A screenwriting journey is a marathon, so enjoy the little successes along the way…
November 5, 2016 § Leave a comment
Sometimes it takes years for the big successes to happen. During the in-between times, when you’re working hard toward your next goal, you might doubt your talent and even question if you’ll ever work again. The early failures may force you to ask, “What if my latest spec doesn’t sell?” Maybe the well has run dry for you? What if you don’t find a screenwriting job? What if you can’t find an agent or manager? What if you receive horrible feedback and they hate your screenplay? Oh, the myriad of questions that can fuel your insecurity and fear if you allow it. Sometimes, the only nourishment we have in this barren wasteland of screenwriting is our faith and the anchor of the small achievement. No matter how small. Maybe you finished your script? That’s a major achievement. Maybe you finally got a producer to give it a read? That’s another successful achievement. The ingredients of a big success are usually a range of small successes all leading up to that sale or screenwriting job that jump starts a “career.”
It’s the little successes that keep us going through the rough times. I know for me personally, what gets me through is seeing results from my forward movement—and creating new material. Every screenplay opens up new opportunities. Always be moving forward, even if it’s a few steps at a time. Sure, you’ll stumble and experience failure during your journey, but avoid falling into the self-doubt pit where the darkness of fear overshadows your burning desire to make it as a screenwriter in Hollywood.
On your journey, make sure to take rejection lightly. We all suffer disappointment, but when you can accept rejection as part of the process, you can better adjust your temperament and not take the criticism personally. There’s a myriad of reasons why a producer might reject your project, but they could still like your writing. Selling a project is great, but if it doesn’t sell your writing ability can also land you a job. Think positively and train yourself to avoid the negative thoughts about your self-worth and talent. The more you think negatively, the more it becomes an emotion — and then it’s hard to separate the two. You can actually start to believe a reality that isn’t true.
Many times, it’s not always about the sale or the immediate final result. A rejection can actually be an open door and maybe it’s a “pass” now, but they like your writing and want to see more. What seemed like a failure was really a success, because you started a new relationship with a producer or executive whose door is now open to you. This is why you should always be working on your next project. Building these relationships is the key to a successful career as a working screenwriter, so don’t get depressed when your script doesn’t sell the first time out. You’ll probably have to write ten screenplays before you sell your first one.
Back in the day before I was a working screenwriter, I entered my script in the prestigious Academy’s Nicholl Fellowship with the hopes of winning one of the year-long fellowships. My script was not one of the nine finalists, but was a semi-finalist script, placing in the top 1% of all entries, and it ended up in the top twenty scripts overall out of thousands entered worldwide. They picked the top nine writers for the fellowship that year. I could have looked upon my placement as a complete failure, but I used my script’s advanced placement as a successful step forward and was able to get producers to read it because of my achievement. I eventually found a producer who saw my script’s potential, his company bought my script, produced it into a motion picture that premiered at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, premiered on cable TV in the US, and distributed worldwide. It was a dream come true.
You can spend years working on many projects and with the right timing and project, you could get paid to write a few and some will actually be produced. It’s not going to be easy on the long haul marathon that it will take to get anything produced. More often, many projects never get produced and they become writing samples that might get you work in the future. There’s a myriad of different scenarios where the result is out of your control. So, if you’re slogging away in the trenches anyway, fighting the good fight, why not celebrate the little successes along the way?
It won’t always be a slam-dunk, but if you’re in the game and working toward your goal, you’ll get through the rough times by cherishing the little successes. A career is built on the positive steps forward, not the pursuit of one big sale. It does happen for a select and lucky few, but the more realistic journey is one built from a long series of seemingly tiny successes.
On your road to being a working screenwriter, any forward position that you’re able to hold is a triumph. Never lose ground by falling into the pit of self-doubt with debilitating fear. Stay hungry, humble, and face the challenges straight on because there’s no way around them, only through them. Once you’ve overcome the next challenge, hold that new position and use it to regroup and push even farther down the road. It’s similar to a battle and you’ll stand a better chance at survival over the long haul if you take time to celebrate the hard-earned successes —no matter how small they seem. Also, don’t focus on where you’re NOT — (famous or A-list)— focus on where you’re AT—hopefully screenwriting. Regardless of experience or success, as screenwriters we’re all equals in front of a blank page channeling the muse.
Keep filling your blank pages and keep the faith because if you stop writing you’ll never have any shot at success.
Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on blog My Blank Page.
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“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”~ Albert Schweitzer
“Believe me that in every big thing or achievement there are obstacles — big or small — and the reaction one shows to such an obstacle is what counts not the obstacle itself.”—Bruce Lee
“Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad—you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year.”—Ray Bradbury
“Writing is survival. Any art, any good work, of course, is that. Not to write, for many of us, is to die. We must take arms each and every day, perhaps knowing that the battle cannot be entirely won, but fight we must, if only a gentle bout.”—Ray Bradbury