On your screenwriter’s journey—strive to be happy…

February 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’m staring at a card tacked up on my cork board in front of my writing desk.  It’s a quote from the poem “Desiderata” written by Max Ehrmann, circa 1927. The quote is this…

“… And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”

And how!  Yes, it is a beautiful world.  I know it’s easy to lose sight of our triumphs as writers, because it always seems as if we’re up against something… failure, rejection, writer’s block, an unworkable story, a deadline, the paycheck, whatever.  Take the time to celebrate every small step forward and never lose sight of your dreams.  Strive to be a happy writer and human being.  It sounds simple and trite, but it’s a method to get you through the struggle and strife.  It will also help you with your writing.  If you’re always mindful to be fully present, you’ll experience real emotions and your writing will be more truthful.  As storytellers, we must observe and experience to nourish our writing.

Trust me, I’ve now had a thirteen paid writing assignment jobs and one spec sale that have resulted in eight produced films and every time up to the plate it’s a different experience. Your life doesn’t change overnight like many would believe—it’s a slow process of many ups and downs, successes and failures, and it’s how you remain emotionally happy over the long haul that counts the most. It’s being happy that you are doing your craft—even if you’ve just been handed your worst rejection notice ever. It’s a state of mind and a very powerful tool to weather the long haul of forging a career in this nutty business.

Be happy when you think of your next great idea and drive that passion into writing the best script you can at this point in your ability, and know that you will always have different plateaus of knowledge along the way. One script is not the end all be all—it’s just the start of a very long journey. Patience helps for sure but also being happy that you are blessed to know what you love to do and are doing it. Even when the sale does happen, it’s will have been such a long process of back and forth contracts, lawyers, egos, collaborators both good and bad, disappointments, and Hollywood’s time warp. It’s a huge achievement to get any project into production and it takes so many elements to all work for it to move forward.  And how many scripts or years did it take to get the one sale or job? It’s similar to the actor who goes on fifty auditions and scores one role. It’s the same for the screenwriter. You’ll write maybe a half-dozen scripts before you finally find your groove and then who knows after that?

I didn’t have my first professional writing job until six years out of film school and it was my fifth spec screenplay that secured an option and sold 18 months later—and from first draft to first day of production was seven years.  You must love it—all of it—the good, bad and ugly. Just because you write a kick ass screenplay you still have to find someone who wants to make it. There are no guarantees, so take that into consideration when you strive to find your happiness. In addition it’s also the beginning of the real work—the reality of executing rewrites and changes and the real work of being a screenwriter.

It’s not glamorous. It becomes your job and hopefully one that you love. In fact, you love writing so much that you’d do it for free—but don’t tell producers that because you’ll find yourself working for free. There is rarely fame and fortune in the screenwriting game and your happiness will come from you—not from external events.

Even in the face of the haters and naysayers, always stay true to yourself and keep the faith. If you’re doing the proper amount of work necessary you will eventually find success. Carve out and protect your writing time and enjoy the entire process. Only you know the hard work and sacrifices that you’ve made to get to this point on your journey. If you hit an obstacle, be like water—find a way around the wall and always keep filling your blank pages to have any shot at success. As screenwriters, we keep our dreams alive every time we sit down in front of the page and channel the next story. As the last jazz singer Lou Rawls once told me, “Ain’t nuthin’ to it but to do it.

Scriptcat out!

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“You can write any time people will leave you alone and not interrupt you. Or rather you can if you will be ruthless enough about it. But the best writing is certainly when you are in love. If it is all the same to you I would rather not expound on that.”—Ernest Hemingway

“Most directors do not want to rewrite the script. They have more pressing commitments on the sound stage. The writer’s best insurance against a rewrite is to have an understanding of the directorial problems. Write a scene that can’t be played, no matter how beautiful the words or thoughts, is begging for a revamp.”—Jerry Lewis

“Deliberate practice, by its nature, must be hard. When you want to get good at something, how you spend your time practicing is far more important than the amount of time you spend. Regular practice simply isn’t enough. To improve, we must watch ourselves fail, and learn from our mistakes.”—Florida State University’s Anders Ericsson


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