By Christina Hamlett
Have you ever wondered if the characters in your unfinished screenplay will finally get so tired waiting for you to wrap up their story that they just write the rest themselves? Real life, alas, has a pesky way of encroaching on the time you need for your “reel” life. If you’ve ever caught yourself saying, “But there aren’t enough hours,” consider this article your wake-up call. You actually have all the hours you need to keep on schedule with your writing; you simply need to allocate them more efficiently.
By the Numbers
If your boss gives you a task, there’s probably a due date attached to it. Writing, however, is a solitary craft that often embraces a “get-to-it-when-I-get-to-it” mindset. Unless there’s a specific deadline looming, it’s too easy to let a project slide by falling back on the excuse that your muse just isn’t cooperating. Well, it’s time to readjust that attitude, put on a “boss” hat and become more accountable for product delivery.
Let’s say you’re writing a 100-page script and you’re set on a 4-week deadline. In order to meet this goal, you need to produce 25 pages a week (5 a day if you take weekends off). It’s really not that much but where most writers err is in editing as they go. Don’t do this. Just write. Edit when you’re finished. If you edit as you compose, you’re going to spend way too much time agonizing over the perfect first line and never get to the second one.
Another approach is to commit to writing one page a day for 3-1/2 months. Even if you have a wild spurt of creativity and write 10 pages in a single afternoon, it doesn’t let you off the hook for the next 10 days; it just means you’re that much farther ahead. We’ll still expect the mandatory one page from you tomorrow. Psychologists say it takes 21 days to incorporate a new habit into your behavior. If you steadfastly apply this to a daily writing schedule, you couldn’t not write on Day 22.
When I was penning romantic suspense novels for HarperCollins, I worked with several women who were voracious readers. Rather than join a critique group of fellow writers, I found it more valuable to test-drive my material on people who represented my target demographic. Every Friday afternoon, I’d distribute copies of my latest chapters. Since it was my style to end each one with a cliffhanger, they’d usually accost me first thing Monday morning and demand to know what happened next. I dared not show up empty-handed.
Whether you recruit your own readers or work with writing partner(s), engaging others in your writing process is a powerful motivator to impose stick-to-itiveness. If you don’t have access to supporters to push and prod you along, the next best thing is to never end your writing day at a point where it’s too hard to restart. Finishing a scene, for instance, makes you feel less inclined to begin a new one than if you end in the middle of a line: “Oh, Jeffrey, I know it’s bad timing but there’s a—” There’s a what???? Yes, you know what “it” is and it’ll drive you crazy to have to wait a day to type it.
Finding the 25th Hour
Could your writing schedule use an extra hour? Of course it could, but to paraphrase Captain Jack Sparrow, “The Isla de More Time cannot be found except by those who already know where it is.” If you want to keep to a code of high productivity, it starts with aggressive decluttering. For a single day, record how much time you spend checking email, surfing the Internet, reading TMZ gossip, looking for lost notes, playing computer games. Yikes! Who’d have imagined how it all adds up!
* If you live with others, how often do they interrupt and derail your train of thought? Writing is your job. Insist on respect.
* Learn keyboard shortcuts to save typing time. (http://www.microsoft.com/enable/products/keyboard.aspx)
* Consolidate/delegate your errand-running.
* Identify your most productive writing zone and consistently stick to it.
* Remove distractions from your workspace.
* Get up earlier; go to bed later.
* Read Laura Vanderkam’s 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, Kenneth Atchity’s A Writer's Time: Making the Time to Write, and Pilar Alessandra’s The Coffee Break Screenwriter: Writing Your Script Ten Minutes at a Time.
* Invest in electronic programs such as NewNovelist.com, StoryCraft, Quick Story, Writer’s Café, Writer’s Blocks as well as voice recognition software.
* Use rewards – a spa day, chocolate, new shoes - to stay motivated. (Didn’t you always do your homework faster when you knew you could go play afterwards?)
Inspired? Great! Now go get back to your characters. They’ve missed you.
Former actress and director Christina Hamlett is an award-winning author, professional ghostwriter and script consultant whose credits to date include 31 books, 157 stage plays, 5 optioned feature films, and squillions of articles and interviews. Learn more at www.authorhamlett.com.
Social media, Facebook, E-books, Travel, Lifestyle, Business, Blogging; you name it we talk about it.