When I send out a query letter, I do so with equal parts of hope and optimism, as well as healthy doses of realism and some kind of fatalism.
I totally realize that the odds are against me and that the response will most likely be some variation of “no”. But I send it anyway, because…you never know.
I used to put way too much pressure on myself about this sort of thing, but a steady stream of “thanks, but no thanks” has really built up my resilience. If it reaches the next step, great. If they pass, that’s the end of that and I move on to the next thing.
And there’s always a next thing.
I’ve been very fortunate to have built up a network of supportive creative folks. Many pass on words of encouragement, usually along the lines of “Love how you bounce back!” and “I really admire your work ethic!”
Honestly, I don’t really have a choice. The simple truth is that if I want to make it, I’ve got to keep trying. The failures and disappointments will always greatly outnumber the accomplishments and successess, and the only way to get to the latter is to keep pushing through the former.
There might be a moment of feeling bad about getting told “no” for the umpteenth time, but you have to get over it and move on.
Frustrating as it can sometimes be, I’d rather keep trying and failing than stop altogether. I may not be the most fantastic writer in the world, but I like to think I’ve got some decent talent, and I’ll keep at it. The optimist in me leans towards things eventually going my way – preferably sooner than later.
I was recently reading a column that was about something like “what makes a writer a WRITER.”
It involved a lot of questions to ask yourself, like “are you somebody who just talks about writing, or somebody who actually writes?” or “do you write only when you feel like it, or do you write no matter how you’re feeling?” That sort of thing.
Another was “Are you a writer who keeps working on the same project over and over again, or are you constantly working on something new?”
That one really stuck out for me. I couldn’t help but wonder if I fell into that category – from both perspectives, with a somewhat concerned eye towards the first part.
In case you weren’t aware, I have a script I’ve been working on for the past few years. It’s gone through several significant rewrites, and garnered some moderate recognition along the way.
But here’s the thing. Every time I complete a draft of it, I say “Okay. That’s it. No more.”
And of course, a few months later, I get some notes on it from some very savvy writers and industry folks, and then go about figuring out which of those notes might work best in the next draft.
Full disclosure – I seek out notes because I want to improve the script’s chances as both a calling card and in the big contests. Placing higher than I have in the past would hopefully improve my chances of making some industry connections.
I could legitimately say the script is finished, but on the other hand, it could also stand a little more work. Just a little.
This is the basis for my line of thinking. Have I spent too much time on it? Sometimes it feels that way, but there are also the times I think “Just a few more little tweaks would really work.”
A possible counter-argument to this is the fact that this most definitely has not been the only script I’ve been working on this entire time. I’ve written four others, along with outlines for another two, not to mention the half dozen or so individual pages that consist mostly of loglines and a handful of ideas for scenes and sequences.
So although a lot of attention has been given to the original script, I’ve gotten in the habit of finishing a draft, and then working on one to two others before I come back to it.
“But why don’t you just stop working on that script entirely? Too much tinkering usually has the opposite effect,” some might say, and some have. I won’t argue that, but I can honestly say that by being very, very selective about which notes to use from each new batch, each new draft of the script has been noticeably better than the previous one. Problem is, it’s a slow and gradual process of improvement.
After this most recent batch of notes, there are a few spots in the script I plan on working on, but that won’t happen anytime soon. Current focus is fleshing out and fine-tuning the horror-comedy outline, followed by a rewrite of a sci-fi spec, and maybe then I’ll consider diving back into this one.
But the inevitable rewrite or two is still going to happen.
And hopefully that’ll be it – emphasis on hopefully.
For the most part, my involvement with this year’s big contests is more or less over. Top 15 percent for Nicholl – not too bad. Total whiff for PAGE again, which makes me 0 for 4. Not expecting much out of Austin.
Results from some of the smaller contests are about the same. Semifinalist in one, quarterfinalist in another, and a few not-at-alls.
A bit on the disappointing side, but all is not lost. On the contrary. It’s actually helped force me into making a pretty important decision.
After much self-evaluating, I’ve opted to drastically cut back on contests for next year and ongoing. Most likely, I’ll keep it limited to just the big three mentioned above. And even entering those isn’t a certainty. They’re the ones that hold the most potential for getting the ball rolling on a career – not guaranteed, of course – but the most potential.
No delusions of grandeur. I’ll continue to take my chances and see how things go. If I do well, great. If not, no big deal.
And just for the hell of it, maybe one or two smaller ones every once in a while. Might as well have a little fun.
Moving forward, the focus now shifts to improving my writing skills and making my material better. Reading a lot of professional scripts, especially those in the same genres as the ones I’m writing, shows me my level of expertise isn’t where I need it to be.
If I want to make this work, I need to get better. No other way to put it.
It’ll be tough, but I’ve come this far and the final objective continues to feel a little bit closer with each new draft.
I’m fortunate enough to know a lot of savvy writers, along with more than a few quality consultants, so getting constructive feedback and guidance can only work to my advantage.
As a colleague once told me, “It’s not about contests. It’s about Hollywood.” Sure, contests are fun and all (especially when you win, or at least place highly), but I’d rather focus on writing quality material and getting them in the hands of people who can actually make something happen with them. Representation. Assignments. Rewrites. A sale. I’m not picky.
My long-term goal has always been to become a working writer, and I think I can still do it. It may not happen as soon as I’d like, but hopefully by really buckling down and pushing myself to keep at it, I’ll have a better shot at turning that goal from a dream into a reality.
This has been a most interesting week. Based on some quality notes, I wrapped up a polish of the dramedy spec (which is now in the process of getting notes). Feedback so far has been encouraging, which is nice.
So now the focus can shift back to developing the two new stories. With most of my recently-completed projects having been worked on for extended periods of time, it’s been a while since I was really starting out from the very beginning.
I’d totally forgotten how much I enjoyed the process of putting a story together. I know what the core concept for each one is, and now it’s all about finding the best and most entertaining way to tell them.
At times it feels like my mind is going in a thousand directions at once, so I’m constantly writing stuff down. A scene or sequence idea here, a line of dialogue there, plot twists, character development, turning the scene on its head; pretty much the whole kit and kaboodle.
Main storylines have been established, with the expected constant fine-tuning and adjusting, and as I work my way forward, the subplots are making themselves known.
Entirely new worlds (or maybe “settings” might be appropriate, since each story is on the smaller side) are being created, populated with unique and hopefully somewhat original characters.
While one of the stories is based on an old script, there’s a constant discarding of a lot of the original content and trying new approaches. Not necessarily “throw it all at the wall and see what sticks”, but kinda/sorta along those lines.
For the other, this is dipping my toes into a genre I enjoy, but wouldn’t call myself a major fan, so doing what I can to avoid tropes and cliches (of which there are apparently many). If that proves more challenging than anticipated, will do what I can to least go for the unexpected.
Added bonus – watching movies of that genre and style to get a better feel for both.
Sometimes I’ll read a writer’s account about what a chore it is for them to develop a story, or how much they loathe this part of the process. I don’t see it that way. Organizing the story and putting it all together is a key part of screenwriting. Too many times when reading a spec, you can tell when the writer didn’t put in the effort to get all the details of the story right before they started on pages.
I recently asked my online screenwriting newwork their thoughts on outlining versus a “seat of your pants” approach. The responses were overwhelmingly in favor of outlining. Granted, there are some writers who prefer the latter, but I’m not one of them. I’m a firm believer in having a rock-solid outline before starting to write the actual script.
But that’s what works for me. Others may feel differently regarding their own process. No matter how you achieve the end result, as long as you’re happy with it, then more power to you.
The whole creative process in developing a story is a beast unto itself, but I think all the long-term work I’ve done for other scripts is really paying off for these two. For now, it’s still a big and unwieldy mess, occasionally feeling very unorganized and all-over-the-place, but a little bit of work every day will gradually pay off. When all is said and done, I’ll have two new scripts.
First, the good news: I wrapped up the rewrite/overhaul of the comedy spec (which seems more like a dramedy now.) Despite my dread and anxiety over whether or not it’s actually funny, it’s been sent out for notes. As I mentioned to one of my readers, as long as nobody says “What made you think you could write something funny?”, I’m good.
So, industrious scribe that I am, I find the best way to occupy my time while I wait to hear about a project is to redirect my focus and work on another one.
It was originally going to be a new take on the pulp sci-fi, but some story issues still need work, so that remains on hold.
But a few weeks ago, I was cleaning up around my office and found a hard copy of one of my earliest scripts: a horror-western. I don’t think I’d seen it or read it in about 15 years.
Wow, was it bad. Like “This first draft is going to sell for a million in no time!” bad.
But the idea behind it still worked, and was something I could definitely tweak and finesse into something a lot more coherent. I did mention how that old script was really bad, right?
So I started putting together ideas for the new draft. Let’s call this SCRIPT #1, or S1 to keep things simple.
Then another twist presented itself: a script with a low budget (the lower the better), a minimal number of characters and locations, and practically no visual effects has a much better shot of being produced than some mega-budget tentpole effects extravaganza.
With that in mind, there were aspects to this story I could use to create an entirely new and different one that met a lot of those criteria, so I jotted down some potential plot points in the same file. This is SCRIPT #2 (S2).
One file, two scripts. With me so far? It gets better.
After finishing the comedy, I decided I’d take on S1. I only had a vague recollection of all the story details, which I saw as a good thing. Although I’d still have the old draft available as a potential (albeit limited) resource, I don’t think I’ll use it all that much. This in turn, frees me up to go in whatever new direction I feel like.
As I thought up ideas for S1, some of the story elements from S2 started creeping in. Since I didn’t want the two to be too similar, more focus was put on developing S1. It’s still a work in progress, but coming along quite nicely. And so much better than that old draft.
Ah, but what of S2? Like I mentioned, there were story elements I really liked, and putting some of them into S1 forced me to come up with new ideas for it. There was one in particular that really stood out for me, and the more I thought about it, the more it felt like it would be able to be the basis for a solid story.
I combined that idea with the aforementioned low-budget approach and came up with what I really think is a great high-concept idea. Such to the point that I whipped up a logline for it, along with a title that feels very “that’s perfect!”
My belief and enthusiasm for both S1 and S2 is to the point that I’m now alternating between both; working on one, then the other. My objective now is to have at least a first draft done for both by the end of the calendar year. It’s already proven to be, and will no doubt continue to be, a most interesting process.