First rule of pursuing a screenwriting career and dealing with criticism: Do not end up like Joe Gillis. We don’t want to find you face down in a swimming pool of a Beverly Hills mansion. Failure is part of a screenwriter’s journey, but make sure it doesn’t lead you to act out in desperation. It’s not worth it. Sure, Joe constantly received less than positive feedback on his scripts, and one project was about the Okies in the Dust Bowl, but when it reached the screen, the whole thing played on a torpedo boat. Yes, he ended up broke and working for a nutty actress in her giant mansion — “A place that seemed to have been stricken with a kind of creeping paralysis — out of beat with the rest of the world, crumbling apart in slow motion.” Be careful when you have expectations and open yourself up to feedback and criticism, you could turn down a dangerous path and end up in the papers for the wrong reason.
We all have expectations after we complete a script. You know the creative high that you felt during writing, and now you might be coming off that high as you turn in your draft to a reader, a contest, or a producer and await feedback. Weeks or months later, did you get the feedback and it’s not exactly what you expected? Were you disappointed they didn’t appreciate the work enough — or maybe didn’t understand it enough? Maybe they felt your execution of the treatment was off? Maybe you aren’t writing at the level you thought and suffer a harsh reality check. Perhaps you become down on yourself as the insecure voices scream in your head about your lack of ability? You may even question what you thought was some of your best work only a week ago. You are not alone my fellow writers.
We all need a pat on the back or just a “job well done” once in a while. Especially when we finish a new script. Writing the script is one thing, turning it into someone and waiting for feedback is another. It’s easy to take notes personally because your script is your baby, and your writing exposes yourself and your talents to criticism. If you can’t handle criticism, start to work on acceptance as it will make your journey as a working writer a lot less bumpy. Notes and changes are a given with a screenplay. Perhaps it will make the process easier to always remember that writing is rewriting. Detach from the material and expectation from any outcome. “Act without expectation.” —Lao Tzu. Do not hang on every word or sentence. I know, it’s the hardest thing to do in the process. You’re not alone. A writer’s journey is a tough one at best.
Now, as writers we have to stay open to constructive criticism. We will always receive notes as a script is a changing blueprint for a movie. When you start working professionally, producers, a director and actors get involved and there will be many changes. You should welcome the creative input from your co-creators on a project. These fellow artisans will bring the work into to an entirely new level. But if the process gets dragged down by so many changes, you can become frustrated and feel like throwing in the towel. Stay positive, focused and persistent at executing the notes and turning in a better script. Find the passion you had for the first draft, and put that energy into shaping a new draft that will please not only yourself, but the talent it will eventually attract.
Along with the successes, I’ve had to deal with disappointments and frustration throughout my writing career, but I continue to love the craft of writing. I’ve been able to view the entire process from a larger perspective and focus on the task at hand — to get the script into better shape. If you are lucky enough to be paid to write, it becomes your job. You go to work, write all day, go home, come back tomorrow and wash, rinse and repeat. Writers have pages to write and without filling those blank pages there would be no script. Take your feedback seriously, but don’t take it to heart. Trust in your writing abilities and if you allow the disappointments to take you into a bad place, address your feelings but then focus on the task of executing your notes. Stay out-of-the-way of the story and put your ego aside. Everyone is here to serve the story to the best of their creative ability. Production is all about compromises, and many times you’ll have to make changes you don’t entirely agree with, but you do them and move on to write another day. If you want to play with the big boys and girls, at some point you’re going to be bruised and beat up. It’s just the rites of passage necessary for the growth of a writer.
Part of the deal is that you want people to read your material, right? If producers or executives agree to a read, give them ample time to get back to you. A gentle nudge in a few weeks is completely acceptable, but if you contact them before, you’ll seem desperate and no one likes to be hounded. I remember a producer warned me, “Stay on me about your project, because I tend to get busy.” That’s fine. But use common sense and put yourself in their situation for a second. Your script is the most important thing in the world to you after you finish, but you have to understand that it’s not on their front burner at the moment. One E-mail or text is fine to check up — four are not.
Be open to the entire process of writing — the notes, rewrites and all. Always be writing. No disappointments only triumphs when you complete a project. There will always be creative highs and lows. Do your best not to allow your disappointment to be perceived as a failure and then sink into the morass of fear and insecurity in your creative soul. This will lead to the horrible act of chasing screenplay notes. Avoid this at all costs.
Be patient. A career does not happen overnight and part of your journey is becoming a better writer and finding your unique voice — one that producers will grow to love, trust and hopefully employ!
Copyright 2019 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE blog.
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“There is only one way to avoid criticism: say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”—Aristotle
“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” —Alexander Pope
“Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?”― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
“If good, you learn from it. If bad, you learn even more. Work done and behind you is a lesson to be studied. There is no failure unless one stops.”—Ray Bradbury
“I am never indifferent, and never pretend to be, to what people say or think of my books. They are my children, and I like to have them liked.” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“Don’t mind criticism. If it’s untrue, disregard it. If it’s unfair, keep from irritation. If it’s ignorant, smile. If it’s justified, learn from it.” — Old Chinese Saying