8 Productivity Hacks to Help You Write Like a Boss in 2020
It’s the beginning of the year. New Year’s resolutions are being made. Intentions are being voiced. And everywhere you turn, goals are being set. As a busy career coach, for me that means that I have a lot of different screenwriters and TV writers that I now have to motivate effectively. After all, I’ve dedicated my work to the screenwriter’s career forward motion, so right now I am taking a step back and considering what is the best way to inspire, encourage and empower the various screenwriters and TV writers that I am lucky enough to work with.
A little benefit of having done what I do for as long as I have is that I’ve sat across all different types throughout the years. I’ve worked with writers who are motivated by the same things that motivate me: aggressive but achievable deadlines. A little fear that I could possibly fail. A nice pair of shoes as reward for meeting a big goal also never hurts. But I’ve also worked with writers who are driven entirely different motivations than those that push me, such as those writers for whom deadlines feel as though they automatically set them up to fail, or who often apologize for finding themselves in a constant state of overwhelm. I’ve always seen my job as observing and learning what works best for a particular writer and adjusting myself and my expectations of him, rather than forcing him to work within a system that might be the right one for me, but which ultimately does nothing for him.
Ambition is the mother of frustration. Which is to say… The ambition for creative realization, agency and fulfillment can drive its owner towards success and productivity, but, on the flip side, can also serve as fertile ground for aggravation, anger, self-doubt and insecurity. Therefor, every writer has to figure out what works for them in the service of their ambition. And with that in mind… Here are just a few tips to help you figure out how to work most effectively as you aim to push your screenwriting career forward in the coming year:
Identify your resources.
Sure, most writers would love to be productive every spare hour of their day and night, despite the needs of their job and friends and family. But, for you, what’s realistic? What sort of time do you have available regularly to invest in the craft of screenwriting and development of your screenwriting career? Take a hard, cold look at your schedule, and identify what time it is that you have to dedicate to your craft consistently. Because time won’t just miraculously present itself. The further along we are in life, the busier we seem to be. So make a deliberate effort to block off regular writing hours, in the name of creating a sustainable and consistent writing routine.
Write to your productivity’s strengths.
Don’t try to figure out what works for other writers; know where you have been most successful logistically, and lean into that. Sure, everyone wants to be able to wake up at 5am and get some quality writing hours in before the day even begins, but does that work for your natural tendencies? Whether at night in a coffee shop, early in the morning at the kitchen table or mid-day during lunch at the local library, know when and where you write best, and aim to make that behavior (i.e. going to a coffee shop for an hour on the way home from work) regular occurrence in order to produce pages and perfect your craft with regularity.
Get granular with your goals.
Having big lofty goals is great (finish a script! write a spec! submit to fellowships!) but those can often-times become amorphous when you try to sit down day and day out to execute them. Therefore, try to come up with smaller tasks within your goals that you can cross off your daily or weekly list: Finish Act 1 of a new pilot outline; complete that character pass on your new feature script; come up with ten new ideas; rework that pivotal 3rd Act scene. Giving yourself specific, thought-out directives for what to work on can be incredibly clarifying and provide a sense of purpose every time you take that seat. Plus, crossing items off off your list or checking boxes next to tasks to mark them as “complete” can be incredibly satisfying!
Know what motivates you.
Different people are motivated by different things. Some are motivated by fear of failure, the possibility of embarrassment, the admission that they didn’t give it everything. Some are motivated by classes; others look to contests to dictate those deadlines that they can’t possibly miss, or an appointment with a consultant as a date they absolutely have to meet. And for others? Shoes. I wasn’t kidding. If reward is what it’s going to take to get you to the finish line and beyond, use it. Whether you reward yourself with an outing to a hot new restaurant, a full day off or something entirely material (a new purse can go with shoes quite nicely!) ask yourself what can help you meet a deadline or deliver on a writing commitment, and don’t hesitate to use it in order to keep yourself motivated.
Don’t weaponize your deadlines.
You can only use negative motivation (putting yourself down, telling yourself that if you don’t meet your deadline you’re a failure and should not be doing this) so many times and still expect it to be effective. So if you’re setting deadlines that are too aggressive, and finding yourself apologizing and making excuses all too often, time to try something different.
Get a productivity journal.
It’s amazing what a little deliberate planning and thoughtful goal setting can do for your creativity, not to mention your writing routine. I am – personally – a big fan of my client/work-wife Greta Heinemann’s Writer’s Wright journal but find the one that’s right for you, or create one of your own that’s entirely unique.
Know your writing capacity.
Not every writer can write for three hours straight, and not every project stage demands the same kind of intensive writing. Especially at the start of a project, identify whether you’re better off writing in short or long spurts, and build up momentum, rather than expecting it to show up immediately.
Create an accountability group or team.
Writing alone can be a very isolating activity, and deadlines can come and go without any fanfare when no one else knows that they exist. For many writers, this can be negotiated by establishing an accountability group or team, in which all writers set deadlines for themselves, and are held accountable regularly to what they’ve been able to achieve. As is the theme in this entire blogpost, I’ve seen different things work for different people: Two of my writers who have engaged in an accountability team with one another have taken to writing each other long, shaming emails when they don’t meet their writing commitments, a la “if you’re not going to sit and write, why even bother trying to do this?”, which they both confided in me that they find very motivating. It works for them so… No judgement. Seriously. If it works for them, it works for me. The point? Whatever gets you there, within reason, sanity and legality, I am all for it!
The most important thing? Stop and take a little time to plan for your year ahead in writing, and ask yourself what it is that you want to achieve. Be realistic but ambitious, set goals that are within your control and not too far out of reach, and start executing them thoughtfully, purposefully and methodically. This is a great opportunity to hit reset, rethink your writing routine, and take significant steps for doing the work that it takes to get your writing or your career to next level. Adopt just a few of these hacks, and set yourself up for a successful screenwriting year!