It’s ten years since I started my first year of university. It’s a terrifying thought that makes me weep gently inside as to where that time has gone. Of the many thoughts and memories that this fact has generated over the past few days, there is one that stuck with me and seems particularly pertinent to my current career path – productivity.
My workload at university was pretty intense. Two, 1500-word essays a week was the minimum. Alongside this there would be other written projects, practicals, lectures, supervisions and, in third year, a research dissertation to squeeze in for good measure. Many people I’ve spoken to since have shuddered at such a workload, and to be perfectly honest I look back now and wonder how I managed to get through it all with my sanity (reasonably) intact. But the truth is, at the time, I genuinely didn’t feel that it was that bad. I got every piece of work in on time (as far as I can remember!) and to the standard I wanted it to be (as far as I can remember!) whilst still being able to make regular appearances as a stand-up comedian, write three stage plays and enjoy my fair share of nights out (as far as I can remember!). How was I able to do all of that when nowadays I sometimes struggle to get down a hundred words a day, let alone a thousand?!
All the while I was at university, I had deadlines. A date, set by somebody else, that I had to meet. Under this structure I thrived, and have continued to do so whenever a deadline has been given to me since. At film school, I wrote two drafts of a feature script in six months because I had a deadline. I wrote two drafts of my second feature script in four months whilst working a full-time job, because I had a deadline. Give me a deadline and 99% of the time I will meet it. The problem comes when external deadlines stop and you have to make your own. With no external consequences, it becomes very hard to stick to deadlines you set yourself. You may know what you want to achieve, and you might even know the steps you have to take in order to get there, but it becomes difficult sometimes to escape that question of does it matter when you achieve them if that goal only matters to you? Will an extra day really make that much of a difference? Will an extra week? When you look at it in that timeframe it may seem not, but these smaller delays quickly add up and soon you find that months have passed with very little progress made. It’s a situation I have found myself in recently and one that I’m sure is familiar to many other writers in the early stages of their career.
How can you alter that when you’re writing on spec? What can help you finish that manuscript when nobody knows you’re writing it, let alone telling you when they would like to read it? The key, as far as I can see, is accountability and this is why I am going to run a little experiment on the blog over the next few months to see if this sense of accountability can be replicated without externally set deadlines.
By the end of 2018, I want to have completed a first draft of both my third screenplay and my first novel. These are two projects I have been working on since May but, for one reason or another, haven’t made as much progress on as I would have liked. By stating this intention here, for the world/brave few reading this blog to see, I am hoping this will create a sense of accountability that will act like a deadline for me. Every Monday I will also set myself “smaller” targets to achieve within the following week, and every Monday thereafter I will update the blog with my successes/failures in relation to those goals. Will it get me back to those heady, youthful days of 3000 words per week as a minimum? Maybe yes, maybe no. Either way, it will give me something to work towards each week that is more tangible than a thought in my own head which could, perhaps, lead to more external deadlines in the months and years ahead…
This week’s targets:
- Add 2,000 words to my novel manuscript.
- Add 2,000 words to my screenplay.