After a month in exile, I am finally able to return to ScriptFaze full-force! Sometimes, you gotta practice what you preach, and for the last month I’ve had to focus on a few writing gigs that unfortunately bumped ScriptFaze to the bottom of my priority list. But no longer!
Establishing priorities—and knowing when to step away from projects that aren’t—is an essentially skill for screenwriters. Sure—if you’ve just sold a pitch to Paramount and are now on a fixed schedule for delivery of script drafts, your priority is pretty obvious. Get the drafts in on time and don’t screw it up! But what about those times when you’re freelancing? Or balancing non-film work with your writing, and can only focus on one or two creative projects at a time? How do you set priorities when life GETS BUSY?
Certainly, learning how to use your time efficiently is a first step, and getting yourself on a fixed writing schedule will help you do that. But if you’re like me, and have 6-10 projects happening at any one time, it’s important to ask yourself a few specific questions, and gauge your answers to these questions in deciding which projects need to happen RIGHT NOW and which can wait a few weeks.
Here are the questions I ask myself when choosing which projects to focus on FIRST:
1) How Broke Am I? This is the essential question. If money is no object in your life, and/or you're pulling in plenty of dough working a non-screenwriting job, then you are in the driver's seat on the development of your writing career. Honestly, if you don’t NEED to worry about selling a script in the near future—DON’T. Skip to the other questions on this list, and use THEM to decide what project to delve into first. If you ARE worried about money, then ask yourself—which of my projects am I most likely to be paid for in the NEAR FUTURE? If you’re close to completion or have a deadline (that can mean two different things), then put away that outline for the epic animated cat movie you’ve always wanted to write, and complete the near-sale FIRST.
2) Which Project(s) Most Define the Type of Writer I Want to Be? This is the question all writers should ask themselves every day. If you’re in a position where your decisions don’t need to be driven by your personal finances, don’t let them be! Shelf that big commercial idea that you just KNOW would make the next great Rob Reiner movie, and write the project that most speaks to your tastes and interests as a writer. If you reach any degree of success in the industry, there will come a point when people want to see a script that DEFINES you as a writer. This will be your opportunity to point your career in the direction that YOU want it to go, and you should be prepared for this moment. Also—you’d be surprised how often the un-commercial, totally idiosyncratic idea that you’re SURE no one would ever want to read becomes the script that EVERYONE wants to read. If possible, this should be the project at the top of your priority list.
3) Which Projects Will Take the Most Amount of Time to Finish? Writers are creative people brimming with good ideas, and sometimes you will have SEVERAL projects that fulfill the criteria of Question #2. In that case, you need to focus on which projects should be dropped to the BOTTOM of your priority list. To do this, you’ll need to ask yourself which projects currently on your slate will take the MOST amount of time to complete in relation to the potential for FORWARD MOVEMENT each of these projects might provide. You may have a great George Washington thriller up your sleeve, but let’s face it—a period piece about America’s first president is not going to be the easiest script to sell, and on top of that it may takes MANY MONTHS to research and get right. If you run this project through an old-fashioned ECON 101 cost/benefit analysis, it may become clear that despite the potential, George probably belongs on the bottom of your priority list.
Your list is done! Honestly—it’s as simple as that. There may be other questions you ask yourself when defining your writing priorities, but I have found that MOST of the important questions fall under the three umbrella questions above.
First—the money: What do I NEED to write?
Then—the passion: What do I WANT to write?
Then—the reality: What makes the LEAST SENSE for me to write?
Follow these steps to organize your time and set goals, and you’ll get a lot more done in a lot less time!