Sorry for the delay with this article. I hope you’ve been writing while I’ve been gone. If so, you should be finished your first draft. This will be next week’s topic of discussion – what to do next. But this week I hope you can join me while we discuss ways we can keep our focus on our writing.
Week Nine – Keeping Focus through the Long Haul
Teachers Bring Focus
I love to write and I have loved to write since I was in grade school. I remember writing stories in English class back in 5th and 6th grade. When the assignment called for 5 pages I wrote 10. I don’t know if my grade 5 teacher read my extra pages, but I know my 6th grade teacher did. Her comments were both critical and encouraging. She pointing out areas where my story telling excelled as well as where it needed work.
My grade 11 English teacher, Mr. Lalla (pronounced La-La) left the greatest impression on me. We had a different writing assignment every month. They were up to 30 pages each and at the beginning of the month he would give us the theme or some other idea to write about and we wrote on that for a month. At the end of the month we’d hand them in and got started on the next story. I loved that idea as it gave me the focus a kid needs to write every day. The first month I created a cop story with two detectives Joshua Day and Eric Knight. Handing that story in and being given the topic of the next month’s story I had the idea to continue the adventures of Day and Knight. That year each story was a chapter in a larger story about these two detectives. Each month the comments from Mr. Lalla were better and better has enjoyed where the story was going. The last story was a 60 page finale that brought everything together. The detectives caught the bad guy and I received an A in the class. There was only one month where I received a comment that the story had very little to do with the stated theme/topic – but it was in there. I told him it was subtle, I didn’t want to hit the reader over the head with it.
Everyone can write. It’s a skilled taught in grade school and honed throughout the student’s career, but very few people are storytellers. To be a storyteller, the individual needs to be creative with a flair for the dramatic. This often starts early in life and needs to be cultivated in students. Cuts to schools are affecting the creativity of our students and that’s going to hurt our society as these students become adults as creativity is a major requirement in a lot of life’s little jobs.
Deadlines Bring Focus
Getting those school writing assignments finished is what was needed to keep my focus on my writing for nearly nine months. A deadline on any task often brings focus to the work but how do you stay focus when your writing for yourself with no deadlines looming over you? The first thought is to give yourself a self-imposed deadline. You could tell yourself that you need to get the next four beats written by Friday. There are no repercussions if you miss your deadline, but it gives you something to focus on. This blog has been a deadline for me (one which has slipped this month). I’ve pushed to get each of these ten articles written, one each week so my readers can follow along. While no one will (or has) yelled at me for missing a couple of weeks this month, I am disappointed in myself.
The entire point of the Write Your Screenplay in 70 Days project was to establish daily and weekly deadlines that the writer can stick to that will allow him (or her) get the end of their first draft within just 70 days. Looking back on the project some of the writing assignments were larger than just a single day, while others were smaller but I think for the most part the project will allow the writer to bring focus to their storytelling and allow them to finish within the 70 days.
Excitement Brings Focus
You woke up at 2 am last night with an awesome new idea for a screenplay. You naturally wrote it down on the pad of paper you keep next to your bed and now, in the shower 5 hours later you’re already thinking through the possible story points and you are getting excited about this project. This excitement brings focus to your planning stage and often lasts into the writing stage. But sometimes the excitement wanes and the story idea, while good, often is tossed aside. This has happened to nearly every writer at least once. I once had a movie title pop into my head and I had no idea what I was supposed to do with it. I wrote it down in my Idea Book and left it alone for a few months. I thought of it again a couple of nights ago and my mind has been working out some ideas that might work and I’m looking forward to writing down some notes and building a story for it.
Excitement over a story idea, a character or even a title is often the boot to the butt we need to get started but excitement rarely gets writing task completed. Excitement will not keep you focused while you research the type of buckles worn by pirates in the South Seas in the 17th and 18th centuries but excitement does light the fuse and gets you started.
Determination Brings Focus
You could be determined to tell a specific story or to get this story finally written down. Determination to finish a project alone can be the driving thing that keeps you focused. I’ve been working on a screenplay called Brierwood for several years. I’m determined to see the story finished (I have finished several versions of the screenplay already) but I know that will take time. There’s no timeline on the story which allows me to walk away from it for months at a time, but it is determination that keeps me coming back. You might be sitting on beat 45 of a screenplay and your determination to finish keeps you moving forward. If you have never finished a screenplay before, the simple idea of actually writing The End can bring the focus you need to get the screenplay finished.
I’m determined to finish the 10 blog posts needed to complete the 70 Days project as well as to then use those 10 posts to build and write a completely new story and screenplay from just the title I thought of a few months ago. Determination can drive anyone to do great things so let it help you push through the hard parts.
I hope you’ve been enjoying this project and would love to hear your comments below about your thoughts. We can all be a teacher offering each other comments that are both critical and encouraging. See you next week.