How badly do you want a career in screenwriting?
March 15, 2012 § Leave a comment
It really does take years of focus and commitment to achieve any type of success in the film business. Making a living in the film industry is not for the faint of heart. The artist’s life is not an easy path. I know people who say to me, “Oh, I could never live that life, not knowing if at the end of the week I would get a paycheck.” Well, if you write features, it’s always a step deal and they parcel out your money in steps— half to start the script, half upon delivery, half for rewrite, half upon delivery. You’ll need to become an expert at managing your money if you want to stay in the game and have a career as a screenwriter. Hopefully there will be busy times, but also you can experience seriously long down times. It takes years of dedication to your craft and your commitment and faith to continually be producing material that may never get produced. You really must love the craft of screenwriting to stay in over the long haul.
Writers must write to get better and to eventually find and own your unique voice. It’s a given. Some writers discover that they may not love the craft and might be writing screenplays for other reasons—fame, fortune, ego? I’ve known people who wanted to get into the film business, but after a short time of coming up against the wall told me, “wow, it’s a hard business.” Yes, it’s hard to get anything produced on any size screen. But how badly do you want it? More than anything else? Does your passion drive you through the best of times and the most difficult times? Do you want to devote your artistic life to this endeavor given all the criticism, rejection, and sacrifice a writer must endure? If yes, then go forward and thrive.
If you hit a wall on your way to success, find a way around those who are trying to keep you from your dreams—like Bruce Lee said: “Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way round or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.” There’s also the concept of the “10,000 Hour Theory” and its overuse to explain just how long it takes to master any discipline. Many researchers take credit for developing the theory from psychologists Ericsson & Lehmann, Simon & Chase, neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, to Malcom Gladwell who popularized it in his book “Outliers.” The theory states an expert or master of any craft is measured by that person practicing their craft for 10,000 hours. This is the amount of time required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert in anything. In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again.
Now how long is ten thousand hours? It is equal to roughly 3 hours of practice a day, or twenty hours a week, of practice for ten years. Of course some people never reach mastery, which is not really explainable yet. But, no one has found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. Of course if you believe Ernest Hemingway’s theory, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master,” the mastery of writing remains elusive no matter how long we practice the craft.
And when you finally move closer to “mastering” your craft and start to working as a professional, you will find yourself saying, “Ah, I’m too busy to work on my own projects because I’m getting paid to write other people’s projects.” These are quality problems my friends.
If you are thinking of pursuing any endeavor in the film business, attack it with passion and love of your craft, and nothing or no one can stop you from living our your dreams. You must be able to hang on through the rough times and truly believe the dream you envision is exactly where you’re headed.
At some time during the journey, we all end up asking ourselves, “do I have what it takes to be a screenwriter?”
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“What you vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe and enthusiastically act upon must inevitably come to pass.” — Anonymous
…(The professional) “is prepared, each day, to confront his own self-sabotage. … 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 that 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 and steadily as he can.” —Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”
“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.”—Richard Brooks
“If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer. It means you are so busy keeping one eye on the commercial market, or one ear peeled for the avant-garde coterie, that you are not being yourself. You don’t even know yourself. For the first thing a writer should be is —excited. He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms. Without such vigor, he might as well be put picking peaches or digging ditches; God knows it’d be better for his health.” —Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing
“This is, if not a lifetime process, it’s awfully close to it. The writer broadens, becomes deeper, becomes more observant, becomes more tempered, becomes much wiser over a period time passing. It is not something that is injected into him by a needle. It is not something that comes on a wave of flashing, explosive light one night and say, ‘Huzzah! Eureka! I’ve got it!’ and then proceeds to write the great American novel in eleven days. It doesn’t work that way. It’s a long, tedious, tough, frustrating process, but never, ever be put aside by the fact that it’s hard.”—Rod Serling