Do you have what it takes to become a working screenwriter?
May 24, 2012 § 4 Comments
Again, a “working screenwriter” — someone who makes a living by writing. I’m not talking about an A-list superstar (as if many screenwriters ever to get to be superstars compared to actors). Not everyone can achieve A-list status no matter how good they write or how badly they want it. Everyone has their own journey and not everyone will achieve the level of success they anticipated. But that’s okay.
Over the years, I’ve managed to weather the storm because I never wavered from focusing on my dream. Now, it hasn’t been easy and there were many times when fear and despair nearly extinguished the bright light I always see ahead of me. Somehow, I manage to hang on and take a few steps forward for every step back. They told me it would not be easy. When given the insurmountable odds, it could potentially be impossible—but not for us dreamers. ‘d rather work at making my dreams a reality, than never to attempt them and always wonder if I could have made it.
You really have to dig deep and ask yourself if you are willing to slog through the trenches for years, possibly writing material that will never sell only to maybe strike gold and sell something or be hired to write a script for a producer. If you’re in this for the fame and fortune, or you think it’s EASY because you’ve read a few screenwriting books and read some scripts, you are very mistaken. The craft and the film business will humble you. It’s not enough to just put the words on paper and call yourself a “screenwriter.” That’s like saying you jumped out of a plane once and now you’re a skydiver. You have to possess the tenacity to weather the ups and downs, to constantly become a better screenwriter, to learn and grow with your craft, to master executing notes, to be the ultimate team player and collaborator, and to write material that reveals honestly and authenticity. If you’re in it because you think it’s a quick way to make some money, again—you will be humbled.
I think it’s an important question to pose to beginning writers—do you have the burning desire to be a writer and the all-encompassing drive it takes to achieve any type of success as a screenwriter? There will be times you ask yourself, “why the hell am I doing this?” and if your answer is, “because I don’t want to do anything else and it’s my life’s calling” — my friend you just might be a real screenwriter.
The path of a screenwriter is not for the weary of heart or the thin of skin for it’s not an easy path to take. Writing is hard enough, but it’s the constant rejection and disappointment that can wear you down over time. That is what I discuss in my article “Does feedback on your screenplay equal disappointment?“
That’s why I ask if you have an artist’s mentality — or the insanity to believe that even as you stare into the dark void of the unknown, your burning passion will guide you across yet another hurdle. You’ll need to withstand continued rejection, criticism, failure, and even sometimes ridicule — and if you can remain strong and shout with confidence, “I am a screenwriter” and truly believe it, because you are doing the work. Sacrificing the time to create a solid body of work and not just talking about what you’d like to be doing. I knew a lot of “actors” who loved the actor’s lifestyle, but really didn’t do much work at acting. They thought they would get by on their charm and good looks. Well, in Hollywood those qualities are a dime a dozen. The same goes for screenwriter. It’s what separates those people who look at writing a screenplay as a way to become famous or to make money. That’s a fool’s endeavor. It takes a real love of the craft of writing that will keep your aim true and focused. You’ll have a body of work to show just how serious you are about being a “screenwriter” because you’re acting like a professional—even if you haven’t been paid. Every time you write you are living out your dream. Everything else on your journey is just an extra treat.
I’ve never found a way around the hard work, only through it. Success is not guaranteed or deserved to any of us. The “overnight success” can take up to ten years or even longer, so you’ll need the ability to hunker down for the long haul of a screenwriter’s journey in Hollywood. You may write scripts for years that no one ever buys or might languish in development hell where you get paid, but no projects make it to the screen. Every script you complete makes you a better writer, even if it doesn’t sell. Your goal is a constant mastering of your craft. Even when you finally score a writing job, a simple contract can take months going back and forth between lawyers and agents. Time seems to burn quickly and if patience isn’t in your DNA, then I suggest you learn it because you will endure difficult circumstances and never-ending test of your will.
I’ve written 28 feature-length scripts, sold one as a spec, I’ve been paid for fourteen assignments and eight have been into films and distributed worldwide. I completed my twelfth assignment job late last year, a thriller that was produced titled “Mother of All Lies” that premiered recently on LMN and was my 27th script. I was blessed to land another assignment early this year and completed my 28th script, another new thriller called “Mommy’s Little Girl” that premieres later this year. I’ve been a paid script doctor, I’ve lectured about filmmaking, and run my own script consultation service. A long slog? You betcha. Ups and downs? Of course. Lean times? Dry periods? Sacrifices? Scraping the bottom? Absolutely. Doubts and fears? It goes with the journey. Good times? Yes, indeed. My journey has been all the above, but somehow I manage to stay positive in the face of the rejection, criticism, and struggles with the unknown. Why? Because I still love the work and it’s been such an important part of my life since I was a wide-eyed kid who had big dreams of being a filmmaker.
If you love the craft regardless of the outcome, you already possess the ability to weather the long slog it may take to becoming a working screenwriter. You are not insane in your thinking, you’re hammering away in a rarefied world among writers with an esprit de corps—fellow dreamers who refuse to give up and settle for less.
No one can extinguish your creative flames but you. Keep the hungry creative fires burning, keep believing, follow the professional’s code, and always keep writing and creating new projects.
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“Courage is resistance to fear -mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” — Mark Twain
“You must not come lightly to the blank page.”—Stephen King, “On Writing
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not… nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not… unrewarded genius is almost legendary. Education will not…. the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” — President Calvin Coolidge
“The professional senses who has served his time and who hasn’t. Like Alan Ladd and Jack Palance circling each other in Shane, a gun recognizes another gun.” —Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”
“Among his various possible beings each man always finds one which is his genuine and authentic being. The voice which calls him to that authentic being is what we call “vocation.” But the majority of men devote themselves to silencing that voice of vocation and refusing to hear it. They manage to make a noise within themselves… to distract their own attention in order not to hear it; and they defraud themselves by substituting for their genuine selves a false course of life.”—Jose Ortega Gasset