The novelist has been around for a long time enduring criticism, rejection and failure, but the screenwriter is a modern vocation dating back to the 1900’s and the silent era of filmmaking. The screenplay is an ever-changing, almost “live” document that is the blueprint of a motion picture. As you journey deeper into your screenwriting adventure, you’ll learn that everything you write in the script is vulnerable to changes. This is why filmmaking is truly a collaborative art form with hundreds of craftspeople giving their input into a finished motion picture—but it all starts with your script. You must fight against the forces of procrastination because this destructive habit will sink your plans every time. It comes from your fear. I completely understand the thinking: If you put off writing it, then you’ll never be judged or criticized. Seems logical. You’ll never have to face the hard fact that it might be horrible writing. Doing nothing is the safer bet? Wrong. Jump in and fill your blank pages. Get the work done. No one wants to hear the sordid details of your insecurities. When you’re eventually hired to write a screenplay they will expect you to deliver the goods on a deadline. You think you’ve experienced pressure? It’s nothing like working in the protected bubble of writing your spec. This is the real world now and your reputation is on the line. It’s the start of your career—or maybe the finish depending on how you play out your precious opportunity. This is why you must train for it before it happens so you’ll be ready and act like a professional in all of your actions.
As you write your spec, you are in a protected bubble, as you can take as long as you need to write and everything is exactly the way you choose it. Once your script goes out for feedback, your protective bubble is quickly popped when your script returns bruised and bloodied from the barrage of feedback. You have to know how to filter every comment and stay on target with your clear vision of the story. Don’t let your insecurity about feedback destroy you from moving forward. Insecurity loves to derail screenwriters who do not have a clear and strong vision for their script. Before you type one page of your screenplay, have a solid foundation and work out your structure and characters in a treatment or beat sheet.
Don’t allow your insecurities to taint your positive feeling of accomplishment when you finish your screenplay. If you accept that rewrites are in your future, you won’t be crushed when the feedback comes and much of it is not what you expect. Have no expectations about any feedback and detach from your work. This will help you to mentally survive the feeling that you’re getting hit from every direction with everyone’s different opinions. Be selective who you trust to read your screenplay. Only allow fellow screenwriters or filmmakers to read a draft you are confident and happy with presenting. At this early stage, you and your script are vulnerable to every idea and opinion out there. Feedback can put you in an insecure place where you end up chasing notes and losing focus on your original intent with your script. Protect yourself as a writer and artist in these early stages.
I know the creative high you feel when you finish your screenplay and it’s truly like none other. You’re excited to share your material with the world and to shout from the top of a building, “I’m done! And it’s great!” You want everyone around you to feel as excited as you are about your latest project because you’re still in a creative zone. The sad fact is that unless you have a writing partner who also filled those blank pages, only you will know that amazing creative high. It can feel very lonely and your need to have someone—anyone read your script can easily become your driving force. Learn to use restraint during this period because you’re not looking for just any notes. You want serious, critical analysis to help move your next rewrite into the right direction. You don’t want feedback from someone who has never read a screenplay before. Novice script readers sometimes feel that scripts are clunky reads and they’re more like a technical manual compared to a novel. Don’t give into temptation—wait for a proper read because your notes will feed into your deepest fears and insecurities as a screenwriter.
Okay, you give your script to a select group of experienced writers or filmmakers and now you wait for feedback. It’s an agonizing waiting game, as you must realize that everyone is busy and they will get to your script on their timetable. It’s even worse in Hollywood where nobody reads and nobody cares. Your script and career are on your most important list, but rarely on Hollywood’s most important list unless you have serious interest—and sometimes even that doesn’t matter. Learn patience. Your insecurity can overwhelm you when fear sets in and you don’t receive the feedback in a timely period. Do not allow your creative mind to slip into the negative world. Many times, no word is just that—no word. It doesn’t mean you aren’t talented or will never sell a screenplay, it’s just part of the bumps in the road on your journey.
When you receive feedback and it’s very critical or brutal, don’t become insecure and go to a place of feeling, “Look at the amount of notes. It proves that I’m a horrible writer and I’ll never work or sell a script.” Most likely your first screenplay will a mess and that’s okay. It may take you five or six scripts to even know yourself as a screenwriter—exploring your strengths, weaknesses, and your style. I didn’t make any noise until my fourth script and looking back on it now, I cringe at my beginner’s mistakes and poor choices. It was my fifth spec script and six years out of film school when I was able to put myself on the map with my first sale and eventual produced film.
Screenwriting well is difficult at best and the study of the craft takes years to master—and even then it’s a constant learning process. You have to really love the process and not be chasing fame and fortune because it rarely comes as a screenwriter. Don’t take the notes to heart and allow the negative feedback to get you down. Welcome the constructive feedback and critical analysis so you can eagerly get back to your rewrite. If you become a working screenwriter, you’ll have to deliver the goods every time and these high expectations can produce debilitating fear and anxiety. This will not help you to deliver an amazing draft under a deadline.
Trust me, the process doesn’t get easier when you finally become a professional working screenwriter. It actually gets more difficult as you are getting paid and expectations are much higher for a quality screenplay. Insecurities and fear still creep in, but you learn to deal with these negative emotions because you’ve been writing for years and know your strengths and weaknesses. Expectations are high, so you learn how to write under a deadline at the top of your game and deliver quality material. You’ll become a team player, an expert at delivering rewrites efficiently and fixing the script without ego. The professional writer can’t afford to allow emotions to get in the way of the process of screenwriting—there’s just too much at stake.
Even after you become a working screenwriter and get paid, your insecurities still can make you feel like a fraud. The biggest fear is that somehow you’ve slipped through and don’t deserve being there. You’re petrified that somehow they will find out you’re a fraud and you’ll never work again. Do you see how insidious fear and insecurity can be? Sure, feel your feelings, but always be mindful of them and do not allow any negative emotions to derail you on your road to success.
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“Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win,
by fearing to attempt.”—
Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, Act 1 Scene 4
“There is only one way to avoid criticism: say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”—Aristotle
“Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer?” Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”—Steven Pressfield, “THE WAR OF ART”
“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.“—F. Scott Fitzgerald
“Like everyone else, you want to learn the way to win, but never to accept the way to lose – to accept defeat. To learn to die is to be liberated from it. So when tomorrow comes you must free your ambitious mind and learn the art of dying!”—Bruce Lee
“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
“Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure. But the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. [F]ailure means a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself to be anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believe I truly belonged. [R]ock bottom became the solid foundation on which I built my life.” ~ J.K. Rowling
“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
“The professional tackles the project that will make him stretch. He takes on the assignment that will bear him into uncharted waters, compel him to explore unconscious parts of himself. Is he scared? Hell, yes. He’s petrified.”—Steven Pressfield, “THE WAR OF ART”