Screenwriting survival tips to help survive the dreaded “waiting game.”
June 30, 2019 § Leave a comment
After you submit our script to someone for a read, we go through what is know as the “waiting game.” It’s that horrible period when the lack of any reply can fester inside a screenwriter’s head, and the fear of rejection and failure can fuel negative thoughts. You get enough rejection on your journey, so why create more anxiety for yourself during the period when someone reads your script as you wait for them to get back to you, right? You have no control over when they will respond or even their response. The only control you do have is over your work and how good or bad it is at this moment on your journey. Hopefully, you’ve done your best work in the script and what is on the page now it represents you without any excuses. It’s a process we all will repeat over our entire careers.
Many times, I’ve learned that no news is just that—no news. I’ve conjured up horrible scenarios, only to be proven wrong when the good news comes. As creative people, we screenwriters can imagine all kinds of unknown situations in our head, writing, filming, and editing the outcome before it happens. That’s destructive thinking and wasted energy. The key is to stay busy so you can get through this period after you submit your script to an agent, manager, production company, executive, or contest. It’s vital to your mental state over the long haul. Even when you do forge a career, you will submit projects to your producers or executives, so it never ends. It’s how you treat the waiting period that counts and staying in control is vital to your mental survival.
It helps to always stay busy with some form of writing. While your script is out and you await a response, you need to create other projects, new loglines, pitches, treatments, and work on a new screenplay. When you are busy, you won’t be obsessed with waiting for a response for those projects out in the marketplace. When the good or bad news trickles in, you won’t be destroyed by the comments or rejection because you will be too busy on your new screenplay. You open up new opportunities with every screenplay that you create. It’s vital to your creative soul to keep pressing forward and filling new blank pages.
While you are experiencing the waiting game, it helps to remember that Hollywood works on its own timetable—never yours. It’s a time warp where nothing happens as fast as you’d like and sometimes it feels like even a few steps forward takes too long. Time can burn so quickly as you pursue your screenwriting career in Hollywood. You spend so much time and energy finishing your script, and once you finish how can you temper your excitement? This is what we live for as screenwriters—the excitement of completing a new project and seeing it move forward. It’s playing the game, living as a wide-eyed dreamer with hopes for another chance up to the plate. It’s empowering to work on your own schedule and steer your own ship seemingly in control of your destiny.
Even when a project seems to be on life support, you never know. I recently had a screenplay that I wrote on assignment ten years ago suddenly have some life breathed back into it by the producers. I received an e-mail notifying me the script was out to investors with a package of three others and they were waiting for feedback. Who knows, right? That is why you’ll need many projects in the marketplace at all times over the years for any shot at success.
Remember, your script is the most important thing in the world to you—but you quickly discover it’s not to everyone else. This is when a time warp happens and your reality quickly shows down to Hollywood’s schedule. It’s a strange world of fear, unknowns, half-truths, promises, good intentions, and a very long slog. Again, it helps to stay busy and working on your next great screenplay.
Even if you do land a screenplay assignment, the business side of negotiation takes time. On one assignment job, my contract for a script assignment went back and forth between my lawyer and the production company’s lawyer for almost a month. As negotiations continue on every deal point, the back and forth seemingly takes forever—and this is before you can start any work on the script. Unfortunately, a holiday comes up, so it means another four or five days until a reply and new draft of the contract. It seems like torture, feeling as if you’re in the starting blocks waiting for the starter gun to go off—but it never does until you and the producer sign the contract’s final draft and you get your upfront payment to start writing. This is when it helps to have patience my fellow screenwriters—learn patience. It’s a big part of the life of a screenwriter and will help on your long haul journey.
The key to surviving the “waiting game” is to empower yourself by staying busy writing. As you create a new project, the energy comes from your mind as you drive your dreams forward with your passion for storytelling. Don’t give into fear during the waiting game because that’s what it wants you to do. If you don’t hear back within your artificially created deadline, fear might creep into your creative soul and you will easily believe that you are a horrible writer if you don’t receive feedback. Avoid this destructive habit by staying busy during this period. You’re onto your next project and too busy to worry about what happens with the last. That’s empowering and puts you back in control.
Keep the faith and keep writing because if you stop, you’re guaranteed to never have any shot at success. And trust me this is a business where there are no guarantees—even when you do sell a screenplay.
Copyright 2019 by Mark Sanderson on My Blank Page.
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“This is, if not a lifetime process, it’s awfully close to it. The writer broadens, becomes deeper, becomes more observant, becomes more tempered, becomes much wiser over a period time passing. It is not something that is injected into him by a needle. It is not something that comes on a wave of flashing, explosive light one night and say, ‘Huzzah! Eureka! I’ve got it!’ and then proceeds to write the great American novel in eleven days. It doesn’t work that way. It’s a long, tedious, tough, frustrating process, but never, ever be put aside by the fact that it’s hard.”—Rod Serling
“Give me a good script, and I’ll be a hundred times better as a director.” – George Cukor
“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
“If there ever was one analogy for what a screenwriter must accomplish, it’s this: To create a source of life, to find the bedrock of a given idea, to prevent most of the work from evaporating.”—FX Feeney