Have you stumbled onto the road of lost projects? It’s full of overhanging trees, loud, frightening noises and shadows, so many shadows of abandoned writing projects. I have. I should’ve finished my latest script in February; I should have moved onto my novel, should, should, should, la, la, la.
The beginning of my process was excellent. I wrote a comprehensive rewrite action plan, including a step by step to-do list and I still stumbled onto the lost road.
But what’s done is done, and it’s time to forge a new plan — starting now. The road to creating something impactful was never a straight one.
Here’s my step by step plan to get you back on track and it’s working so far for me. I’ll let you know in May if I’ve failed.
Step 1 — The Desk
How’s your creative space looking? Your desk might be more critical to your lack of progress than you realised.
Imagine if you tidied it up right now and got straight back to your work. It’s worth a try then isn’t it?
I’m a messy desk (everything) kind of girl, but when the concentration is down everything has got to give. Forging a new process needs your full attention and clearing this space will help.
Hairband away, one cup only and all pens in the Lightning Bolt Skull — ready to go.
Step 2 — The Leak
There’s a leak somewhere in your writing pipeline; what is it? At what stage of the writing have you stumbled and is there a way to re-connect the passion?
You need to go back as far as you can to remember when you last loved the project and why you started it in the first place.
The further your push yourself on without finding the root cause of the disconnect, the harder it will be to get going again.
Reread the character notes for your protagonist, antagonist and other significant characters. You won’t have destroyed the energy you once felt for your writing project; you’ve just redirected it somewhere else.
Keep pushing on this step until you remember what you loved about the project. Reread the script or manuscript; highlight the bits that make you smile.
Where you can’t find the love in the current draft go further back — the draft before, the outline, the character, the inspiration.
If you can’t find it then maybe it wasn’t there in the first place, and you can switch to another project knowing that you’ve done everything you can for this and it is time to be laid to rest.
I’m a hopeless romantic about stories. I’ll push mine into other forms and territories before abandoning them.
I didn’t read too far back into my draft to remember my love for the story; for my protagonist Jo, the humour of the superhumans and the wildness of other characters. After going back through it, I’m feeling committed once again.
Step 3 — Where Are You & Where Do you Need to Be
Where are you with the project? Beginning, middle or end?
Are you a halfway through a draft or outline? Identify the point that you veered.
Now look forward and visualise the endpoint. Allow yourself a moment of celebration here. I know, it’s early, but the point of this exercise is to get you back in love with your story.
Fantasise about a point beyond finishing; your first fan with a blog, your first engagement on social media with your project, your first call from a director or investor who has seen your work and MUST connect with you.
My finishing point involves the next draft 2.5.
My fantasy is a call from Andrea Arnold, who would desperately like to direct my script.
I am so ready to get on and finish it now.
Step 4 — New Schedule
You’ve probably passed your old deadline or are ridiculously close to it. Throw it in the bin and create a new one.
What is the date for your finished product?
The first half of a journey is always the hardest so put that date in too.
What is your halfway point date?
Then schedule in a weekly check-in. Half an hour in the diary every week to look back at your plan and tick a box for the week’s progress?
My new deadline is the 10th of May to allow time to review and submit my script to the Austin Film Festival on the 15th.
The halfway point is two weeks from now on the 26th of April, and I can include four check-in points.
Step 5 — The New Action Plan
What do you need to do to get you to your finish point?
How many stages can you identify in between re-starting and finishing.
H?w many actions lie in each stage?
How many inputs do you need for each action?
My plan includes an outline, a slugline outline in Final Draft, rewriting old scenes, writing a new draft, an outline, a shell outline of sluglines, a read-aloud, a draft review from a friend.
Each stage has actions.
Now I have a comprehensive list of things to do to get me to the end.
Step 6 — The Plug
It’s worth having one more pause here to figure out where your distraction danger zones are and how you’re going to avoid them.
What are your internal distractions?
How do these manifest themselves as disruptions to your focus? What actions are you going to put in place to combat these?
My internal distractions are lack of focus, lack of concentration and limited ability to keep my attention on something for longer than an hour.
They manifest themselves in checking email, checking social channels, checking Medium and website stats.
Actions — I’m going to use my Headspace and focus apps. I’m going to schedule in my distraction-free time for first thing in the morning. I’m going to keep my desk tidy — basically, implement all of the excellent advice there is on Medium for staying focused.
The final thing to do is to set your start date. Mine is tomorrow, but no really, I do mean it.
The most significant danger of not finishing your creative projects is that you’ll form a habit of walking away when the going gets tough. Imagine the joy you’re going to feel at tackling an obstacle and pushing yourself to finish your product?
No one else is going to do it for you. You’ve got to do it yourself.
Scrap that start date and get on it now — other projects await you.