Balls of Steel: New Year, New You, New Script

This month at ScriptMag, we’re focusing on what you can do in the New Year to really improve yourself, both in craft and in your chances of success as a writer. Whether that means taking screenwriting classes, building your network, or learning how to meditate, everything you do has a potential to help you grow and evolve as a writer and a person.

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I really don’t want to write yet another one of those “It’s New Year’s so let’s set some goals!” pieces. Gag me.  I see so many people on Twitter and Facebook claiming to be “writers” yet years go by and they haven’t finished a single script. I don’t want that to be you. I want you to be one of the ones who types “FADE OUT” this year, hopefully more than once.

So let’s focus on how you can take your own goals and use them to improve yourself, your scripts, and your characters.

Think about it, every protagonist has to have a goal. If s/he doesn’t, we have nothing to root for. Make sure s/he has a clear goal. It’ll focus your story and help you come up with obstacles to throw in the way.

Why do people set goals? I can only speak for myself, but I set them in order to accomplish something, to give me a ticking clock and a sense of pressure, but I also set goals to broaden my outlook and skill set and to help make me a more interesting person.

Before you try to create the perfect protagonist, let me remind you, just because someone seems like they have their act together, doesn’t make them interesting or enlightening. Sometimes it just makes them boring. Every interesting person I know is full of flaws and layers of complexity.

Take a really good look at your protagonist. Would you find him fascinating to have dinner with? Or would he be the kind of person you wouldn’t even bother to try to eavesdrop on if you were at the next table?

For me, a great story is all about the characters. Sure, there’s a hook, but the characters that execute that hook are the reason you want (and need) to turn the page. Make me care. Make me want to see them succeed. Make me have to watch their next move because I can’t possibly predict what it’s going to be.

Just like I wouldn’t be a close friend with someone who bored me or had no charm or passion, I wouldn’t want to follow a bland character for two hours, no matter who is playing him. But the other truth is, no decent actor is going to want to play a one-note character either.

Examine your characters. If you find them a bit of a yawn, try imagining a goal they might set for themselves. Give them one, even something nutty like a long-awaited dream to learn how to skydive. Just imagining that might help you develop him into a person you’d want to not only spend two hours with, but also ride cross-country in an Amish wagon with.

Speaking of Amish, have you guys checked out Amish Mafia yet? Talk about characters you would not expect to find. Just sayin’.

Back to goals…

The number one rule of goal setting is to be realistic. Don’t set yourself up for failure. The same goes for your characters and your story. Don’t give them a goal that’s impossible for them to meet or a character flaw that’s way too complicated to create a believable evolution.

When it comes to setting a personal goal, you have to be realistic, not only about your ability to achieve it, but also about all the excuses you might make when you aren’t working toward that goal.

For example, a common goal is to write a little every single day. In order to achieve that, you’re going to have to learn how to say no to other requests and/or obligations. Be selective with your time. Guard it.

When you start making excuses as to why you aren’t writing. Stop. Breathe. Then imagine you are watching your best friend sabotage herself. What would you tell her? My guess is you’d slap her aside the head, give her some tough love, and remind her why her success is important.

Be your own best friend.

Write. Write because you love it. Write because you deserve it. Write because you are the only one who can write that story the way it is intended to be told. Do the same thing for your characters and their storyline. Give them the kind of story only they can make interesting. Honor them. Honor your logline. Honor that brilliant idea you came up with.

Don’t give up on your script. Don’t give up on yourself.

Just like you have to spend time writing each day, you also need to spend time keeping up with industry news. But be careful not to use this research as procrastination time. An hour a day will do it.

Bottom-line, you need to sit your ass in that chair and do the hard work. That script ain’t gonna write itself, and I’m not going to write it for you. It takes 28 days to develop a habit. Promise me you will put the effort in for the next 28 days to achieve the goals you have set for yourself.

In return, I will promise you one thing – every time you sit down in the chair, and get the words on the page, you will feel amazing. That thrill will carry you into the next day and the next day.

Love yourself enough to give your writing a chance.

To really put the pressure on, I want you to put your number one writing goal in the comment section below. Say it “out loud.”

I’ll start. This year, I am going to write the first novel of my trilogy. Did I hear you gasp at the work “novel”?  Yes, a screenwriter is writing a novel. Don’t worry, I’m going to adapt that sucker later, but I’m choosing to start the story as a novel because I want to be able to crawl into the character’s head in a way I can’t do in screenwriting. Besides, I need a new challenge. After all, that’s a part of why I set new goals… to keep myself from being predictable and boring.

So tell me… what are your goals and how can we all help you stay on track?

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15 thoughts on “Balls of Steel: New Year, New You, New Script

  1. Linda Robbins

    Thanks for NOT writing another boring New Year’s resolution article Jeanne! Can’t wait to hear more about your novel. I’m actually jumping away from my supernatural/thriller spec for a while to outline the Western (that’s right, I said Western) that I pitched last year and had a rep say sounded like a great miniseries. I delayed sending the outline to him due to a family emergency and now I feel embarrassed to reconnect with him since it’s been so long but you can’t win if you don’t play, right? What’s the worst that can happen . . . he says “forget about it”? At least I’ll still have done the work and grown from it. Thanks for reminding us to “write the story the way it was intended to be told”.

  2. Nikki

    Another inspiring article, as always. Goals for the year:
    1. Finish draft of sci-fi pilot.

    2. Find the courage to ask an author if I can adapt her novel. (I pre-wrote a draft a year ago to see if I could do it. )

    3. Finish script for my graphic novel. I’ve been researching for what seems like forever and I think I’ve gotten bogged down in details. I just need to get it on the page.

    Good luck on the novel, Jeanne!

  3. Eva

    I love your articles! And this one is very true :). My goal for this year is to write my script using the Save the Cat method. We shall see how it goes :).

    Good luck, Jeanne! Looking forward on following on this journey of yours 🙂

  4. Miles Maker

    The 1st draft of my screenplay TRANSHUMANIA will be complete by early March. I have no choice, as I have development meetings and merchandise meetings lining up. I’ve been researching transhumanism, posthumanism, the singularity and rainbow body for about 7 months–I’ve written my tag line, logline, synopsis, backstory, character breakdowns, beat sheet and narrative through-line. There’s nothing left to do but write the screenplay, and that will happen quickly being that the script has now been laid out in front of me and on my wall.

    best wishes 2013!

  5. Daniel P. CalvisiStoryMapsDan

    1. Finish my book, “Story Maps: The Films of Christopher Nolan.”
    2. Get my pilot in great shape and get it out there.
    3. Finish my neo-noir thriller.
    4. Get at least one of my students repped or sold.

    Great post, Jeanne! I hope we can work together in 2013, good luck and happy writing.


  6. romona robinson

    Love, love, love this. JVB, you are such a blessing…please know that. If it wasn’t for you, I probably wouldn’t have been made aware of someone who also is a blessing, Unknown Screenwriter.

    Yes, with the blessing of good health this year, I plan to honor myself and my writing. No excuses.

    -Remember to note my journey.
    -I’ve completed two drafts for 2012. Now time to work on rewrite process.
    -Will complete at least two new drafts for 2013.

    It’s out there. Done and done.

  7. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

    Jamie, I actually thought of you while I was writing this, not because we were doing a writing sprint together, but because of the incredible volume of work you put out every year. You inspire me.

    That’s some stack of goals, Carlo! Bravo! Keep us posted on how you do and what you learn from the process.

    Sharita and Tonja, memoirs and stories of family are tough. Have your therapist on speed dial 🙂 Seriously, you’re going to learn a lot about yourselves writing them. That’s always a good thing.

    Patrick, thanks for your continued support in our community. This past year I discovered the power of loving yourself. It truly is the key to success, both in life and in pursuing a passion. You’re going to nail those scripts.

  8. Patrick Mahon

    Write two original first drafts. And start on a third.

    Thank you Jeanne for your continued inspiration. The most important line I’m taking away from this today is:

    “Love yourself enough to give your writing a chance.”

    Good luck with your novel.

  9. Tonja

    Honestly, my goal this year is to get the gears going in one personal project I’ve been wanting to do for years: write a screenplay about my mother’s life. As I believe she’s had many “movie moments” in her life. It’s gonna be a long, arduous process but my goal is to get the outline done and a first draft done by the end of the year. \o/

  10. Carlo

    Thanks for an always-enjoyable, blog Jeanne.

    I have four main goals this year as far as accomplishing writing projects is concerned.
    1. Finish the low-budget feature I’m working on.
    2. Turn one of my big-budget screenplays into a Y.A novel (finally, since I’ve put it on the back burner four times)
    3. Adapt my first screenplay into an hour-long pilot for a drama/thriller series
    4. Start a blog.

    My other goals include finding an agent/publisher for a nonfiction project my coauthor and I have been shopping around; finding an agent for my screenwriting; creating more opportunities to pitch my work and myself. And lastly, sell, sell, sell.

  11. Jamie Lee Scott/Jamie Livingston

    Great New Year’s post Jeanne. My goals for screenwriting are to rewrite the 5 I have written, and shop the thriller I wrote with a co-writer. That’s it. I’m not putting so many plates in the air this year. I hope you have a fantastic time writing your novel. It is fun to write and have no page limit to tell the story.