How to avoid the disappointments that any screenwriting journey will bring…

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

@Scriptcat out!

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.”

Sunset Boulevard pool
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Scriptcat’s survival tips for your screenwriting journey…

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, first of all—THANK YOU!  I truly hope you’re busy creating and forging ahead on your screenwriting journey and you’ve been able to take away a few nuggets of advice that helped. As you may know, I’ve been adding short posts (nothing is EVER short on this blog!) and sharing various survival tips. I do speak about these in the various articles on this blog, but this new feature will be a quick reference to glance over and consider as you navigate your screenwriting journey. So, in addition to my tips on Twitter (@scriptcat), I’ll be posting new tips here from time to time. Thanks for reading and as always: Carry on, keep the faith and keep screenwriting!

Okay, three more survival tips that will help you on your screenwriting adventure…

TIP #1

Do yourself a favor early on your screenwriting journey: Always work from a solid step outline or story treatment before you start pages. Trust me, you will be training yourself for the future. Treatments, beat sheets and step outlines are an important process that prepare you to write the script.  If you’re getting paid as a professional writer for a script assignment, it’s standard practice the producer or executive will require you in the contract to create one of these structured documents before they’ll allow you to start the script.  Only a fool leaves on a journey without the proper road map, supplies and a clear vision of the destination. The same goes for your screenplay. I’ve read so many scripts that run of steam in that barren wasteland of ACT TWO and the writer has no clue how to get the characters across those fifty or so pages. Writing an extensive treatment is similar to doing a pre-draft of your script.  It gives you the chance to explore your story and get to know your characters before you set out on a journey of a hundred pages with them.  If you embrace the treatment process and craft a solid framework for your story, it will help serve as your road map to a successful first draft.

TIP #2

Be willing to make the time necessary to create a viable body of work.  Practice patience, Grasshopper. We all want overnight success with the least amount of effort, right?  You read or hear about a first time writer selling a script for a million dollars? You think a screenwriting career is as easy as falling out of bed in the morning into a three-picture deal? Wrong. It usually takes years of rejection and learning while you toil away writing at a half-dozen screenplays to achieve any level of success as a working screenwriter—or maybe never. You’ll need time to fail, be rejected and write bad screenplays so you can get on to doing your best work. You need to think of your career as your life’s journey and continually learn, study, and work at becoming a better screenwriter. You want to become a master of your craft at the top of your game.  When you consider that only 4,510 Writers Guild Members reported any income last year and half of the guild did not work, you’ll need to be screenwriting at the highest levels necessary to compete in a very competitive and crowded marketplace.

TIP #3

Image is everything! As you travel on your screenwriting journey, the image that you project is extremely important and you should keep up an image of success. You do this by being busy and creating a solid body of material to show prospective agents, managers, producers and executives that you are a work horse with something to offer. Never give them a chance to think of you as a diva who believes he or she is God’s gift to cinema. It’s the team player and collaborator who always works again. The pain in the ass gets branded as “difficult” and wonders why the work has dried up.

Keep screenwriting and filling your blank pages.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2021 by Mark Sanderson. All rights reserved on My Blank Page blog.

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You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”—Ray Bradbury

“One of the things that young writers falsely hope exists is inspiration. A lot of young writers fail because they aren’t putting in the hours. Whether you can write all day every day, or whether you can write four hours on Sundays, whatever it is, you have to protect that time.”—William Goldman

“Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure. But the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. [F]ailure means a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself to be anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believe I truly belonged. [R]ock bottom became the solid foundation on which I built my life.” ~ J.K. Rowling

“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