Do not allow your script to be read before it’s ready…
May 30, 2013 § 2 Comments
I’m guilty. I used to do this too before I learned how damaging it can be to a screenwriter’s mind and screenplay. You finish your screenplay and you’re surging with a natural creative high that you want to share with the world. This is the time to step back and take a pause. Allow your script to sit for a few days and do no read it. You’ll be tempted to give it to any of your friends bugging you to read your script when it’s done. Do not let anyone read it. Fight the temptation to share it at this point. It’s your first draft and it will definitely need more work—but this is delicate process and one a screenwriter must do alone and without anyone’s input at this point in the journey. It’s now just you and your screenplay—creator and project—alone together again.
During this vulnerable period, it can take just one person’s unfavorable of offhanded comment to drown you in an ocean of self-doubt. Your creative high fuels your feelings of triumph and you definitely do not want anyone to rain on your parade before you start on your next draft. You don’t need anyone’s criticism at this point until you work out the bugs and craft another solid draft.
I hope this goes without saying, but I’ll say it—never give the script to anyone in the film business after your first draft—even if they ask you to read it—even if they beg you to read it. I wouldn’t even mention on your screenplay’s cover what draft the screenplay is as to avoid the reader’s possible bias against the draft number. If you list that it’s a fifth draft the reader may think, “Why did it take five drafts to get it right?” Remember, you will never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay. If a producer, director or executive reads a substandard draft, no amount of excuses from you will sway their first impression. It will hurt your project and more importantly their view of your writing abilities. If you need to be reminded—write on the cover of your screenplay “FOR MY EYES ONLY.”
When the time comes for a read, everyone will have an opinion about your screenplay. You know that five different people will have five different opinions. You don’t need that varied of criticism ranging from good or bad at this early stage. When you are ready, only give the script to your inner circle to read when you really feel that it’s the best draft you can do up to this point or you feel that you’re written out—you feel that you have nothing more to offer and you are happy with what you’ve done.
I’d add this nugget of advice from experience—while you’re screenwriting, keep the intimate details of your work to yourself. Do not continually talk about the status of your projects, your “writing process,” or how each project is moving forward. Hollywood’s bizarre time warp works on its own schedule. Every project will take much longer than you ever expected and you don’t need people thinking that you’re blowing smoke when you talk about the status of your material. It can also distract you from the work. The truth is that it takes an incredible amount of time for any script to find a home and eventually get produced—if ever. Sometimes the less you say about your progress the better. We all have our own inner voice of self-doubt, but why give fodder to your critics and skeptics who will use it to squash your dreams? They’ll even taint any good news you share and use it to belittle your success because they didn’t have the guts to risk everything to pursue their own dreams. They enjoy raining on your parade instead. Protect your dreams and cut the naysayers out of your life. Keep your work close to the vest until it’s finished.
You will not escape criticism and notes because they are part of the business of screenwriting. Be open to the entire process of writing—the notes, rewrites, the critiques and all. There will always be creative highs and lows. Do your best not to perceive your disappointments as a failures and then sink into the morass of fear and insecurity in your creative soul. Always be writing— something. No disappointments only triumphs when you complete a screenplay or other work.
Keep the faith and always keep filling your blank pages.
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Hemingway said it best, “I still believe, though, that it is very bad for a writer to talk about how he writes. He writes to be read by the eye and no explanations or dissertations should be necessary. You can be sure that there is much more there than will be read at any first reading and having made this it is not the writer’s province to explain it or to run guided tours through the more difficult country of his work.”
“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
“You have to be very productive in order to become excellent. You have to go through a poor period and a mediocre period, and then you move into your excellent period. It may be very well be that some of you have done quite a bit of writing already. You maybe ready to move into your good period and your excellent period. But you shouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a very long process.”—Ray Bradbury
“One of the things that young writers falsely hope exists is inspiration. A lot of young writers fail because they aren’t putting in the hours. Whether you can write all day every day, or whether you can write four hours on Sundays, whatever it is, you have to protect that time.”—William Goldman
“So give yourself that chance to put together the 80, 90 pages of a draft and then read it very in a nice little ceremony, where you’re comfortable, and you read it and make good notes on it, what you liked, what touched you, what moved you, what’s a possible way, and then you go about on a rewrite.“—Francis Ford Coppola
“The professional understands delayed gratification. He is the ant, not the grasshopper; the tortoise, not the hare… the professional arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align in his career, but to keep himself from flaming out in each individual work. He knows that any job, whether it’s a novel or a kitchen remodel, takes twice as long as he thinks and costs twice as much. He accepts that. He recognizes it as reality. He conserves his energy. He prepares his mind for the long haul. He sustains himself with the knowledge that if he can just keep the huskies mushing, sooner or later the sled will pull in to Nome.” — Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”