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Self-Motivation For Writers 

How to Find Time to Write: A Step-by-Step Guide

By Elaine Radford
Guest Columnist

"I want to write a screenplay, but I just don't have the time." Sound familiar? This is the eternal complaint of many writers, whether they want to write a screenplay, a short story, a novel, or an essay.

Because most of us don't actually make a living writing screenplays or novels, we have to spend most of our days earning a living at some other job and trying to juggle some time to write what we dream about. Since earning a living demands so many hours every day, any time left over must be devoted to necessary tasks we call "home things" (shopping, laundry, cleaning, appointments, etc.).

Let's not forget time for meals, even though many of us eat while we're working or on the run. And what about sleeping? Well, many of us have already shaved hours off what our bodies crave, and we're permanently sleep deprived. If this doesn't describe your life, you are very fortunate. Be happy in your leisure and write on.

But if you are like most writers, constantly pressured to make time to write, you probably feel like you're on a treadmill and can't stop. You certainly can't squeeze any more time out of your day to write something as demanding as a screenplay. So, writing is only on your wish list. But let's suppose you can actually make time to write. There is a way. "How?" you ask. The answer is "planning." It's that simple. You need a plan, and you have to write it down.

Everything you want to accomplish starts with a plan. Structure your plan to answer three key questions: 

     1.) What is your goal?
     2.) When do you want to reach your goal?
     3.) How can you reach your goal?

What is your goal?  Your goal may be to write an outline for a screenplay, or to develop your characters, complete a first draft of a screenplay, a final draft, etc. Whatever your goal is, write it down in one simple sentence.

When do you want to reach your goal?  Put a time limit on when you want to reach your goal—six months, one year, two years. Be realistic. Don't put a time goal down that you know you won't be able to meet. That will simply add stress to your life, and you'll set yourself up for failure. You can go back and revise your timeline, depending on events in your life. But setting a point in time, along with your goal, will motivate you to meet your goal. And you will find the time to write.

How can you reach your goal?   By breaking down your major long-term goal into short-term monthly and weekly goals. It's like cutting food into bite-size pieces. Don't bite off more than you can chew, and you will find the time to write. You must write down monthly and weekly goals in your plan.

Why is Putting Your Plan in Writing so Important?

Writing down your plan is the first step in meeting your goal. As a writer, you know the power of the written word. When you write down your plan, it takes on a life of its own and becomes important to you. It motivates you to start writing your screenplay, or to finish it if you've already begun.

You can use a notebook, a calendar, a weekly/daily planner, a computer software program with planning tools, anything you're comfortable with to record your plan. Once it's completed, you look at your plan every day to keep yourself on track.

Here's an abbreviated sample plan from a screenwriter who already has a story idea for a screenplay and has plotted the story, but has not written the scenes.

Sample Writing Plan

Plan Goal:   Complete first draft of screenplay
Timeline:    Complete in six months—by November 2004
Monthly Goal:   Complete 20 screenplay pages per month
Weekly Goal:  Complete 5 screenplay pages per week
Daily Goal:  Complete one page/one scene per day

This plan is not very detailed, but you get the idea and you will add as much detail as you need to reach your goal. You can see how much easier it is to achieve goals when you work with daily goals that don't demand more than you can deliver. Twenty pages may seem like too much. But when it's broken down into one page or one scene per day, it's manageable. And you can see how quickly five pages per week add up to twenty pages a month, and one hundred twenty pages in six months. That's a complete screenplay.

With this plan, you can juggle a full-time job and other obligations, writing one page a day or one scene a day, or whatever you can comfortably handle.You're working toward your long-term goal, keeping your story going, moving toward completing five pages a week. And by the end of the first month, completing twenty pages will seem like a great accomplishment. It is. 

After six months, you will have completed your first draft of a screenplay. You may then want to write a new plan with a new goal for completing a rewrite and a final draft that will be ready to sell.

How do you find the time to write even one scene a day with your busy schedule? That's where detailed planning comes in. You look at your daily obligations and see that you have a forty-five minute ride every day to and from work on a commuter train. You choose to write rather than sleep or read the newspaper. Maybe, you'll find time on your lunch break, or after dinner, or waiting in the Laundromat. Do whatever works for you.

Once you've stolen the time to write from somewhere in your daily schedule, try to stick to it. Tell yourself, "This is my time for me to reach my goal." Soon you'll be looking forward to this stolen time to write and you'll enjoy it. You'll become very selfish about the time you've set aside to write, as you should be. And you won't let anything interfere with your writing.

What if you don't meet your daily goal? Don't be too hard on yourself. There will be times when something will get in the way of achieving even a daily goal. That's no reason to abandon your plan. Just keep going the next day. If you find you can't meet any of your daily small goals, you need to go back and rewrite your plan. Your expectations are more than you can deliver. You need to find your personal comfort zone—how much you can comfortably accomplish every day. Every little step gets you closer to your goal.

Rewards keep you motivated. So, reward yourself with something special when you achieve a short-term monthly goal. Go out for dinner, buy some mouth-watering chocolate or other delicacy, toast yourself with a glass of wine. Be sure to tell yourself that you deserve this treat because you achieved one of your goals.

Years from now, will you say, "I should have, would have, could have written a screenplay." Or will you be able to say, "I completed a screenplay." Maybe your first screenplay will get produced and you'll go on to write others. Maybe not. But you must go on and write another, because every project will get you closer to your goal. You learn something valuable from everything you write. Perhaps your second or third screenplay will be the one that makes it to the screen. One thing is certain, it takes tenacity.

You have great ideas for screenplays. But great ideas don't make great films. Great ideas developed into screenplays become motion pictures. So start drafting your writing plan now for tomorrow's screenplay that puts your name in lights.

Copyright 2004, Elaine Radford, All Rights Reserved.

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