The romanticized idea of “making it” as a screenwriter in Hollywood…

Doesn’t every screenwriter dream of being on the A-list at the top levels of Hollywood? How realistic is that? Who knows? And what is your definition of “making it?” Having huge paydays for your screenplays or creative satisfaction? Good luck. Maybe it’s making a living in a tough business and waking up doing what you love for a living. That’s more realistic, but who knows where you will end up? Even with the best intentions and hard work there is no guarantee of success. Many talented writers toil away for years and never sell anything, while others with less talent and drive end up selling projects. It’s a screwy business for sure.

As working screenwriters, we are all just one project away from looking for our next job. We are like a band of artisan nomads who roam from job to job trying to stay in the screenwriting game and make a living. If you consider screenwriting a job, it will help take much of the romanticized glamor off this business. Your life after you sell a script or land an assignment job will never be what you envisioned. If you are writing on a TV series, the season ends and so does the show if it’s cancelled. Then what? You have to find your next gig. Today many streamers produce a limited season of 6-8 episodes and they also cancel a series after three seasons. This makes writers have fewer long term employment guarantees than in the past.

Years ago I thought when I scored my first professional writing job that I had finally “made it.” I was able to quit my restaurant job as a waiter, and I thought this was my big break. That was until the producers fired me six weeks into the gig. Sadly, it happens. I didn’t “make it” but it was just another step on a very long journey. What it did was get me out of the restaurant job and I never looked back. It’s been a long haul journey to achieve one spec sale that was produced and fifteen other produced films from twenty-three paid script assignments. It happened due to my drive, tenacity, and never giving up. So, “making it” is all relative. Getting your first gig or next gig is “making it” in my opinion.

Hollywood is a tough business to achieve any level of success, so you have to shoot to the moon with your dreams to even reach half way there. Your idea of success cannot always be about making a big sale or climbing to the A-list overnight. You will not survive over the long haul journey if you have an “all or nothing at all” attitude. I have known people who would only consider themselves a success if they became an A-list talent. It wasn’t worth the tremendous effort to them to end up only making a living at their craft and not being on top. They only wanted to be superstars and nothing less. When I was pre-teen kid and making films with my friends, I only ever wanted to get paid to do what I loved to do—make movies. I am blessed and happy waking up in the morning and getting paid to be creative. That is my dream come true.

The longer you are in the film business with its ups and downs and busy and slow periods, you may change your opinion as to what “making it” is in your mind. Few achieve the top levels of any field. Shoot for the moon, but it’s not such a bad thing to get paid to do what you love for a living too. This might require you to adjust your lofty goals of achieving A-list status. It is okay to make a living from your art too. Fame, fortune, and glory are elusive in the screenwriting game.

PILE OF SCRIPTS

Do not take any successful step forward for granted because what might appear to be a tiny step forward can actually be a huge successful step in disguise. If you can get your material to assistants for consideration, it is a new opportunity for you to plant your flag and hold new ground if they like your writing. If they pass on your script but like your writing, it might feel like a failure now, but it is something that will pay off down the road. It is a little success and positive step forward to celebrate. Even a tiny step like meeting an assistant and keeping in touch as a new contact is a successful step.

Back in the day when I was shopping my spec around Hollywood and getting rejected at every turn, I met an assistant through a mutual contact. This assistant got his boss interested enough in my spec to option it and later buy it and produce it into a movie. The assistant went on to become the president of the production company and hired me to write many movies for them. Later he became an independent producer and hired me again for more assignment work. You never know where the tiny successes will lead, but they do add up and help you establish your experience and eventually a career.

Many years ago when I was just starting out in my attempt to be a working screenwriter, I entered my fifth spec script in various screenwriting contests. Much to my surprise it ended up being a semi-finalist in the Academy’s Nicholl Fellowship that year. It placed in the top 1% of all entries worldwide and was in the top twenty scripts overall, but did not end up as one of the eight finalists. I could have looked upon this as a complete failure, but I used my script’s advanced placement as a successful step forward and convinced agents and producers to read it because of my achievement. I eventually found a producer who saw my script’s potential and his new production company bought my project and later produced it into a movie.

This screenwriting journey is full of ups and downs and Hollywood can serve up a constant dose of criticism, rejection, and failure. Be aware of your negative thoughts about your self-worth as it relates to your screenwriting success or failure. The more negative thoughts you have, the more it becomes an emotion, and then it’s hard to separate your thoughts from your emotions. You can actually start to believe a reality that isn’t true. Many times, it is not always about the sale or the final results of a project. A rejection or “pass” now can actually be an open door later and another project because they like your writing and want to see more of your material. What seemed like a failure at first might really be a successful step because you started a new relationship with a producer or executive and now their door is open to you. This is why you must work on your next project because the key to a successful career is building these relationships with a solid body of material.

It will take at least three or four scripts to get used to the craft and find your voice and style. Screenwriting well takes time and experience — so be patient and do the necessary work. Don’t be depressed when your script does not sell the first time out. Most beginning screenwriters rarely sell their first screenplays. Remain humble or Hollywood will humble you fast. This is a long haul marathon and not a sprint. Completing your latest screenplay is “making it.” Keep making it and hopefully you will land a real screenwriting job that will be the first step of a long journey to stay in the game.

Keep writing and keep the faith.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright ⓒ 2022 All rights reserved by Mark Sanderson on his blog MY BLANK PAGE.

Did you just complete your latest screenplay and need affordable, in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for more information and the link to my website.

Need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches as you pursue a screenwriting career? Check out my new book available now on Amazon. It chronicles my past twenty years of professionally working as a screenwriter in Hollywood and I share my tips, tricks and tactics that have helped me to stay in the game over the long haul. Click on the book cover for the link to Amazon.

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So the only environment the artist needs is whatever peace, whatever solitude, and whatever pleasure he can get at not too high a cost. All the wrong environment will do is run his blood pressure up; he will spend more time being frustrated or outraged. My own experience has been that the tools I need for my trade are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whiskey.”—William Faulkner

I have a theory: not to bore the audience. You make pictures, in a way, for yourself, but you also make them for an audience.”—director William Wyler, Conversations with The Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age at the American Film Institute.

“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

“The reward of suffering is experience.”—Aeschylus, Ancient Greek Dramatist known as the founder of Greek Tragedy

“Unlimited budgets make for a lack of precise decision-making.”—producer Lynda Obst in her new book: Sleepless in Hollywood

“Starting tonight, every night in your life before you go to sleep, read at least one poem by anyone you choose. Poetry and motion pictures are twins.”—Ray Bradbury

Disciplines for your screenwriting journey to success…

We are living though rough times. As creative people, we cannot allow these recent turn of events to get in the way of our splendid screenwriting dreams. Sure, it is easy to become depressed or anxious during this time when we don’t know what the future will bring. So many of us are trying to figure out the next steps in our lives. Your physical and mental health is so important now more than ever. Now is a good time to take stock of both and take care of yourself. The best discipline we can follow is to focus on the things we do have control over — our screenwriting.

Excuses come easy for writers. We have a myriad of things going on in our busy lives that can distract us from the job of filling our blank pages. You may find it difficult to carve out a writing schedule when your distractions give you almost zero time to do the necessary writing. Keep your focus and try to stay creative. I have learned that many times, too much time is not a good thing as we tend to waste it and only realize later we have squandered precious opportunities.

I have found the key to surviving this period is sticking to a regular schedule. Many of you are not used to working from home and the complexities that involves. It is not all fun and games, sitting in your pajamas all day in front of your computer. This is a specific routine that helps me.

Here are six daily disciplines to help with your screenwriting journey.

1.  Stick to a strict sleep schedule. Go to bed and the same time each night and get up at the same time in the morning. Those of you who work a 9-5 job already follow this, but it’s the part-time workers and those who now work from home who also write screenplays that will need the most structure.

2. In the morning, get up, but take time to consider how you will “own” the day. Realize what you can control, and especially what you cannot. This will allow you to create a proper mindset to attack the day on your terms.

3. As many experts suggest… make your bed. You might laugh, but it puts you in the right direction with taking care of your sleep space and respect for order. A messy bed and house usually indicates a messy life.

4. Eat breakfast. Be good to yourself and nourish your body and mind. If you mediate, do that after breakfast. If you don’t, you might consider starting. Do not jump on the Internet or social media yet. The bad news of the day can wait, and you can’t do anything about it anyway. Over breakfast, maybe write in a journal. Write down every day what you are grateful for in your life. This will help to keep you humble and living with grace.

5. Get to work! Whatever work you are doing, jump in and do it right away. Protect your precious screenwriting time – even if that means for fifteen minutes or an hour. Any writing or focusing on your project is better than allowing another day to pass without any completed pages. That momentum is vital to the process.

6.  Do not sit at your computer without taking breaks every half hour at least. New studies have found that sitting is the new smoking and can shave years off your life. If feel you need a longer break — exercise. Whatever your choice of exercise is, do it and stick to a daily schedule. After you will feel better, energized, and alive. Even a brisk walk does wonders. I just completed a 30 day Tai Chi challenge from my sifu, and it kept me on point every day (even when I had to force myself to wake up and meet the sunrise).

If you are starting to write a new project or rewriting an old one, stick to a tight daily writing schedule and protect it from the forces of distraction and procrastination. Stephen King calls it, “closing your door.” When your door is closed, it means that you are writing. Do not stress if you do not reach your daily or weekly goal, but keep in mind, one missed day leads to another, and soon you’re losing precious momentum. We do not want to regret that we didn’t utilize our time to the best of our ability. Once the time is wasted, you are back to your day job with hardly any time to write. Time passes so fast and six months burns before you realize it.

It’s vital you take your career pursuit seriously enough to make the time to write. Hemingway said, “You can write any time people will leave you alone and not interrupt you. Or, rather, you can if you will be ruthless enough about it.” Once you start a writing schedule, it becomes easy and you soon become a master at scheduling your time. If you dabble at your career, time becomes your enemy, and it passes quickly as projects (and you) burn out. This is why setting self-imposed deadlines is so important now when writing your spec screenplays. It trains you for the time when you do land a professional assignment job and you can create under a contracted deadline. It’s also vital to your professional reputation and ultimate success.

The long haul screenwriting journey is filled with ups and downs, both emotional and financial, but you can weather the storms if you maintain a schedule and realize what you do have control over — your screenwriting. You cannot control if Hollywood wants to buy your script or make any of your scripts into movies. If you are not writing, you only have yourself to blame. If it is important enough, your passion will force you to make the time. Remember, time is all we have. It is our greatest asset or worst enemy — it depends on how you respect and use it. During this process, my hope is your journey brings you humility and a deeper understanding that writing is a lifelong process. 

Keep the faith and keep filling your blank pages.

Scriptcat out!

Copyright © 2022 by Mark Sanderson. All Rights Reserved. My Blank Page blog.

Did you just complete your latest screenplay or draft and need in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the icon below for the link to my website and more information to schedule your consultation.

Need help navigating Hollywood’s trenches? Check out my book
A SCREENWRITER’S JOURNEY TO SUCCESS” available on Amazon with 47 five star ratings. It’s a long haul journey to reach any level of screenwriting success. If your passion drives you to embark on this crazy adventure of a  screenwriting career, you’ll need to prepare for survival in Hollywood’s  trenches. Talent is important, but so is your professionalism and  ability to endure criticism, rejection, and failure over the long haul.  The odds may be stacked against you, but the way to standout in this  very competitive business is to create a solid body of work and build a  reputation as a team player and collaborator. The rest is just luck — a  prepared screenwriter who meets with an opportunity and delivers the  goods. “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” will help you prepare for  your own journey with the necessary, tips, tricks and tactics that I’ve  developed over the past twenty years of working in the film industry.  It’s time to start living your dream as a screenwriter in Hollywood.

“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

“The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then.”—William Falukner

“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

“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

Check out my free two-hour seminar, “Staying the game: Surviving as a working screenwriter in Hollywood” sponsored by FILM COURAGE. Click on the icon below for the link to start watching.