5 REASONS TO FOCUS ON ONE PROJECT AT A TIME

You have too much stuff: too many things, too many ideas, too many projects, too many commitments. This mental clutter creates static that prevents you from focusing your creativity in a productive way. There’s always the temptation to write multiple stories at once, but people are not good at multitasking. The beginning writer should have a single, main project that receives the vast majority of their creative energies.

A single project forces you to be accountable.

The ability to move to another project opens the door to procrastination. If you get stuck, if a scene sucks, you can flit to another script and never have to finish anything. Procrastinators create a swirl of chaos that prevents them from ever having to face up to deadlines and feel the pain of failure. This is counterproductive to real growth, you want to go deeper, not wider. A single script also gives you a visual indication of your progress, if you’re not sure how you’re doing, check the page count.

A single project helps you learn the craft in a practical way.

We learn by doing, and by doing well. Writing is a craft, like wood working. When you take a high school shop class, they don’t say ‘here is the holistic theory of woodworking,’ they give you a project that you have to make. It’s the same here – use your single project to build your skills. Learn how to do each step exquisitely, learn to give each step the benefit of your complete attention. It’s good advice for life, and great for screenwriting.

A single project allows you to go deeper into the world of your story.

A good story is a vivid dream that comes from your true heart, polished by your craft and artifice. Without the true connection to your imagination, there’s only artifice, and that’s pretty thin gruel. You must believe in the world you create and that’s hard to do if it’s only one of many you’re currently invested in. It’s hard to delve deeper if you’re always switching the channel. If your life was only one of many, how invested could you possibly be in this one?

A single project maximizes your creativity

Creativity dies in a vacuum, but thrives when faced with limits. The restriction of having only one world to play in creates a core of discipline that strengthens and supports the rest of your process, allowing your creativity to play. Wanting to “write a little on one of many projects” isn’t concrete enough to be inspiring, knowing that you’ve got to write scene 42 and then scene 43 gives you something to focus on, and trains your creativity for the clutch situations you’ll face if and when you make it to the pros.

A single project serves as the engine that bears you forward.

If you have three projects (and again, you shouldn’t), and you write 700 words on one every day, you will inevitably finish the one and make progress on the others despite yourself. If you have three projects and write 700 on something, you will tangle yourself in words. Having a single focus is like a rising tide that lifts all boats, splitting up your focus makes it that much harder to finish anything. Think of screenplays like owing debt on multiple accounts, or like enemies in a video game. It’s easier to knock off one at a time than it than it is to jump from one to another, letting all of them sap you in the process.

Related: Guidelines for that one project.

How perfectionism compounds procrastination.

“The perfect is the enemy of the good.” ~ Voltaire

I haven’t blogged in a while.  At first, it was a simple lapse in discipline (not writing is super easy and amazingly fun), but then I started feeling guilty, and then and shame compounded my non-writery.  Then, worst of all, I started getting lofty.  As I’d been away for a while, I wanted to produce something that justified all the time I hadn’t been writing.  Surely, I thought, my sloth can be mitigated if I emerge from the desert with an absolutely brilliant idea that changes everything.

Nope.

I spent the last week doing preliminary notes  for an e-book on a marvelous theory of everything, but it got too lofty, and it collapsed under its own weight.  It now exists in a little folder on my hard drive with all the other lofty projects that I’m honestly never going to review.  I saw this disaster coming.  Subconsciously, I could smell the looming scent of total failure, but all the while, I said to myself “surely I’ll finish this!  Only greatness can forgive my lamentable lack of action.”

Nope.

So let’s turn my failure into a teachable moment:  I lapsed in discipline and felt bad, but the guilt of perfectionism prevented more writing than simple laziness alone.   To paraphrase Bill Clinton, I let the ‘perfect’ become the enemy of the ‘good enough,’ and my output suffered for it.  The moral here is that everyone will lapse in their discipline.  The important thing is to forgive yourself and move on, don’t let the pain of one missed day turn into the agony of an entire missed month.