We all have expectations after we complete a script. You know the creative high that you felt during writing and you want to let the world know that you finished. You’re also probably coming down from that high as you turn in your draft for criticism and await feedback. Did you receive opinions that were not exactly what you expected? Many times we are pleasantly surprised, but too many other times we are let down by our expectations.
Were you disappointed they didn’t appreciate the work enough — or maybe didn’t understand it enough? It’s hard because we assume that everyone else is as excited about our screenplay as we are when we finish. If this was an assignment gig, maybe the producer felt your execution of the treatment was off? (I’ve had this happen before). Perhaps you become down on yourself as the insecure voices scream in your head, “I’m a fraud and they’ve found out!” You may even question what you thought was some of your best work only a week ago, but now because of the reaction feel it’s crap. 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… even if it comes from within and not from external opinions. Writing the script is one thing, turning over to others for feedback, or to a producer and waiting for a reply is another experience. 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. You will always deal with notes and changes your entire career. It doesn’t change when you become a professional writer. In fact, more is at stake because your reputation is on the line with every project. 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. This trick will help you on the long haul journey of a screenwriter.
As writers we must stay open to constructive criticism. We will always receive notes as a script is a changing blueprint for a movie. Once producers, a director and actors get involved there will be many changes and you should welcome the creative input from your co-creators on a project. These fellow artisans will bring it to an entirely new level of creativity. 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 also had to deal with disappointments and frustration throughout my writing career, but I continue to love the craft of writing. I’ve been paid to write movies that were never made and got lost in “development hell.” Imagine being told by the head of the production that your film will go into production in two months, only to find out it doesn’t happen. There are a myriad of reasons why a film doesn’t move forward—even if you wrote a terrific screenplay. These disappointments were the hardest for me to get used to when starting out as a professional screenwriter. I always thought just because they buy your script or hire you to write one it was a guarantee of a produced film. After fifteen produced films and twenty-three assignments, I know first hand the harsh realities of the film business.
I’ve been able to handle these disappointments by viewing the entire process from a larger perspective and focusing on the task at hand — to get the script into better shape and move it through the development process. If you are lucky enough to be paid to write, it becomes your job. You go to work, write all day, come back tomorrow and lather, 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. Writers must serve the story to the best of their creative ability. 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 screenwriter.
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 is not.
Be open to the entire process of writing and the journey — the notes, criticism, rejections, rewrites, and even the successes. Always be writing to gain that precious experience. Detachment from the work is hard, but it helps so you’re not crushed every time you receive disappointing feedback .You don’t need to suffer any disappointments— only triumphs when you complete a project. There will always be creative highs and lows. Do your best not to allow your disappointments 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 hell 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! Keep writing and keep the faith.
Copyright 2021 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE blog.
“The poor dope — he always wanted a pool. Well, in the end, he got himself a pool.”