When I graduated from film school 4 years ago, one of my goals was to write a spec script. For those who are not down with the industry lingo, specs are scripts written by aspiring writers for existing TV shows that are currently in production.
Specs are used to get writing jobs, agents, enter competitions and apply for fellowships. Every aspiring writer needs a couple great specs to showcase their writing; “two specs and an original”, to be exact.
Writing a good spec is hard. You have to capture the tone and feel of a show and keep the characters’ voices in tact. At the same time, you must bring your own unique spin to that existing series. A fan of the show should read the script and think, damn, this would be a great episode!
So yes, I had a goal. One spec script. I just wanted to write one polished spec script.
From 2007 to 2010, do you know what I did about my goal?
The Attack of the Fear Monster
I was scared to death. Scared that my script would suck, scared that I would never complete it because the task was just too massive, scared it was beyond my ability, scared that if I did finish it, no one would ever read it, and scared that people would read it and think I’m a fool for ever thinking I could be a writer– I mean, who the fuck am I?
Three years went by (granted I was busy with law school, but that’s no excuse), and I had taken very few steps toward pursuing my dream of becoming a television writer. “Write a spec script” simply sat there on my bucket list, untouched. (Actually I don’t think I had written out my bucket list at that point, which is telling)…
Making the Decision to Change
And then one day, I made the decision. I decided to take the month of June, 2010 and dedicate myself to writing a full spec script. Know how I did it? It was more than just willpower.
I did it by piggybacking on someone else’s deadline.
The Power of External Deadlines
Remember how back in school, there were deadlines? You could procrastinate all you like, but no matter what, when the deadline rolled around, your work was in.
When there are external deadlines, we don’t have resistance problems. No matter how painful the work is, we eventually get it done. But nobody is going to say “I want your latest poem on my desk by Thursday,” or “deliver the mission statement for your new business idea and take five marketing actions by Monday morning, or else!”
Piggybacking on Someone Else’s Deadlines
The way I got my spec script written was by choosing to submit it to the ABC/Disney Television Writing Fellowship— the most prestigious and competitive fellowship in the industry (they pick something like 8 out of 1200 applicants). The deadline was July 1, and that would be my due date as well. By July 1, I will have shipped (literally and figuratively) one complete spec script out into the world.
It wasn’t about the fellowship. I knew I had little chance of winning, especially on my first go. That wasn’t the point. The point is that I used the competition as a way to motivate personal action by piggybacking on their deadline.
And you know what? It worked. In that month, I watched practically every episode of 30 Rock multiple times, got to know the show inside and out, and pumped out a 35 page masterpeice.
3 years of NOTHING! Of wanting to start writing, but always being “busy with other things” and pushing this goal to the back burner, and then BAM! I found a deadline to piggyback on, and it was done in a month.
New Deadlines, New Opportunities
The reason this has all been on my mind lately is that I just submitted a revised version of the same script to the Nickelodean Writing Fellowship.
I didn’t win the ABC/Disney fellowship last summer, but I did learn a LOT. And so when I randomly plugged “television writing fellowship” into Google last Sunday night and saw that the Nick deadline was 1 week away, I thought, EXTERNAL DEADLINE! I’m ready. I’ve got the script. It’s great. And I can TOTALLY get the application out in a week.
And that’s exactly what I did. I pumped out a really funny biography and filled out my application. I mean, I don’t want to jinx it– these things are obviously very competitive and there’s a lot of talent out there…
No matter what happens though, I shipped. That’s what matters.
I don’t mean write a script… I mean jump start a goal by finding an external deadline to piggyback on.
Piggybacking on someone else’s deadline is scary, but that’s because it works. It’s a commitment, a decision that you make.
Make it. Lock yourself in, and you will find a way to get there.
I did the same thing for the #WDS. The morning those early bird tickets were released in October, I was sitting in my little studio apartment in Copenhagen, Denmark, half a world away from Portland, Oregon. But I saw the email in my inbox, and thought to myself, I have to go to this! I have no idea how I’m going to get there or how I will pay for the trip. but I’m going. I booked my ticket on the spot. Locked in. No turning back. It’s happening.
What projects have you been meaning to start? Are there any external deadlines you can jump on?