Actionable Steps

I don’t try to disguise my appreciation for things relating to Getting Things Done. The idea of breaking a large task down into smaller steps that you can tackle in a single period of work is a helpful motivational tool.

But what should a writer consider an actionable step to be? What units should you use to measure your work?

Word Based

Cases Where This Method May Be Beneficial: First Drafts

I don’t feel that how many words you get on the page is a good way to gauge screenwriting. There’s an emphasis on using as few words as possible to get the story across, and you’ll find yourself cutting back a lot as you edit. Measuring in this way may lead to prose-styled passages that will only be deleted during revision.

However, it can be a good way to get words onto the page. You may pad some sections with additional verbage, but you’re also giving yourself a clear, measurable way of saying that you did what you deem to be an appropriate amount of writing.

If you’re not planning to show this draft without first editing, this might be the way to structure your work.

Page Based

Cases Where This Method May Be Beneficial: Workshop Settings, Early Drafts

This goes along with my thoughts on measuring by word count, as you can get into other bad habits when measuring this way.

It’s very easy to pad your page count.

Incredibly easy.

Get the picture?

However, it can be helpful to measure your work by page count when thinking about pacing. Going off the generally applied measurement that one page equals one minute of screentime, keeping an eye to how many pages you’re using will make you mindful of how long scenes are pacing out, and the general timing of the finished script.

Additionally, when you have smaller, regular deadlines, such as in a workshop group, it can be helpful to measure your efforts by pages written. Depending on the structure of the group, only so much time can be spent on each person’s work. Keeping yourself on task, as well as within the limits of your class or group, can be a good way to measure your work.

Time Based

Cases Where This Method May Be Beneficial: Working Under Self-Imposed Deadline, Building The Writing Habit

You say to yourself, “I will write for X amount of time every day, regardless of how many finished pages this creates.”There will be times when an hour leads to half a page. Other times, five or more pages. It depends on how you outline, or how mentally prepared you are for your writing session. If nobody is impatiently waiting to read your pages, this method may work for you.

Additionally, choosing to block off a set amount of time for writing is a strong way to encourage the development of the writing habit. The mental muscles involved in writing will get a regular workout, making it easier to focus should you have a strict deadline in the future.

Scene Based

Cases Where This Method May Be Beneficial: Polished Drafts

Measuring your work in dramatic beats may be helpful for later revisions. You’ve been over the story before. You’ve outlined and re-outlined. You know the road map, and now you need to take the time with each scene to improve it. Not every scene is of equal page length, but every beat should be given its due consideration with a rewrite.

This is also a good way of splitting up the work into smaller sections when you have a hard deadline. You know how long you have to complete the script, you have your outline, and you can easily do the math to subdivide the work.

Above All, Don’t Go Nuts

Do you think you can write 20 pages a day, every day?

Don’t be surprised if you find out you can’t.

Be a patient and honest observer of your own habits, as well as the committments in your life that aren’t related to writing. Adjust your scheduling accordingly. A plan that doesn’t reflect reality isn’t a good plan.

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