BALLS OF STEEL: Realistic Writing Goals Minus the Punching Bag

Jeanne Veillette Bowerman is the Editor of Script Magazine and a screenwriter, having written the narrative adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Slavery by Another Name, which was honored in the Top 25 Tracking Board Launch Pad Features Competition. Follow Jeanne on Twitter @jeannevb.

Click to tweet this article to your friends and followers!

As the month of January draws to a close, many of you are scratching your heads wondering how you got sidetracked from the writing goals you were determined to meet.

Welcome to my world. My name is Jeanne, and I fell off the writing-goal wagon.

Let’s get real here. It’s inevitable a few steel balls will drop now and then. But it’s what we do under pressure that defines us as humans and as writers. Pressure. It’s the killer of creativity – the pressure of meeting a goal, the pressure of not making a deadline, and the worst pressure of all, the pressure of having let ourselves down.


So, what are your options? Instead of beating myself up, I imagine myself as a character in my story. What if I had a goal for them and they kept getting sidetracked? Am I going to let them say, “F*ck it, I’ll just go back to my ordinary world and stop pursuing that goal”?

My story would be a yawn and no one would read it.

Uma Thurman in ‘Kill Bill’

Instead, I’d give them another opportunity and another and another until I find ways to make them actively pursue their goals that made sense for both the character and the story.

Why not do that for yourself too?

Your perfect writing plan is not working. The first step is admitting that. Whether it’s because your day job is busier than usual, your kids are tugging on your shirt sleeve, the gym is calling your name to shed the ten holiday pounds you packed on, or maybe the bar is even more tempting, the writing just ain’t happenin’. Some writers get so bogged down in researching their scripts, they use it as a procrastination tool. That’s a problem we can fix this very minute. Brad Johnson shot me over a link today from WGA with a ton of free research resources for writers. No excuses now!

Now let’s fix the rest of your problems…

Whatever it is that’s distracting you is not going to magically go away. You need to figure out how to control it… and your time.

Let me be the example: I set a goal to write one hour a day. Simple. I could do that. And then… BAM! A slew of projects hit my desk, holiday decorations are collecting dust (yes, my Christmas decorations are still up… don’t judge me), and despite working 12-hour days, dinner needs to be put on the table.  My normal routine of comfort is to accomplish all my “must do” items first, and then take “me” time to write.

Guess what happened? There was no “me” time until 11:00pm, and this chick was pouring a margarita by then. Writing was not getting done.

So, I did what I do for my characters. I started brainstorming ways to accomplish the goal. I wrote a list of all the things I needed to do that day, put them into a spreadsheet with hours, and realized I had short spurts of time and not a solid one-hour chunk. The sigh was heavy.  Then I remembered something writing coach Jenna Avery shared – writing 15 minutes a day counts and will lead to words on a page faster than you think.

FRRRREEEDOM! Yes, I said that with the Braveheart slur of the “r”.

For the last week I’ve been meeting my goal of 15 minutes of writing a day. It has been liberating! By taking just that tiny slice of time and dedicating it to my passion, I have smiled more and beaten myself up less. After 15 minutes, I realize the sky didn’t fall because I stopped to take care of my needs as a writer. When I could, I set the timer for another 15 minutes, and another, until most days, I ended up accomplishing a solid hour of writing.

Be realistic. Stop beating yourself up. Steal whatever time you can and put it toward the goals you have set. A few minutes of something is better than a whole lot of nothing.

One other tip: Have more than one project going at a time.  That way, when it is time to write, pick the one you are most in the mood to work on. Like today, I was having a Kill Bill mojo moment, and really wanted to write a murder scene. I put the Slavery by Another Name rewrite down and picked up my trilogy project. I set the timer for 15 minutes and did a stream-of-consciousness writing sprint where I splattered words and blood on the page. I don’t know if it’ll end up in the novel, but it felt damn good to get out the gory details.

Now I need to shower the blood off. Or I could do another writing sprint instead! I’m beginning to understand why writers are always dirty. Goals get in the way of cleanliness. But damn, there’s nothing like that feeling of fresh words on a page.

What’s keeping you from meeting your writing goals? Share it here, and perhaps some of our readers have a creative answer to help!

P.S. As I added the Kill Bill image to this piece, I couldn’t help but remember the scene in which Uma Thurman’s character escapes her coffin. Quite a monumental goal… and she did it one punch at a time. Just sayin’.

Set S.M.A.R.T. writing goals to learn how to meet the deadline and be more efficient in your writing with our FREE Writing Goal Worksheet.

Download this free guide to set better writing goals and improve how you meet deadlines today!

coffee-break-screenwriter-pilar-alessandra_mediumGet more help for writing on a tight schedule with
The Coffee Break Screenwriter: Writing Your Script 10 Minutes at a Time by Pilar Alessandra

10 thoughts on “BALLS OF STEEL: Realistic Writing Goals Minus the Punching Bag

  1. BR

    It’s the knowledge about how hard it is to break into the industry and the frightening, “How the hell do I even get my foot in the door” thought. I want this so badly and it seems so impossible! Whine!

  2. Hunter

    My main problem is definitely being in the mood for different projects, which leads me not to write at all because I cannot commit. Sometimes things are so simple: Have more than one project going at a time! Thanks Jeanne!

  3. Linda Robbins

    Thanks, Jeanne, for another inspiring, “kick in the butt” article! I’m embracing the 15 minutes a day challenge in order to keep at bay all the other stuff life throws at us while I realize my writing goals. I think it was Jerry Seinfeld who said he tries not to “break the chain” . . . in other words, even if it’s only a sentence, he writes something every day in order to make some kind of progress.

    I find I don’t “break the chain” even if I spend time working out the genealogy of my characters or tweaking the dialogue in a scene while I’m taking my walk or loading the dishwasher or . . . sitting at my desk at work! It all goes toward that forward motion when I finally jot it down on paper later and it puts me one step closer to my goal.

    Thanks again for helping us all smile more and beat ourselves up less. Everyone keep writing!

  4. Jenna AveryJenna Avery

    You touched on some critically important points with this article, Jeanne. Not only can we accomplish a tremendous amount of writing in 15 minutes a day, we also set ourselves up having a positive experience with writing, which makes it easier to keep coming back to.

    Plus you are so smart to take the approach of brainstorming new solutions and looking honestly at your situation. So many writers label it as “failing” if they aren’t meeting their goals. I don’t see it as failure, I see it as information that tells us something like,, “Okay, so you’re not writing. What’s happening instead? What’s getting in the way?” Then we can start troubleshooting and brainstorming solutions. In other words, being creative — something we’re naturally good at. It’s all about the mindset and approach.

    Rock on, you’re amazing!

  5. Guillermo

    Great article as usual! I’m about to start to write a spec for the upcoming fellowship submissions, so there is an obvious deadline to keep me focused on writing. Again, i have to say great articles, they really do help keep us going!

  6. Leona Heraty

    Hi Jeanne, I too haven’t done much writing this month, so it’s good to know I’m not alone. But, you’re right, we can do 15 minutes of writing at a time, and that would make us feel a lot better.

    I remember reading about the mystery writer, Mary Higgins Clark, and how she had many obstacles to overcome to become a published, famous author. Her husband, unfortunately, passed away when they were in their early 30s, leaving Mary with 5 children, and no job. So, she got a full-time job as a secretary and went to school at night to earn a creative writing degree. She said she didn’t have much time to herself, as anyone who is a single parent with 5 kids could relate to. So, she carved out a little time at night, when the kids were in bed, to write a little bit, and in the early morning, before the kids got up, and before they went off to school and she went to work.

    It took her a while to finish a book and get her first book published, but meanwhile, she stuck it out everyday and kept writing at night, working in the day, raising her kids AND going to night school, and lo and behold…the day came when she finished her degree, and had her first book published! 🙂

    She was eventually able to quit her day job and write first time, and the rest is history. And, she raised five wonderful kids by herself as she built her mystery writing career and later married a wonderful guy. So, if she can find the time to write with all of her obligations, I know I can too!

    I hope this story inspires everyone too to find at least 15 little ‘ol minutes to just write! 🙂

  7. Melissa Pugh

    This article came at the right moment! My writing partner and I set writing goals – individual and collaborations – on Dec 29th, but haven’t done anything. So as I was printing up our list of goals for inspiration, I came across this article. THANK YOU!!! Just what I needed to read!