A Killer Way to Jump Start Your Goals

Image by Michael Phams, available under CC BY-SA 2.0.

A Killer Way to Jump Start Your Goals

Written by Emilie

Topics: Goals, Hacking Hollywood

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.

Do This!

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?


  1. Great post! I highly believe that Fear is the only reason for all of us not to pursue our goals and/or preventing us from starting our next project. I am a huge fan of mindmapping and I think it is a great tool that can be used to plan out your next steps or even to list out your goals. I really like the “piggybacking of someone else’s deadlines”! I definitely want to try that out and take ownership of it. I will let you know how it turns out :)

    • Emilie says:

      Good stuff, Monique! I like mindmapping too. In fact, it’s amazing how quickly you can kill your fear once you sit down and make a mindmap or just write out specific action steps.

      We get overwhelmed by the IDEA of the work far more than the work itself. Often the work is the easy part. It’s getting TO the work that takes forever.

      Let me know how the piggybacking system works out for you. I’ve found it to be incredibly powerful.

      Thanks for the comment Monique. Always nice to hear from ya. :)

  2. Morgan says:

    You’re absolutely right. Finding that outside goal is definitely a great idea, although sometimes a bit difficult at first, but even just asking your friends to create a goal for you can be helpful. But it’s got to be a strict friend, someone who is willing to do something if the goal isn’t met, or to give you something (like taking you out to dinner) if you succeed.

    Killer post! :)

    • Emilie says:

      Definitely! A good support/accountability buddy is vital. Even when I was writing my script, I had a friend that I called on to keep me accountable. I told her to expect a draft on this date, a certain scene on that date, etc. Super important! If you can pair up the buddy method with the big inspirational deadline at the end, you’ll be unstoppable. :)

  3. ayngelina says:

    I’m a firm believer in deadlines, otherwise I just procrastinate endlessly.

    For some reason it becomes such a big task but if I break it up into components (i.e. draft in one week, revisions the next week etc) it seems a bit more manageable.

    • Emilie says:

      For sure. When I was writing my guest post for SocialMouths a few weeks back, the first thing I told Francisco was that I wanted a deadline. I was like “I will deliver my post to you by this date”, and he was like “sure, whatever you like…” heh.. it helped a lot though!

      By the way, are you going to be at the #WDS Ayngelina? Or will you still be down south/exploring the world in June?

  4. Michelle says:

    Deadlines are SO important in getting stuff done. So! Important! I don’t use external deadlines often – although it’s a great idea – just because I don’t often see opportunities to with my goals. However, I do tell everyone about deadlines I set for myself. Even if they don’t actually check in with me, if I know someone else knows when I’m supposed to have it done, I’m exponentially more likely to actually finish it.

    • Emilie says:


      Have you seen Derek Sivers TED talk about telling other people your goals? (http://www.ted.com/talks/derek_sivers_keep_your_goals_to_yourself.html) It’s funny, I used to agree with him, but I don’t anymore. I feel like his advice is probably correct for the “average person”, but when it comes to those of us already accustomed to taking action, I think telling other people our goals is the way to go… (It’s worth noting that back when I agreed with Derek, I wasn’t a big action taker.)

      Interesting stuff! Thanks for the comment.

  5. Mars Dorian says:

    Nicely done girl – deadlines are very important to me as well !
    It’s so hard to get stuff done, but once there’s an external factor, the pressure starts kicking in and you can produce like a maniac.
    That’s why I started a unique project with fellow bloggers – it will light our asses ON FIRE in order to get our business to the NEXT LEVEL !!

    • Emilie says:

      That’s awesome!

      I have a blogging mastermind group too. We meet up on Skype every other Sunday. Each week we report to the others on what we’ve been up to and then we set a few goals to accomplish before the next meeting. It’s been wildly helpful! Definitely something I’d recommend to anyone with a blog.

      Gooooo MARS !

  6. Angela says:

    To be honest I stopped setting deadlines years ago. It turned out I would set unrealistic deadlines, then the failure of not meeting my deadlines killed my spirit. That made me lose faith in the deadline system. I’m wising up though, and now I’m starting to set deadlines again. I just need to be careful not to fall into the same trap as before. After I re-work my methods on them I’m sure they’ll work to my advantage like you say. Thanks for the great post!

    • Emilie says:

      Ah interesting, Angela. I wonder if it would be different if you told someone about your deadlines. When we were doing the coaching, the deadlines I gave you seemed to help didn’t they? I actually remember you going above and beyond the goals we set! :)

      Maybe you just need a support/accountability buddy. You have a blog now though, so you could always announce your goals and deadlines publicly.. if you’re feeling brave.. heh.. you should do it!

      • Angela says:

        Yeah when you helped me the goal setting worked great. A few years ago I shunned the idea because it always failed. I really do think it was because the deadlines & goals I set were unrealistic, so they were destined for failure. I just need to get smarter about the goals and deadlines I set, making sure they’re actually attainable with a little push instead of nearly impossible.

  7. Chase Night says:

    Ouch! This one really got me. I’ve been not writing scripts ever since I left film school too. I haven’t finished one single script. I think this is due to laziness that when it’s done I’ll have to do something with it, which is the scariest part. But this is a great suggestion, and I think I might give it a try!

    • Emilie says:

      Yeah, do it! And then send it to me… Actually if you ever want to use me for accountability and give me a date upon which your script will be delivered, I will hold ya to it… Open offer. :)

      p.s. check out my response to Tom’s comment in the Ep 2 blog post below.

    • Tom says:

      Weird, I actually have a potential deadline for a script pitch for a theatre company here in England that is due in one week! I’d completely forgotten about this until I read this post so this post acted as a great reminder!

      Chase, I am in my last year of film school and actually have a deadline for a feature-length script due on May 16th. I am in the very early-stages of development so Chase, if you’re game, how does a May 16th deadline sound? I too can hold you/be held accountable.

      • Emilie says:

        I love this. Scanners helping scanners– that’s what it’s all about. :)

        Say yes, Chase. And then Abe and I can do a little feature on you guys on the podcast!

  8. My problem isn’t not starting projects, but balancing my attention between the several projects I’ve already started. Most of my projects are the kind that can never be marked as ‘complete.’ I can only mark off sub-objectives. For these, sometimes I use deadlines, sometimes I don’t.

    For personal deadlines, I’ve learned that I’m most likely to meet them if the deadline isn’t too far off and I’ve got to go all in to meet it. For example, when the amount of work is the same, I’m more likely to meet a 3-day deadline than a 3-week deadline.

    Here’s an idea for an intrepid multipotentialite with web dev skills:

    To help people meet external deadlines, create a simple website. Users will enter their deadline, describe the deliverable, and send over $10. If they send proof that they’ve finished, they’ll get their money back. Otherwise most of the money goes to charity.

    I’d use it.

    • Mark Powers says:

      Wow, Seth . . . that’s a killer idea! And Emilie, so is your idea of committing to an external deadline. I have to ponder more on this; I think this might be just the way to make myself accomplish a few goals I have in mind. Thanks!

      And let me know when you get that site that Seth mentioned up and running- I’ll be your first signup!

      • Emilie says:

        Mark! That is awesome… and you too should expect an email. ;) I’m starting to think that us multipotentialite bloggers should be working together more, ya know? I have a few ideas…

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Seth,

      Yeah I agree, shorter deadlines (or sub-deadlines if the project is too big) are always better. The time crunch is an excellent motivating factor.

      Now on to your brilliant idea…

      I love it!! It actually sparked a chain reaction in my brain this morning…

      Expect an email coming in shortly. :)

  9. Mark says:

    I like this! Make a deadline and go for it. Just ship. Hustle, make moves. Whatever you want to call it, just get it done! Action is everything, talk is cheap.

  10. Rob says:

    This has given me some much needed advice Em! I have a few projects I’ve been taking my time over far too much, so I’m off to find some external deadlines now!!!

  11. Kimmy says:

    I totally agree with Rob! thanks for this post! Just the fuel i needed to get my dream tank re-started! *puts destination for deadline city in GPS* Yay!

  12. Emilie this is awesome!!! I think tomorrow I am going to pick a few of my goals and find on the internet some external deadlines that relate to them. As I am sure you are not surprised, I feel like I have so freaking much going on right now and all I want to do is just add on more haha. So, I could really use some deadlines to kick me into gear!
    …also must remember to RELAX every once in awhile and take a break so I don’t explode lol.

    Anyway, great post and great advice!!! Definitely a great one for the scanners out there :)
    And congrats on your submisison to the Nick Fellowship!!! You rock! :)
    – Laur :D

    • Emilie says:

      Ah yes, do it! Find yourself some piggyback-worthy deadlines and set ’em.

      I definitely need to remind myself to relax from time to time too. It actually seems like progress happens faster when you’re not trying so hard, ya know? But I think every entrepreneur (and scanner) feels this urgency, a need to do everything NOW. We’re so driven, it can make us crazy sometimes.

      Thanks for the feedback and the dream-boost. I’m pretty excited about this fellowship. What I like most is that in the first round, they do a blind reading. They literally tear off the cover page of your script, don’t look at the application, and read through it a few times (it goes up the ranks of writers/network execs upon passing each reading). But yeah, they have no idea who you are, where you’re from, how old, how much experience you have, man, woman, etc. It’s just straight up about the quality of your writing. I LOVE THAT. Of course the semi-finals and finals are TERRIFYING. Hour-long phone interview and then if you pass, they fly you to LA for 11 interviews in 4 days! holyyyy (I’ll cross that bridge when I come to that river though.. :)

      Lol.. Got a little carried away there.

      But yea.. thanks. You rock too! :)

      • Ly nda says:

        Hi Emille
        I just want to say thank you for the piggyback idea i was looking for something to keep me on track.
        Good luck with your script have fun

  13. Holli says:

    Yet again a post that delivers much needed advice:)
    Super cool that you’ll be at the WDS. My hubby is going, and the kids and I will be tooling around Portland. I almost got a ticket myself but had to get past some serious self doubt and personal junk before I realized I wanted to go. The last of the tix sold out in a matter of minutes.

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Holli,

      Well I hope we get to meet in Portland then! Are you sticking around after the #WDS?

      I think it’s going to be really fun. It’s so crazy to think that I’ll be meeting all of these people I already feel like I know. Such a strange idea to take this digital community and have everyone descend on one city, in one room… crazy.

      Thanks for the comment. :)

  14. Wow, great idea! I love this! I’m currently working on my thesis and I think there must be an award or something which deadline I can use. Now I just need to think of a deadline for me getting back into shape. Any thoughts on that one?

35 Comments Trackbacks For This Post

  1. What does Augmented Humanity Mean For Business?
  2. 5 Simple-Yet-Powerful Tools for Defeating Resistance — Happenchance
  3. How The Internet Pushed My Creativity + invitation — Scratch Treehouse

Leave a Comment