“Is this just a dream or are you really going to make this happen?”
Someone asked me this question well before I had anything remotely close to a screenwriting career. I was still living in Wisconsin. Civilization as we know it was just finishing up its 20th century and was preparing to jump into the future of its 21st — barring any Y2K catastrophe (millennials may not understand that joke to its full extent).
To me, it was a curious notion. And I didn’t discover the true meaning of it until a few years later when I really began to take on the quest for a screenwriting career full force.
I’ve been a dreamer all of my life and when that question was posed to me, my natural and immediate thought was, “Well, of course I’m going to go for it because it’s my dream and that’s what I want to do.”
Call it naive, call it optimism, call it words from a true idealist — but I really couldn’t understand the difference between having a dream and setting goals to pursue them, let alone the thought that one could have a dream but not pursue it in such fashion. To me, they were one and the same. And I still feel that way today as I’ve tasked myself to find a difference between the two.
Is There a Difference Between Dreams and Goals?
Yes, yes, a hundred times yes. There are differences.
I recently read an outstanding post that broke down these differences in the most broad of strokes.
1. Goals are something you are acting on. Dreams are something you are just thinking about. There’s a difference between dreaming of accepting your Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and actually doing what you need to do to give you the best possible chance to get there.
2. Goals have deadlines. Dreams are just, well, dreams. Most everyone has a dream to do one thing or another in their lives. Not everyone sets the goals and deadlines to accomplish them.
3. Dreams are free. Goals have a cost. You can dream to win the awards or work with the greats, enjoying the many perks that may come along with that lifestyle as well. But it’s the goals that really cost you time, money, blood, sweat, and tears to do so.
4. Goals produce results. Dreams don’t. Goals are about actions that lead to something. Dreams alone are nothing more than your aspirations.
5. Dreams are imaginary. Goals are based in reality. Many young people these days dream of being professional gamers. The thought of playing videogames for a living is amazing until they learn that the reality of the situation is that in order to accomplish the goal of being able to do that, they have to spend upwards of multiple 16-24 hour days playing games over and over and over again if they want to compete. And even then, their chances are slim to none. Sound familiar, screenwriters?
6. Goals have a finish line. Dreams never have to end. You can dream the dream of becoming a paid screenwriter well into your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond, but unless you set some goals and deadlines, you’ll never see any results. That’s why the screenwriters that can finish a great script in three months are more likely to succeed than those that take a year and beyond to finish an average one.
7. Dreams can inspire you. Goals can change your life. The dream is the inspiration that can get you up in the morning to write. The goals are the dedication that can finally pull you closer and closer to success.
8. Goals must have focus. Dreams don’t. You can dream the biggest or smallest of dreams, depending on your day, week, month, or year. Goals require deadlines, steps, adversity, perseverance, and delivery.
9. Goals require hard work. Dreams just require your imagination. See #3 and #8.
10. Dreams stretch your imagination. Goals stretch you. Dreaming always leads to bigger dreams that stretch the limits of your imagination. Goals stretch you. They enhance your skills, your abilities, your qualifications — and they mold you into not just who and what you want to be, but who and what you will become.
So How Are Dreams and Goals NOT Different Then?
Consider the two as symbiotic beings. You can surely set goals without having a dream to aspire to, but if you aspire to see any type of dream come true, you have to implement an endless line of goals to achieve that.
The difference of the dream you conjure in your imagination and the reality of the implementation of that dream in your life falls on the goals that you set.
It’s not enough to want to be a screenwriter. It’s not even enough to need to be a screenwriter.
You have to be willing to first accept the realities of the screenwriting dream:
- One script isn’t enough.
- Three scripts may not be enough.
- Five scripts and beyond may only just get you in the door.
- And even then, there are tens of thousands of others trying to do what you are trying to do and thousands of those that are already doing what you aspire to do — and getting paid for it.
- Hollywood is not trying to find a reason to say yes, but rather, they are forced to find a reason to say no. Read ScreenCraft’s How Screenwriters Can Fix the Broken Hollywood System for more on that.
- And even if you get your big break, make a sale, get paid assignments, and even get something produced with a name cast, the flash in the pan that may be your career can always extinguish as fast or as slow as it came. I speak from experience on that, brothers and sisters.
If you’re still with me and still dreaming that dream after reading that — as well as finding out the many other odds against your favor — then maybe you’re ready for the next step.
What Goals Do I Need to Set To Accomplish This Dream?
This question could have a thousand answers. We’ll cover just a few broad strokes to get you started on the right track.
It all starts with the writing. Trying to accomplish any of the below before you’ve stacked your deck with some amazing scripts and honed your craft would just be futile.
Your first script will always be your worst, no matter how great you and your friends and family think it is. So don’t go trying to market it. The same can be said for your second and third. Most “overnight successes” in Hollywood are actually a product of a decade or more of writing — with perhaps ten or more scripts.
Take the time to write. To fail. To learn. Then to write again. And again. And again. Take the time — whether it’s a year, two, or more — to hone your craft and have a stacked deck of truly worthy scripts before you even think about doing anything with them.
“It’s all about who you know.” You’ve heard that before. Most screenwriters roll their eyes in anger and frustration over that notion. This common phrase is only half of the truth — you need the scripts too — but it’s imperative that screenwriters broaden their network in any way, shape, or form that they can.
You first exhaust any personal connections to the industry that you may have, no matter how many times removed. You then move on to other connections, be it geographical commonalities (from your street, city, or state), alumni associations (graduated from same college), or anything else you can find as an opener.
You can — and usually should — make the move to Los Angeles to try and embed yourself within the industry locations, culture, and society. If you can get into ANY job in the industry (studios, production companies, networks, etc.), go for it. Plenty of executives have become producers. Even more former studio baristas and mail clerks have gone on to sell scripts, star in movies, or even eventually run studios themselves.
It’s possible in this day and age to never set foot in Los Angeles and still manage to gain interest in your work and maybe even garner representation, but it’s pretty difficult to maintain a screenwriting career without spending ample time in La La Land. And again, I speak from experience. All of my paid gigs ironically came after moving back to Wisconsin. That should give hope to those living elsewhere. But remember that I also lived in Los Angeles for almost a decade and have since returned on multiple occasions for business.
These three goals funnel down to marketing. You can’t market your scripts and you as a writer without having a stack of great scripts with compelling concepts. You can’t get those script into the market without connecting with industry folk. That’s the reality you face when trying to market your scripts.
And marketing isn’t just about cold-querying any email address of any industry figure. You should do this, mind you, as long as you do it right. Check out ScreenCraft’s Writing the Perfect Query Letter for Your Scripts for more on that. But marketing also means submitting it to the right contests, working your personal connections, and expanding your network so you have people to take it to.
These are the three major goals that you need to start your journey towards your dream.
Dreams and goals have their differences, and you can learn from them. But they are also one and the same in the fact that for screenwriters, not setting and delivering on goals means you’ll never grab hold of that dream. And without the dream, you’ll never have the inspiration to set and deliver those goals to see it come true.
Keeping dreaming, dreamers. But get to work.
Guest blogger Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as two writing assignments with Larry Levinson Productions, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies