The latest undertaking: the edit/rewrite of the low-budget comedy spec is underway.
Even while I was writing it, I knew there were changes that needed to be made. So now it’s time to dive in and make those changes, which tends to be equally as thrilling as the actual writing process. For me, anyway.
This is the part where I force myself to let those changes be made, even for the parts I absolutely love. There will most likely be more than one instance of “Why did I think this was a good idea?” Then I change it.
It happens with every draft of every script. You have to be able to be your own harshest critic. Every decision stems from “How can this be better?”
Sometimes it comes easy, and sometimes it doesn’t. It takes a while to get the hang of it.
“But why not just do it while you’re writing that initial draft?” some may ask. Because you don’t always hit the bullseye on your first attempt. You need a couple of practice tries. Many’s the time I’d suddenly stumble into a solution that proved to be significantly better than the original.
Don’t hold back. Don’t be afraid to make those changes. As I’ve discovered many times in the past, once something is changed, it is very soon forgotten. So much to the point that you’ll barely remember the previous incarnation.
When this whole process is done, at least for this round, I believe the end result will be a better script. I’m fairly confident this won’t take too long, and think writer-me will be quite content with the decisions made and steps taken by editor-me.
And then the whole thing will repeat itself again.
*Side note – blogger-me is proud to announce that the number of visitors to the blog has surpassed the 20-thousand mark. Not too shabby, especially considering the first few years were me and about six other people.
A few months ago, after connecting with another writer on a networking site, I asked my usual get-to-know-you question – “How are your latest projects coming along?”
Their response: “Good. You can read these (2) copyrighted scripts HERE (link). Also looking into setting up some table reads.”
Sometimes this happens. I ask somebody how it’s going, they give a brief, no-nonsense answer, and that’s it. No “How about you?” Hey, it’s cool. I understand. You’re not interested in being social. No big deal. (Although it does defeat the purpose of this whole “networking” thing.)
My standard procedure after that is to let things drop, which I did.
Until a month later.
This same person sent me a boilerplate notice regarding something else, so I decided to try again.
“How’d the table reads go?”
“Still waiting for funding. Still haven’t read my screenplays yet, have you?”
Um, was I supposed to?
I looked over our previous exchange. Nope. No request to “please read my screenplays”. Just “this is where you can read them”, plus the emphasis on them being copyrighted, to no doubt put the kibosh on any potential IP theft on my part.
This was also just after I’d started my 10-day writing marathon, so I had absolutely no time to read anything. I said I hadn’t read them, and was currently involved with some really big projects.
That did not sit well with them, at least from their perspective.
“Figured this is the pat response I always get when I try to start a conversation here. If you ever join OTHER NETWORKING SITE, let me now (sic). That’s where I network the most and actually find fellow creatives to work with. Here, not so much.”
And that was that.
Huh? Did I miss something? They were starting a conversation with me? Apparently I was the latest in a long line of someone giving what they considered to be a lame excuse as to why I hadn’t read their material, which I supposedly said I would.
I considered responding with some kind of harshly-worded retort, but opted not to. It simply wasn’t worth the time or effort. In fact, up until I started writing this post, I hadn’t even thought about them since, and will have most likely forgotten about them by this time tomorrow.
I’ve covered this subject before, and am compelled to do so again.
A big part of this industry is establishing and maintaining relationships.
It is extremely important for you to be a nice person. To everybody.
Granted, not everybody is going to reciprocate, but you’re much more likely to make a good impression if you’re friendly, polite, and professional. Both in person and online. People will remember that.
And they will also remember it if you’re not. Establish a reputation for being a pompous, know-it-all jerk, then that’s how people will perceive you, which will severely reduce your chances of somebody wanting to work with you a second time (providing they survive the first).
When you initially connect with somebody and a conversation develops, take the initiative and make it about them. Ask how their projects are going. In theory, they’ll answer and ask about yours. Be friendly, inquisitive, and encouraging. I’ve made a lot of good contacts and gotten to know a lot of extremely talented writers that way.
Added bonus – Your network of writing associates has the potential to be a virtual support team. Part of why my writing’s improved over the past few years is a direct result of receiving quality notes from many of these writers, and I’ve always been totally willing to return the favor.
And they’re also there for you in the rough times. If I announce some disappointing news, I can always rely on receiving a lot of sympathetic and encouraging comments to remind me I’m not alone in this, and that a lot of folks (none of whom I’m related to) believe in my abilities.
All of this from being a nice person!
But, as exemplified in my little anecdote from earlier, sometimes a connection just doesn’t happen. If somebody doesn’t seem interested, don’t push it. Wish them the best and move on. There are a lot of other writers out there for you to meet.
And they’ll probably think you’re just as fantastic as I do.
The results are in for my standing in two highly-ranked screenwriting contests, and at best could probably be considered partially encouraging.
As mentioned previously in this space, my western did not advance to the quarterfinals of the PAGE International competition. That was somewhat disappointing.
Earlier this week, I’d been informed that it made the top 15 percent for the Nicholl, and was also not advancing to the quarterfinals. This ranking ties a previous personal best. Not bad, but again, slightly disappointing.
As it would probably be for most, my initial reaction to both of these announcements, especially the former, was “Well, I’m just a shitty writer, aren’t I?”
Apparently, not necessarily.
After I’d announced my contest results, I heard from a lot of fellow writers, including comments about the quality (or lack thereof) of the scripts that advance, the quality (or lack thereof) of the readers, but the most-repeated one was:
“It’s all subjective.”
Very true. We produce what we believe to be the absolute best script we can, and either someone’s going to like it, or they’re not. And there’s nothing we can do about it.
If you were also among those of us whose scripts didn’t advance, take heart. It ain’t the end of the world (although it may feel that way). Use this as a learning experience and work on improving your script so it’s ready for next year. Get notes on it. Rewrite. Polish. Whatever you think is necessary.
It’s also important to keep in mind that these contests are not the be-all and end-all. Winning them or placing high doesn’t guarantee a career. Sure, a handful of past finalists are working writers or consultants, but they appear to be the exceptions.
Just to put things in perspective, a friend of mine was a recent Nicholl finalist and says it had zero impact on their career, and still struggle to get their material read.
In all honesty, the sheen of contests is starting to wear a bit thin for me. I’ll probably still enter the western again next year, along with two other scripts I’m hoping to complete, but I’d rather focus on getting my material sold or produced, or at least using my scripts as strong calling cards and writing samples to get assignment work. I’m not picky. Whatever it takes.
There are a lot of ways to break in and become a working writer. Contests are one, but definitely not the only one.
Before we get to the gist of today’s post, let’s address the elephant in the room: my western did not advance to the quarterfinals of the PAGE contest.
Honestly, I was a little surprised; I thought it would have done better. After a brief wallow in disappointment, I shrugged my shoulders and moved on. It’s just another one of those things over which I have no control. I still have a ton of confidence in this script and might submit again next year. Also waiting to see how it fares in Austin and the Nicholl.
True, it was a rather lousy way to start the weekend, but over the next couple of days, I managed to redirect my focus, which included a nice long run that involved traversing the Golden Gate Bridge, and attempting something I’ve always wanted to try:
Making a pineapple upside-down cake (from scratch, naturally).
Guests were coming over for dinner, and I’d made pies for them before. But this time, I wanted to try something entirely new and preferably a little challenging. I’d say this falls into both categories.
I scoured the internet for an ideal recipe, found one to my satisfaction, and followed the directions to the letter. The result? It looked like it was supposed to, and that’s where the similarities end. A little too sweet and the center was still kind of goopy. Nevertheless, my guests still liked it, and K & I split the last piece after they left. Not bad for a first attempt.
Why did it not turn out the way I expected? A lot of reasons. The oven’s a piece of junk. It didn’t bake long enough. The ingredients and the amount of them probably need to be tweaked. No matter what, I know now that I can adjust all of these next time and get closer to the results I seek.
Except for the oven. It will forever remain a piece of junk until it dies. Which can’t happen soon enough. But I digress.
Notice all of the comparisons you could make between baking and writing a script? Trying something new and long-sought-after. Seeking advice and guidance. Following the guidelines. Doing what I was supposed to. An okay-but-was-hoping-for-better initial result. Planning ahead on what to fix/adjust for next time.
If a less-than-determined baker ended up with the cake I made, they’d probably denounce the whole process, give up entirely and probably buy pre-made stuff at the supermarket. But we’re made of sterner stuff. We hit a snag or some kind of unforeseen development, and we compensate as best we can. We learn what not to do next time. Sometimes you end up with something jaw-droppingly amazing, and sometimes you end up with something totally inedible.
With this whole experience behind me, I can now focus on projects of the immediate future, which includes another round of editing and revising a script, and making a pie or two for a dinner party this coming weekend.
It’s my intention to have the results of both of these undertakings be totally and utterly irresistible when they’re done and ready to serve.
When I was part of a writing group last year, each week we would read and critique a few members’ sets of pages. Some were just starting out, some had a few scripts under their belt, and some had been doing this a while. You can probably figure out which category I fell into.
Simply put, some of the writing just sucked. Really sucked. Like painful-to-listen-to sucked. To my credit, tempted as I was, I never actually expressed my thoughts that way.
I fully understood that not everybody had a firm grasp on the basics, and I, along with a few others, made a sincere effort to explain what would help improve their work. While a majority were appreciative of our comments, a select handful got defensive, some even to the point of flat-out dismissive, of any kind of comment that didn’t reinforce their belief that their writing was fine just the way it was.
This was one of the things that helped me decide to leave the group.
One of the universal truths about being a writer is that not everybody’s going to like what you’ve written, and just about everybody will have a suggestion as to how it could be better.
While there’s nothing you can do about the first part, the great thing about the second is that it gives you options. A lot of them. You like what this person said? Use it. Don’t like what that other person said? Ignore it.
Some people will make suggestions based on how they would do it, which is all well and good, but what’s more important is how you would do it. Do you agree or disagree with what they’re saying?
You’ll be bombarded with a wide variety of opinions, but don’t feel like you have to incorporate every single one. And while you may be the final word on what works and what doesn’t for your story, you shouldn’t dismiss every suggestion either. Some of them may be more helpful than you realize. There are a lot of writers out there with more experience than you, so their opinions should be at least taken into consideration. But it’s okay to disagree with them, too.
Speaking from experience, it takes time to learn not to take criticism of your material personally. The comments you receive may sting at first, but you have to remember they’re about the material, not you. Read them with a “How can I use these to get better?” frame of mind. That’s the only way you’re going to improve.
One last thing – make sure to thank the person for giving you notes, even if you totally disagree with everything they’ve said. Doesn’t matter if you asked them to do it or they offered. They took the time to help you out, and the least you can do is acknowledge that and express your appreciation for it. And it’s the polite thing to do. Manners still count.