A screenwriter’s tip for survival: Keep the intimate details of your work to yourself…

never believe them untl the check clears
It’s like a poker game. Keep the hand you’re playing to yourself

As you’re navigating the trenches on your screenwriting journey, do your best to 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 or not. I know it’s tempting to share the intimate details with friends and family or even strangers, but keep your business to yourself. Your stock reply should be, “I’m busy working on a handful of interesting projects.”  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.”

The main reason to keep your business to yourself is because you will find Hollywood has a bizarre time warp that works on its own schedule. Every project will take 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. I’ve experienced the head of a production company tell me in person that my script was going into production within three months. Of course the deal fell through as it does most of the time, but what if I told everyone that I knew about my good fortune only to have the rug pulled out from beneath me?  When the supposed production date neared, those people would certainly be asking me about the status of the project.  I’d have to waste precious energy telling them bad news or trying to string them along as I kept the news alive not wanting to explain what happened out of fear.

Maybe they would think I was blowing smoke or exaggerating the situation? Maybe they would think I wasn’t talented enough if the project fell apart? The reality is that financing does fall through, schedules change, and there is a myriad of things that can and do happen completely out of the writer’s control. When these unforeseen issues happen the naysayers will respond to you with, “Man, I don’t know how you do it. That’s such a hard business.” As if you didn’t already know this fact, right? And as if anything worth achieving in life was easy?  And then you’re judged based upon events out of your control. Forget that you not only secured the paid gig to write a script on assignment and it made it through development… but that’s not impressive to those who don’t know just how hard that was to achieve. You’ll have to fight against believing their criticisms and advice because it comes from their own fears projected upon you.

time warp in Hollywood

The truth is that it takes an incredible amount of time for any aspiring screenwriter to gain and hold new ground and for any script to find a home and eventually get produced—if ever.  Sometimes the less you say about your progress the better. Focus on the work and if anyone asks you what is going on, politely explain that you’re constantly “working on a lot of projects and they’re moving forward.”

I recently ran into an old friend who asked how things were going and when I mentioned a project and its recent upswing in progress he replied, “Haven’t you been trying to get that made for a few years now?”  Why, yes I have… and thank you for reminding me of that fact. It’s not as easy as you’d believe to get someone to just give you millions of dollars to make a film. This is a perfect example of how every project is a new adventure and has its own ups and downs that are out of your control. You’ll survive the journey by having as many solid projects out there working as possible for your benefit.  Sometimes they all hit, one hits, and other times nothing hits. It’s the nature of the business, but you keep soldiering on.

rejectionWe all have our own inner voice of self-doubt as artists, 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. I have a friend who just landed a gig on an indie movie and the pay isn’t great, but it’s a fantastic opportunity and might open up a whole avenue that never existed before for him. He mentioned that he told another friend about this good fortune, and his friend questioned his decision to take the job and even pointed out that he’ll “barely break even financially—so what’s the point?”  The friend couldn’t see the bigger picture and how in the film business, many times you take a job because you can see past the immediate opportunity and look to what other doors it can open.

Again, beware of opening yourself up to negative criticism by sharing all of your private business. Protect your dreams from the naysayers who enjoy raining on your parade. They’re unable or unwilling to take that leap off the cliff and that’s okay—it’s what us dreamers do every day. Keep your work close to the vest until it’s finished and know that even with a contract—projects can still die in development, during production and even after they’re produced.  No one ever truly knows the fate of any film and it’s mostly out of your control, so stick to what is within your control—keeping your private business to yourself and continuing to write.

Scriptcat out!

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 “Act without expectation.” —Lao Tzu

“Seeking support from friends and family is like having your people gathered around at your deathbed.  It’s nice, but when the ship sails, all they can do is stand on the dock waving goodbye.  Any support we get from persons of flesh and blood is like Monopoly money; it’s not legal tender in that sphere where we have to do our work.  In fact, the more energy we spend stoking up on support from colleagues and loved ones, the weaker we become and the less capable of handling our business.” —Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

“‘I never feel the need to discuss my work with anyone. No, I am too busy writing it. It has got to please me and if it does I don’t need to talk about it. If it doesn’t please me, talking about it won’t improve it, since the only thing to improve it is to work on it some more. I am not a literary man but only a writer. I don’t get any pleasure from talking shop.”—William Faulkner

“The thing is to become a master and in your old age to acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing.”—Ernest Hemingway

Everyone holds his fortune in his own hands, like a sculptor the raw material he will fashion into a figure. But it’s the same with that type of artistic activity as with all others: We are merely born with the capacity to do it. The skill to mold the material into what we want must be learned and attentively cultivated.”—Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

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4 thoughts on “A screenwriter’s tip for survival: Keep the intimate details of your work to yourself…

  1. This is so spot on with how things are and how people react. I have been through everything you said here from being very close to production to having things fall through and all the people I’ve told wonder what happened. People telling me what a hard profession I’ve chosen and I should try something easier. I have slowed down in sharing the details of my projects but there’s a large part of me that believes in spreading good vibes. That if people are rooting for me then the universe will pick up on it and the momentum will continue. So I can’t help telling a few people even the smallest piece of good news.

  2. Great post. It can be difficult for folks to understand they’re taking the wind out of your sails. They think the pointing out the practicality will benefit creative people. Being general and vague about your project is sage advice.

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