Setting Effective Career Goals For Screenwriting Success

If you’re gonna hit the road with a specific destination, you have to know what steps, milestones and landmarks you have to hit in order to get there. This, in its most stripped down form, is the logic behind setting effective screenwriting goals.

With that in mind, at the end of each year I ask my screenwriting clients, old and new, to set career related goals for the coming year. After all, setting achievable, aggressive goals allows us to continue to push forward methodically and deliberately towards our greater accomplishments. However, each time I ask for such a list, I receive goals that can only set the writer up for disappointment.

  • Get an agent
  • Sell a script
  • Get an option on a script
  • Get nominated for a specific award

But why is that? Why are such broad, lofty goals not something we can aim for if we want to maintain not only our enthusiasm, but also our sanity?

For coaching purposes, goals are concerted efforts that fall within your control. They are the things that you can do on a regular basis in order to further your screenwriting career. The thought of getting an agent, collecting a hefty paycheck, selling a television show or even winning an Academy Award are all great things to aspire to, but ones that you ultimately have no control of. Because of this, I make a point of separating out GOALS and ASPIRATIONS.

Let’s break it down:

Goals are the direct results or achievements towards which you direct effort. Goals that you set for yourself should fall squarely within your control, so that if they are not met or achieved, the responsibility falls directly on you.

Aspirations, on the other hand, are those things you would eventually like to reach or accomplish, but over which you ultimately have little to no control. You can write the best screenplay you have inside of you, but despite your best efforts it may not receive the recognition you want. Your screenplay may go out into the marketplace but fail to sell; or it may sell, but for significantly less money than you were hoping for.

In order to set yourself up for success in this highly competitive, very challenging game, you have to identify the goals within your control, and work towards those. Otherwise, working towards perceived goals that in reality are not goals at all will do little to keep you in the game, and instead breed heaps of frustration and disappointment.

So how do we set effective goals, and make the year ahead as productive and fruitful as possible?

If you aspire to find representation, don’t set landing an agent or manager as your goal; you can meet with countless reps and still not get represented, causing you to feel as though you have failed in your efforts. Instead, focus on goals that fall within your control, such as:

  • Finishing new work to present to contacts in the industry space
  • Preparing a strong pitch, and effective supporting materials
  • Pitching work to x-number of agents or managers throughout the year
  • Reaching out to x-number of agents or managers you’ve contact in the past to stimulate added interest in new work
  • Entering new work in set number of contest in order to create opportunity for added interest in the work

If it’s becoming a staffed television writer you are aspiring to, be sure to set those goals that will help bring you closer to that success. Those may include anything and everything, such as:

  • Researching television shows that fall within your genre
  • Writing television specs for fellowship season, and entering x-number of fellowships during the calendar year
  • Writing original television pilot(s)
  • Listing your original pilots on The Black List
  • Pitching your original pilot through Stage 32’s Happy Writers or live pitch events
  • Sending your original pilot to producers, agents and managers you’ve added to your network in the past

Each goal can be broken down, further developed in order to continuously hold you accountable. Rather than setting a goal to finish two new original pilots in 2015, be sure to set the milestones that will get you there. The last thing you want is to remember in October that by December you were to have those done. Instead, set milestones for your goals and what you will achieve towards the completion of each of them for each calendar month.

That said, your goals should not center only on flashy aspirations such as getting representation, getting staffed, or selling a screenplay. Additionally, be sure to ingest a set number of ongoing goals into your diet that will allow you to continue to develop yourself towards the writer you aim to become. Goals satisfying this cause may include:

  • Reading x-number of scripts per week/month
  • Blogging or creating other non-script content about the screenwriting experience
  • Attending a set number of networking events per year or per month

I am sure you get the idea by now.

Remember, goals can shift, and deadlines can be misses as life gets in the way ands new opportunities surface. Be sure to be remain mindful of your deadlines and the shifting landscape, and honest about when a deadline is missed because of life circumstance rather than inaction. It is one thing to miss a deadline because you got sick, because you needed more time to complete a screenplay or because life challenges took you off course; it’s a whole other thing to miss deadlines and milestones repeatedly because you were lazy or simply didn’t complete the task at hand. If a goal appears convoluted break it down: Make sure that what you set up for yourself, ambitious though it may be, is not rocket science. If you need help finishing a script, join a writer’s group or get the help of a screenwriting consultant lined up. If pitching at a pitch event seems too big, break that goal up into preparing your pitch, developing your one sheet, signing up for the event, etc. One step at a time. All of this falls squarely within your control; therefore, there is no reason that you should not be able to achieve it.

Becoming a working screenwriter in today’s industry is a difficult, challenging business. In order to set yourself up for success, you have to first determine what is within your control, and therefore something that you can affect, and what you can only aspire to. Once you set for yourself, and continuously execute, specific goals that drive you towards your greater aspirations, you will not only develop successful habits, but you will also find that you are moving forward at a greater, more confident velocity, bettering your chances for success, knowing that you really did everything within your power to create and maintain success.