Chat Pilot Writing Program
The weekly Sunday night TV Writer Chat has been an awesome resource, and you would do well to attend every Sunday night at 6:30pm PST! CLICK HERE for a list of upcoming chat topics, and CLICK HERE for an easy link to the chat room (I suggest you bookmark that page).
Even better, it is kicking into overdrive this year, with an aggressive pilot writing program. Write a new pilot by June!
Don’t miss it! CLICK HERE for more details.
Find a Mentor!
Kam Miller wrote an excellent series of blog posts recently on the tremendous power of mentors. CLICK HERE for Part 1, CLICK HERE for Part 2, and CLICK HERE for Part 3!
All of the TV Writer Podcast interviewees have offered invaluable tips and wisdom, but a few of the episodes stand out as great career resources that will help you plan your year:
Hollywood game plan – 054, Carol Kirschner
Strategies for breaking in – 014, Matt MacLennan
Social media strategies – 019 & 020
Pilot writing – 049, William Rabkin
Shooting a spec pilot – 032, Rob Thomas
Web series writing – 047, Ross Brown
Getting a manager – 066, Jenny Frankfurt
Reality TV – 051, Troy Devolld
Wisdom from the trenches – 053, Sterling Anderson
Pitching – 065, Stephanie Palmer
The myth of “breaking in” – 063, Bob DeRosa
Comedy writing – 005, Rob Kutner
Comedy writing – 029, Sheldon Bull
Comedy writing – 046, John Vorhaus
– 016, Ellen Sandler
– 021, Chad Gervich
– 026, Jen Grisanti
– 041, Pilar Alessandra
– 048, Manager Brandy Rivers
One of the best ways to stay on course and optimize your energies is to make it a priority to read books on writing and the business of writing.
Some of the most helpful books I’ve read are:
– The TV Writer’s Workbook
– Hollywood Game Plan
– Beyond Screenwriting
– Writing Without Fear: 15 Steps
– Writing the Pilot
– Elephant Bucks
– Small Screen, Big Picture
– Save the Cat!
– The Comic Toolbox
– Good In A Room
– On Writing
You can browse all of the books on my shelf, most with my comments, by CLICKING HERE.
It takes less than an hour to read a one-hour TV script, and half that for a comedy. How can we aspire to a career in TV writing without reading teleplays? Novelists read dozens of books per year; we need to be continually reading scripts.
CLICK HERE for an amazing repository of free TV scripts, including pilots and bibles!
There are links on the sidebar for other script sources.
ABOVE ALL ELSE, GET YOUR BUTT IN THE CHAIR!
It is said that every day, esteemed novelist Jonathan Swift would have his servant lead him to his writing chair and literally tie him to it. He understood that the only time writing would happen was when he was in that chair. In his book, On Writing, Stephen King shares in great detail how he approaches his writing environment. If great writers like these need to be aggressive about the logistics to get themselves writing, it’s a good bet we do too.
Determine how you will free yourself from distractions (including turning off the internet and the phone), then set appointments for some private time between you and your chair daily. Keep those appointments, and the writing will happen!
I wish you a very successful writing year in 2013, and great progress toward your career destinations!
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