How to survive the emotional highs and lows of your screenwriting journey…

It always happens toward the end of writing a new script.  It’s a steamroller downhill toward the last scene and a powerful feeling of accomplishment rises up as it’s been my privilege to tell another story to the world.  My characters guide me through, the ending comes and it’s over — FADE OUT — THE END.  We must part ways until actors inhabit the characters and a director brings his or her vision. Well, first someone with money invests in the project, they hire the director… blah, blah, blah.  You know the drill.

At least we hope and pray it gets to that level of being produced or even into development.

The creative high gets me through and it’s sad to bid farewell to these characters, the ones I’ve known so intimately for the past 100 pages.  Once I finish a script, the very next day I print it out, go to a coffee shop with a pen and start the polish.  I agonize over every word, punctuation, sentence, and line of dialogue… over again and again through the first pass.  I look for typos and those pesky “widow words.”

My creative high is still keeping me going as I read my script and discover it’s usually pretty good.  Many times, I’m shocked at how good for a first draft and then figure ways to make it better.  Screenwriting is rewriting and don’t you forget it!

This of course is before the producers receive the draft and make their notes: “I had a few ideas on the plane back from Cannes.  Could you make it funnier?” “Uh, you told me to write a drama.” “Okay, but somebody has to die in the story.”  “Die?”  “Yeah, these guys are really old and it feels like somebody should die.”  “Well, it’s not that kind of movie.  If somebody died it would change the entire dynamic of the relationships at the end.” “Okay, how about a serious illness?”  “Does he recover?”  “Yeah.”  “I can do an illness.”

Did I just dream that?  No, sadly enough this conversation actually happened with a producer. It’s wasn’t funny at the time in his office either.

Once I turn in the script, my creative high begins to crash and I notice myself coming down from the previous month of creative energy and focus to a scary silence. My noisy mind gets louder and I need to fill it with stories and writing. I need my next project or I need to go out for a run and do some road work. Something. Even writing a new blog article helps. I need my writing fix to keep my creative fires burning.

I really notice the void when I’m not writing. In some ways writing for me is like a drug.  The creative highs are addictive and I love watching the story unfold in my mind as if it was already a movie. I need to tell these stories and the way to release them is through writing. If I don’t immediately jump onto a new project, I find myself needing to do something creative so I’ll draw or sketch. I’ll catch up on movies or TV shows that I’ve always wanted to see and study, I’ll listen to new music or go to an art exhibit to keep my creative mind fresh.

Writers need to recharge their batteries. Don’t have too much down time either.  If you’re like me, I will quickly begin circling an idea as I need the creative juices to flow.  It’s my life’s blood and I never feel as good as when I’m writing a new project.  If you are watching a film, a play, or enjoying a painting, you are like an athlete who keeps up their training. You’ll be ready to jump back in the game with your skills at their highest levels.

Complete your script, take a few days off, and then get back to writing — something.  Your journal, a blog post, a Tweet, something.  Lather, rinse and repeat.

So, find a way to stay upbeat if you experience the creative highs and lows, and always get back to writing sooner than later.  You’ll thank yourself—and you’ll be on your way to finishing your next magnum opus.

Keep filling your blank pages on your road to screenwriting success.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2020 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE. All rights reserved. No portion of this article can be republished without written permission.

Need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches as you pursue your screenwriting career? Check out my book on Amazon with 36 five star reviews… click on the book cover for the link to Amazon.

“I have learned, on my journeys, that if I let a day go by without writing, I grow uneasy.  Two days and I am in tremor.  Three and I suspect lunacy.  Four and I might as well be a hog, suffering the flux in a wallow.  An hour’s writing is tonic.  I’m on my feet, running in circles, and yelling for a clean pair of spats.”  ~ Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing.

“The professional prepares mentally to absorb blows and to deliver them.  His aim is to take what the day gives him.  He is prepared to be prudent and prepared to be reckless, to take a beating when he has to, and to go for the throat when he can.  He understands the field alters every day.  His goal is not victory (success will come by itself when it wants to) but to handle himself, his insides, as sturdily as he can.“—Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

So, you want to work as a screenwriter? Get ready to collaborate…

Completing your screenplayAhhhh… that sweet aroma of victory when you finish your spec screenplay. It’s your vision — every word, scene, and line of dialogue is yours… it’s a joyous dream world filled with everything that came from your head. Now reality hits with a spec release and if you end up working in Hollywood—it’s always a collaboration with compromises. The moment you unleash your script for others to read, you will receive notes, good, bad and ugly and open yourself up to criticism. It’s hard when they burst your protected spec bubble, and you realize that just because you write a screenplay doesn’t mean anyone has to like it or produce it. Time to toughen up and strap yourself in for the reality of the journey’s bumpy ride. If you can’t handle criticism and notes about your screenplays, don’t type FADE IN.

handshake cartoonThe key to survival as a writer, and working in Hollywood if you do land a job, is mastering the fine art of collaboration. Filmmaking by its nature is a collaborative art. No single person makes a movie. It can take up to one hundred people or more to make a decent budgeted film. So accepting the concept of collaboration is vital to your survival over the long haul. No screenplay scene or line of dialogue—or any screenplay—is worth losing a job over because you don’t want to collaborate. Professionals want to work with other professionals who are not difficult.

Producers, executives, agents, managers, and directors look for screenwriters that go above and beyond and realize the opportunities they have landed. If you want to work in this crazy business where it’s nearly impossible to get anything produced on any size screen — detach and get the script produced. You want to be the “go to person” who helps the producer, executive, and director move the project through the development phase into production. A collaborator and team player does just that without grumbling or being defensive about every change to the material. Drop the ego when you walk through the door or pick up that phone. Your experience and attitude can determine if you’ll stay on the project or be fired. Have you learned how to take constructive criticism and mastered the ability to execute producer’s notes—and not gripe and grimace during the experience? If not, learn it now.

Most producers and executives have their radar up to detect if a screenwriter is easy or difficult when it comes time for the rewrites. They test you when you don’t expect it. Can you pass the test? The minute you’re viewed as problem, you’ll be branded as “difficult” and it’s a hard to dispel that reputation. The next step? You lose the job, and they hire another writer who is a collaborator.

Your professional reputation is vital to your overall success. Hollywood is a small town when it comes to people knowing each other. The producer I’m working with now knows and has worked with everyone I’ve worked with in the past. If word gets out that a producer or director had a difficult working relationship with you, it can mean the death of your next job — or your career. Let’s dispel that old stereotype and prove them all wrong. We’re the writers who want to work and make it all happen. Make a point to clearly show the producers how invaluable you are to the project and why they need to keep you around. As you’re the screenwriter, be the repository of knowledge about the script for the director, producer, and actors.

rewritesCollaboration doesn’t mean that you only say “yes” to every note and don’t intelligently discuss the changes. I’ve been in situations where I’m the only line of defense for the screenplay as my producer had to focus on another film. I was in a notes meeting with the other producers whom I’ve never met or worked with before, and they were in another country so we had to Skype our meeting. They wanted to dramatically change the ending of the screenplay, and I politely defended the work with clear examples of why that would be a bad idea. They listened… after a long pause, I received the comment, “Okay, let’s keep it. Moving on…” BAM! So, was I going to do that with every note? Of course not, but you have to pick and choose your battles wisely. I think producers also don’t want writers who are not thinking about the story and defending it with clear evidence, not just defending the work due to their ego.

Do everything you can to help the producers craft the script they need and  lend all of your support to get the movie competed. That’s the end game—getting your movie produced, receiving the production bonus, and receiving your credit.smash head in wall Initially, you may not receive the praise or validation you feel that you deserve for all of your hard work. I know it feels like you’re banging your head against a wall and coming up short. If this happens, patience is a good discipline to follow, as it will eventually pay off for you over the long haul. Your praise will come in the form of a payment for your writing, a produced film, and a vital part of your screenwriting career—a credit.  Produced film credits will determine your payment quote for your next project and secure you as a working professional. You’ll always find opportunities to be a collaborator team player and build your integrity as a professional screenwriter.

Collaborate! Every new project is a chance to build new relationships and show the producers and executives they can trust you by being a person of your word.  If you promise to do something—do it. Some of the best collaborations I’ve had are with the directors of the scripts that I’ve written. I’m helping make their job easier and they respect me as the writer. Over time, these professionals will know they can count on you, that your word means something, and you are a willing and able collaborator. Your talent is equally as important as your professional work ethic and your attitude. These are the characteristics of a professional screenwriter and your reputation of being a the ultimate collaborator will precede you.

Keep filling your blank pages because if you stop writing, you’ll never have a shot at any success.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright ©2020 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE. All rights reserved.

Master CoverR2-4-REV2Check out my new book available on AMAZON with 32 five star reviews. Click the book cover for the link.

If your passion drives you to embark on this crazy adventure of a screenwriting career, you’ll need to prepare for survival in Hollywood’s trenches. Talent is important, but so is your professionalism and ability to endure criticism, rejection, and failure over the long haul. The odds may be stacked against you, but the way to standout in this very competitive business is to create a solid body of work and build a reputation as a team player and collaborator. The rest is just luck — a prepared screenwriter who meets with an opportunity and delivers the goods. “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” will help you prepare for your own journey with the necessary, tips, tricks and tactics that I’ve developed over the past twenty years of working in the film industry. It’s time to start living your dream as a screenwriter in Hollyw

Did you just complete a new draft or screenplay? Time for in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the icon below for the link to my website. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression. Spend the time to get your script right.

 

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“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” — John Lubbock

“Fame and money are gifts given to us only after we have gifted the world with our best, our lonely, our individual truths.”—Ray Bradbury

“Just do the best you can every time.  And if you’re going to stay in the movies, and you like movies—and I love them—you’d better love them a lot, because it’s going to take all of your time.  If you want to be in the movies, it’s going to break your heart.”—director Richard Brooks

“You have to have a dream so you can get up in the morning.” – Billy Wilder