Relocating to a state of zen – OR – Ohmmmmmm

I'll wear the orange, but no way am I shaving my head
I don’t mind the orange robes or the incense, but no way am I shaving my head

As has been well-documented round these parts, I recently entered my western in two contests. One includes feedback as part of the entrance fee, the other gives it as an option.

I don’t usually go the feedback route when it comes to contests, but it had been recommended, so I bit the bullet and opted to do it.

You know that nervous feeling you get in the pit of your stomach while you’re waiting for some kind of potentially life-impacting news? That’s exactly what I was experiencing. Despite my confidence in the script, plus positive comments from friends and trusted colleagues, the butterflies were still taking up residence in my mid-section.

No matter how much I tried to redirect my concentration on working on the low-budget comedy, that nagging thought about the contest feedback would not go away.

What if after all was said and done, the general consensus was that the script sucked and I’d wasted all that time and effort for nothing? Sometimes there’s nothing as powerful as a writer’s self-doubt. It can be downright crippling.

Then the first email came in. If I’d been hooked up to a heart monitor, the thing would have blown a fuse in trying to keep up.

The notes were very positive. Some intriguing comments about what the reader thought needed work, but they seemed to really enjoy it. Possibly even a lot, which was extremely reassuring.

The way I see it, if the reader isn’t gushing over how perfect and wonderful the script is, then I figure there’s not much chance it’ll place, let alone win. Turns out I’m cool with that. While it would be great to win, this is still a pretty solid result.

Two days later, the next email came in. Oh jeez. All those positive feelings I’d reestablished vanished in a puff of smoke. Here we go again.

But much to my surprise, these notes were on par with their predecessor. Lots of positive things to say, plus some suggestions about potential fixes, plus a few things the reader didn’t catch that I thought were fairly obvious, or at least hadn’t been an issue before.

These notes also included scores in 16 categories. Out of a potential 10, I got 2 8s, 2 10s, and the rest were 9s, which was fantastic. Final score 135 out of 150. Not perfect, but still – they seemed to like it, and nobody’s saying, “You suck! Give up now!”  Again, do I think I’ll win? Not likely. Place? Maybe. But right now, that doesn’t seem important.

This whole experience definitely feels like a “face your fears” kind of thing. I know I can do this, and each draft really does help me improve. I was psyching myself out about how I’d do, and ended up actually doing better than expected. That’s pretty good. And since each set of notes had similar things to say about a particular part of the script, I have plenty of time to work on making those fixes before the deadlines for more high-profile contests like PAGE and the Nicholl. Also pretty good.

But most of all I really like the fact that now I can finally put aside thinking/worrying/obsessing about these contests with a little more confidence in my abilities and get back to focusing on developing my other scripts*.

*I’m taking part in the “write an entire script in November” project, but I admit to having had a bit of a head start by working on the low-budget comedy, which was already around the halfway point. But getting this draft done by the end of the month would still put me ahead of schedule.

-My writing chum Justin Sloan, who’s interviewed me as part of his Creative Writing Career book series, has launched the similarly-named Creative Writing Career podcast. A great listen for creative writers interested in several fields, including screenwriting, books and video games. Highly recommended.

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