Tips to survive the crushing blow of feedback and criticism…

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.

handshake cartoonWe 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.

changeNow, 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.

pitchAlong 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!

@Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2019 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.”

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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

Okay, you sold a screenplay, but will you survive the long march through development hell?

the march of development hellMaybe you’ve heard of this dilemma and have yet to experience it, but if you work as a screenwriter long enough in Hollywood you will not escape the disappointing clutches of development hell. If you’re lucky enough to sell your spec script or score a paid screenwriting job, what happens after the first draft could determine if your script languishes in a constant state of development or moves into production. There are many reasons why a script becomes stuck in development hell with seemingly endless rewrites. Many times, the producers or executives are not clear about what they want, so they’ll tinker with the script until they find their vision. Changes in casting can also extend the development process because the script is rewritten to tailor the new casting choice. Even changes with the film’s location can drag out the development process because if the story takes place in the tropics and the producer changes it to a winter climate with snow, you’ll have another rewrite on your hands and possibly more development. The longer a project is in development, the greater the chances for outside forces to come along during the process and derail the entire operation.

Other times the project itself can stall because of financing issues, global distribution shifts, changes in what the buyers want, and lack of a distribution deal. This is why it’s called development hell—it’s either the hell of endless rewrites or your project being stalled from moving forward. Yes, it’s truly frustrating and disappointing. Hopefully, you’ll be paid for every draft but it’s little consideration if the movie never gets produced.

rewritesOne of my writing professors in film school complained that she spent her entire professional screenwriting career in development hell because she was paid to write scripts, but the projects never ended up being produced. I’ve experienced this when a production company hired me to write a detailed story treatment and then the screenplay. After I turned in my first draft, the executive responded with twelve pages of notes. I was dumbfounded because I had worked closely with the company on the story treatment and once it was to their liking, they allowed me to write the screenplay. As the dutiful screenwriter, I moved forward and executed their twelve pages of notes and eventually completed a second draft. Five years later, the script has yet to go into production because the company has dramatically changed and is making fewer films focusing on lower-budgeted productions. These scenarios are the most frustrating because screenwriters’ contracts involve step deals that pay the writer an upfront sum to write the script and successive drafts, but the larger production bonus only is paid when the script actually begins principal photography. That means no production date—no production bonus. Again, another example of how so many aspects of the film business are out of a screenwriter’s control.

FADE INI also experienced the bitter sting of development hell when a producer hired me to rewrite another screenwriter’s script. The previous writer had done three drafts and the producers felt she was “written out” and could no longer execute their notes effectively. They brought me on the project with a contract and pay, and I eventually did another five drafts working closely with the director as I executed his production specific notes. It was a long process that stretched on for nearly two years. The bad news is the script remains in “development” and I can’t get a straight answer as to why.  I have to let it go because it’s never going to be produced. I certainly hope someday the producers pull the trigger on making the project, but it’s out my control. You have to move on.

Conversely, I’ve also been lucky to write a fast-tracked film during February of one year that went into production eight months later in October of the same year. This was one of two films that I had go into production during a ten-month period, so you never know the fate of your completed screenplay. This is especially true when you’re not on the front lines producing the project. Currently I have five screenplays in development, all production ready screenplays. Why they are not moving forward is out of my control. When you start on a new screenplay, you’ll never know the journey it will ultimately take. Sometimes you end up lucky and have a slate of steady work. I completed three screenplay assignments this year and all three have gone into production. The latest script just started production last week, it’s my eleventh produced film and my 33rd completed screenplay that I’ve written on my journey. So, as you can see, you never know. The key is being a prolific workhorse and turning out solid material that will hopefully open doors to screenwriting assignments.

After I started working professionally in Hollywood, the hardest reality check that I quickly learned to accept was that even when you do finally get paid to write a screenplay or sell a spec, not every one of your projects will make it into production. This is why you’ll constantly need to create a solid body of work and have as many viable screenplays out in the marketplace as possible. There is no real way to avoid development hell and it happens on every level of the film business. If you want to feel empowered, you should focus on your next project and always do your best work every time up to the keyboard.

Keep filling your blank pages because if you stop writing you’ll never have any chance at success.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright 2017 written by Mark Sanderson on his blog MY BLANK PAGE.

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