A Writer’s Quest: Crystallising Goals

01st September 2017

Yesterday marked the end of my 30th birthday month. Milestone birthdays often force us to look at ourselves—at our successes and failures, at what we’ve achieved and hope to achieve in the future. The lucky ones face such introspection by default with a surge of optimism; for others, myself included, there is the obligatory fog of despair through which one has to pass, a fog replete with the ghosts of missed opportunities and the sad howl of all that is surely lost. I know that fog. I’ve passed through it many times, often alone and to the sound of a favourite album or movie. This time, I was helped along by a book.

A few days ago, I was deep in the fog and desperate for a beacon of light. I browsed Amazon for a book or movie to buy and the browser suggested The Happiness of Pursuit, by Chris Guillebeau. It’s not the kind of book I usually read, but the subject matter is something I strongly believe in, so I gave it a shot.

In a nutshell, The Happiness of Pursuit is about the significance of the personal quest, and its power to create within us a sense of happiness, purpose and inner peace. This is something I instinctively knew before reading Guillebeau’s book, and it was something I knew was missing from my life. Or, to be more specific, it was something which I didn’t realise I already had. Reading the stories of people pursuing their own quests was exactly the jolt I needed to crystallise the goals I was already working on in pursuit of my own quest.

But what was that quest? And, more importantly, what is a quest?

According to Guillebeau, a quest should be an unambiguous objective that has a clear end-goal and criteria that are measurable in order to chart your progress. It should also be challenging and carry with it an element of sacrifice for the person undertaking the quest. What underpins all of this is the feeling that this quest has to be done, no matter what. Family and friends may not always understand what it is you’re doing, but that’s fine. As long as you, and whoever you may be questing with, keeps their eyes on the prize, that’s all that matters.

This is where my ‘quest’ comes into play.

A little over three years ago, I made a pact with Ian Smyth—my friend and closest collaborator—that we would make a feature film together. We were already making short films here and there, but this was our Everest: to get a DVD on the shelves and in distribution, that we made together, as a 50/50 venture. It didn’t take us long to come up with our core theme, and within a few weeks we had the first draft of the screenplay. Of course, that draft was dogshit, but we had made a start on our quest.

The problem was, however, that there was no focus to the task overall. At least from me there wasn’t. It was always just “something we’d do one day”, or a cool story to tell my friends from time to time. Yes, life got busy over the course of those three years, but that’s by the by. If a quest is solidly established in one’s mind, nothing gets in the way. And you don’t even have to hurt anyone in the process; it’s about focus, not fallout.

Around halfway through Guillebeau’s book, I came across a quote from a musician called Stephen Kellogg which resonated strongly with me:

“I’ve just grown from a boy with an inclination into a man with a focus. It all started with a dream, but then I followed that dream. Following the dream made all the difference.”

Hearing someone else describe my own position was highly refreshing. It helped to shine a light on my current self, thereby dragging me out of the fog. Here I am, a thirty-year-old man with the focus to follow the dreams of a boy (or a much younger man, in my case). And that dream has to be pursued; I can’t passively wait for it to happen to me. Not anymore.

So that’s where I am now. I’m clear of my hectic, hedonistic and relatively directionless third decade, and it’s time to crystallise my goals as I pursue my quests.

The Quest(s)

As an aspiring writer of dramatic narratives, there are two clear quests which I have set for myself. The first, as touched on above, is to make a feature-length movie of No Hidden Extras. The end-goal is to see the DVD on a shelf, and to have it distributed for sale to the general public. It’s a task that Ian and I have already committed a lot of work to, and as such this will be my primary goal.

The second quest is one that’s more personal to me alone: to write a full-length stage play. The end-goal will be opening night of the play in a full theatrical production, and it will complete my validation as a writer in my chosen field. Although I have a clear idea of what the project will be, I am far less familiar with playwriting than I am with screenwriting. This is therefore a newer, rawer project, which makes it both exciting and daunting in equal measures.

Today is Friday the first of September. In order to measure my progress and maintain focus, I will post one blog post every Friday. This blog will measure where I am at that point, state what I achieved in the previous week, what I hope to achieve in the following week, and any other thoughts, experiences or lessons learned along the way. I can post more than one a week, but this is the absolute minimum, to be done every Friday.

Therein lies my challenge.

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