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My fellow writers,

The most important concepts I talk about in the writer's life are passion and focus. Passion for the project you're working on, and the focus to get it done. A few weeks ago, I mentioned that the trait that every working writer has in common is that they finish projects.

Another piece of this puzzle is severely neglected by novice writers - the deadline. A couple of months ago, I talked about the mechanics of setting deadlines and writing every day to meet them. But I'd like to reiterate just how important it is to actually KEEP those deadlines.

It's easy to write a goal on a sheet of paper, tack that paper up next to your computer, and write for a few sessions. But then the real nature of the craft comes in - the long hours of little production, the reshuffling of priorities, the omnipresent blank screen. That deadline begins to drift.

Trust me, when you have a higher force, e.g., a producer (and by this, I mean someone paying you even a tiny bit of money), setting down that deadline, you don't let it drift one bit. Especially when you're early in your career. You deliver on time, and you deliver a damn good draft, even if you have to lose some sleep and TV time to do it.

So why, if you'd work so hard to deliver a draft to some producer paying you dirt, can't you deliver a draft for yourself? Because it's too easy to compromise, isn't it? There's this misconception that writing is such an art form, a talent, a gift - something to be coddled. Sure, those are components, but it's a lot more about sitting your ass in the chair and - how did that writer put it? - "Writing is easy. All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead." (I looked it up, that was Gene Fowler.)

Trust me on this. Take it on faith. Develop your own inner producer - an aspect of yourself that takes over your business side and forces you to deliver on your deadlines. Even if you have to do an all-nighter, or get by on four hours of sleep sometimes because you procrastinated too long. I don't care if you have a full-time "other" job. If you want to write for a living, you've got to fit a hell of a lot of writing into your life in order to make it happen.

I never considered myself an especially fast writer until I got my first deadline. Nine hours to write a series proposal. Specifically, the nine hours between 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., when the executive was due to leave on a flight for Europe and MIPCOM. Then I was suddenly a very fast writer.

I didn't know my speed applied to scripts until I had two weeks to do a page one production rewrite on a cable movie. I basically finished in about five days.

When I worked on a series, we'd regularly do comprehensive rewrites in one, two, and three day spurts. Write long scenes at lunch, or on the spot. All under heavy deadline. And we'd sometimes write things that didn't suck.

But even after those minor successes, I still find myself struggling against the urge to compromise on self-imposed deadlines. Suddenly, it takes me a week to write a four-page scene. Treatments drag on for weeks. Scripts don't start. I fall back in to old habits.

Truth is, even if I'm writing every day, if I don't write with a hard-and-fast deadline, I don't get things done.

You don't have to rewrite scripts in five days - I usually don't. You don't have to be able to do 20 pages a day. But you do need to have something that will push you to strive for production. Otherwise, you'll never get a thing done. And you won't be ready to deliver when someone's ready to pay you to deliver, on deadline.

As Winston Churchill said, "It is not enough to do one's best. Sometimes, one must do what's necessary."

If you want to make a living at writing, finishing scripts is about the most necessary thing I can think of. So make a deal - a deadline - with your inner producer and stick to it. (Just don't let him or her screw you on the back-end participation.)


P.S. Direct questions, comments, and insults to EmailGrady@aol.com.


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