by John Bucher (@johnkbucher)
January brings a season of new beginnings, re-dedication to lost disciplines, and an opportunity to try experiments that can become habits. Many writers use the new year as a starting place for birthing a new work. Just like with scripts, most writers need structure in their writing routines in order to complete their story. Putting together a strategic plan for crafting a project is the first step in making what was once an idea in your head a reality. Here are four concrete steps you can take to complete a new writing project in 2017.
1. CREATE A CHECKLIST
One of the biggest mistakes writers make is letting their excitement about beginning a new project drive them into the process without any real planning. Ask yourself how well this method has served you in the past. Do you often finish the projects you begin this way? Most of us do not. Taking a day or two to plan out the project can make all the difference in whether your new story matures into adulthood or gets stuck in permanent infancy. The first step in planning your strategy is to put together a checklist for the various stages needed to arrive at a final draft. Here are a few things to consider putting on your checklist:
_____ Main Character (Who is this story about? Whose story will I tell?)
_____ Goal (What is the one thing this character wants? Can this goal be photographed?)
_____ Conflict (What or preferably who is standing in the way of my character reaching this goal?)
_____ Logline (My story in one sentence)
_____ Theme (What is the one lesson in my story? What is the simple idea my story is about?)
_____ Outline (3-page summary of story – 1 page for each act)
_____ Treatment (My story in paragraph form – 5 to 10 pages)
_____ Detailed Outline (A brief description of each scene in the story that may include some dialogue)
_____ First Draft (A draft that just gets the entire story with dialogue on the page)
_____ Drafts 2, 3, 4, 5… (Drafts needed to craft the story and work out problems)
_____ Final Draft
2. CREATE A SCHEDULE/CALENDAR
Once you’ve determined the various stages that you will need for your own work flow, you can begin to work on a schedule for each stage. Remember, it’s much easier to remove stages that you decide you don’t need than it is to have to go back and add a stage that you left out, thinking you wouldn’t need it.
Determining a regular time each day or each week to write is crucial for most writers. Finding a time when you can be alone, concentrate, and be free from distractions is often the greatest challenge a writer faces. Early morning, before phone calls begin and people begin to feel others are accessible, can be an excellent time to write. Your internal editor is not fully awake yet and you may find a greater flow of creativity. Writers who make a pact with themselves not to open e-mail, social media, or news sites have even greater chances of success in maintaining a steady work pattern.
While some writers can maintain the discipline of using a digital calendar to schedule their work sessions, other writers benefit from having a physical calendar hanging on the wall to look at daily, reminding them of their writing schedule and upcoming deadlines. Having a written reminder in front of you constantly can have a powerful effect. LA Screenwriter offers this free one-page writing tracker.
3. CREATE DEADLINES
Most people acknowledge that they work to completion more often when there is a hard deadline looming. Writers are no different. Self-imposed deadlines can be difficult for some to honor. However, publically announcing a deadline can create a sense of healthy pressure that may cause you to finish a project that you would otherwise let slide.
While deadlines should be realistic, they should also be challenging. If the only deadline you set for yourself is to finish a project by the year’s end, there will be little motivation to move forward until it’s too late. This is why each leg of progress on your checklist should also have an accompanying deadline. Writers who have completed the first four sections of a checklist are more likely to be motivated to complete the final six. There is a sense of momentum that helps slow and steady progress feel like a collection of small victories leading to the winning of a larger war.
If you miss a deadline, give yourself a new deadline within 3-5 days of the deadline you missed. Don’t let one misstep derail your entire process. There are chemical reactors in the brain that reward us when we meet deadlines. The more deadlines we have in a project, and thus the more deadlines we meet, the more rewards we will feel in our progress, and the closer we will move towards the finish line.
4. INVITE A CREATIVE PARTNER INTO YOUR PROCESS
Writing can be a lonely business. Having someone to travel the journey alongside of us can make all the difference. Many writers are reluctant to ask another writer to hold them accountable to monitor progress and deadlines, for a variety of reasons. If you know another willing writer, providing this service might be a helpful service to trade.
However, your creative partner doesn’t necessarily need to be a writer or a creative person at all. Any close friend will make for a good candidate when drafting someone to hold you accountable for your deadlines and progress. Giving that person a copy of your checklist, schedule, or calendar can make the project more real. Sincerely asking them to check up with you on deadlines and serve as someone to turn your work over to is of greater benefit than relying on the honor system.
Selecting someone who you know will consider your request with thoroughness is important. Make sure your creative partner is someone you care about disappointing. While sitting down to write is a solitary act, writers can wisely create communities of support around themselves. Remember that those who finish projects are people just like you. They are people who get busy, get distracted, and feel like giving up sometimes. But most importantly, they are people that simply show up at the computer to write on a regular basis, sticking with their process until the final FADE OUT.
John Bucher is a writer, speaker, and story consultant based out of Los Angeles. He is the author of several books including The Inside Out Story and Master of the Cinematic Universe: The Secret Code to Writing in the New World of Media. He has written for entities ranging from HBO to U.S. Ambassadors. He teaches at The LA Film Studies Center and has conducted story seminars on five continents. He can be reached on Twitter @johnkbucher and through his site, tellingabetterstory.com.