When To Quit?Complications Ensue
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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Management consultant Rosabeth Moss Kanter formulates "12 Guidelines for Deciding When to Persist, When to Quit" in the Harvard Business Review. The article is partly about a business startup called Airtime, but there are some parallels both in whether to keep writing that screenplay, and ultimately, whether to keep pursuing screenwriting. The criteria are:
  • Are the initial reasons for the effort still valid, with no consequential external changes?
  • Do the needs for which this a solution remain unmet, or are competing solutions still unproven or inadequate?
  • Would the situation get worse if this effort stopped?
  • Is it more cost-effective to continue than to pay the costs of restarting?
  • Is the vision attracting more adherents?
  • Are leaders still enthusiastic, committed, and focused on the effort?
  • Are resources available for continuing investment and adjustments?
  • Is skepticism and resistance declining?
  • Is the working team motivated to keep going?
  • Have critical deadlines and key milestones been met?
  • Are there signs of progress, in that some problems have been solved, new activities are underway, and trends are positive?
  • Is there a concrete achievement — a successful demonstration, prototype, or proof of concept?
(Full disclosure: Prof. Kanter is a friend of me mum.)

I think these are often the questions writers ask themselves, though they look more like:
  • Does the creative project still seem timely? Or has it fallen out of the zeitgeist?
  • Has someone else scooped you? Is there another project in the same territory that's getting a lot of buzz, or has actually come out?
  • If this is a completed script, or a pitch that you are actually taking out to people, getting passed around by more and more champions?
  • Do you still love this idea? Not the project, but the idea. If you're even asking these questions, you're probably at the Sucky Point, and you hate the project. But is the idea still good?
  • Have you run out of cash?
  • How does your agent or manager or writing partner or writing group feel about it? 
  • Are you hard at work, or are you letting things drift because you're not that into it any more?
  • Are you discovering new things about your project? Are you making the script better with fresh ideas, a different perspective, new characters or fresh revelations about your characters?
  • How long has it been since you've had some solid form of encouragement -- someone asking to read it, someone asking to option it, someone re-optioning it?
Everyone asks these questions. I have projects I love that have just fallen out of the zeitgeist, or which I just can't make any headway on. At a certain point I start putting less energy into them.

But, generally, not before I've given them my best shot.

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