Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Something Instead of Nothing

Two years ago, I set a humble goal of writing three pages a day in a screenplay, and in three months I had a working first draft. A draft which bears no resemblance to the story now, currently in its seventh rewrite, but something I could hold in my hand and see as a rough piece of writing which I had created from beginning to end. It was a wonderful feeling, and that experience launched me onto the road to my greatest dream slowly unfolding in front of me as a professional writer.

Life meanders and veers off course with surprising regularity, and recently I remembered how valuable that small goal was of three pages a day, and became determined to institute it once again. I've been trying to write three pages per day in both my novel and my memoir, and now that I've finished reading Story by Robert McKee, I've tried to squeeze in three pages of rewriting on my screenplay too.

I don't always hit it, but I know that on the days I do, I go to bed feeling better than on the days I don't. Small goals are much better than no goals. If you have an aimless feeling in your life, which I have struggled with for many years, I recommend a small goal to get you moving in the direction you want to go. It gives you a motivation deep inside which will astound you, and the rewards of meeting your small goal will be forward motion, which eventually adds up to something where before you only had nothing.

Goals tend to frighten people, but I think those are usually the big goals. Losing thirty pounds is a big goal, but exercising 30 minutes a day and not snacking in the evening are small goals. Renovating your kitchen is massive and stressful, but doing one small thing per day toward that goal is manageable and doesn't uproot your whole life. The goal of finishing my eighty thousand word novel is daunting, but if I consistently write three pages per day in it, I can rack up 22,000 words in a month, which is a lot better than zero, what I would hit if I didn't aim to write three pages per day.

Goals used to make me feel like a failure, but now they provide a kind of measuring stick so I know I am actually moving forward instead of staying in the same spot, spinning around in circles each day. I feel deeply satisfied at any forward motion, and if six pages a day becomes too hard to meet, I have the option of lowering it, or giving myself a day or two off each week for errands and all of the other things I must get done in a week. Goals can be flexible, particularly if they aren't working, but I'm going with the idea that something is always better than nothing when you are talking about an accomplishment.


  1. Great article! I would be nowhere in my writing or anything else for that matter were it not for goals.

  2. WOW. Did you write this one for me, today, Julianne? I definitely need help with goals- small goals, big goals, medium goals, ANY goals. Aimless feeling- yes! LOL
    Maybe we should talk about that Creative Writing class you teach... could it be a distance ed course?

  3. Thanks, Sharla, and I agree that goals are the way to move forward. I've found keeping them small to be the best way to achieve them. Daily "to-do" lists help me too.

    Yes, Aaron, I wrote this for you. :) Start small and then you won't be overwhelmed and quit before you begin. You can do it! At this moment, there is no distance learning for the Creative Writing class, but it's always a possibility in the future! Thanks for the suggestion.