Looking back, planning ahead

champagne-toast
Auld Lang Syne and all that

Well, 2016 is pretty much in the books. I hope it was a good year for you, writing-wise.

Mine was okay.

Among the more noteworthy events:

-I completed the first draft for 3 separate scripts. 2 comedies, 1 sci-fi.

-One of those comedies was written, edited and rewritten/revised over 10 days.

-My western made it to the top 15 percent in the Nicholl and was one of the top 100 in the Emerging Screenwriters competition, but did not advance with PAGE or Austin.

-Several read requests from managers and production companies. Unfortunately, everybody passed with the commonly-used “Just not what I’m looking for.”

-Built up my network of talented writers located all over the world, along with numerous getting-to-know-you in-person chats with those in the immediate geographic vicinity.

-Organized and hosted a very successful and enjoyable networking event for screenwriters. In a deli. A block from the Pacific Ocean.

-Took part in script swaps for somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 scripts.

Not a bad compilation.

As for 2017, the usual objectives:

-Along with the aforementioned rewrites, complete the first draft for at least 2 or 3 new scripts.

-Continue the quest for representation. Already a few potentials on the horizon.

-Based on how my western did in the Big 3 contests, I’m torn between seeking professional feedback for one more polish, or just leaving it as is and trying again next year.

-Continue providing notes and doing script swaps.

-Look into hosting another networking event, probably at a bigger venue.

-More networking and establishing connections with more talented writers.

-More getting-to-know-you in-person chats.

-Watch more movies.

-Read more scripts

-Stay confident. Be patient. Not lose hope, even on the shittiest of days.

-Keep trying to make this work. Eyes on the prize.

And a final note to all you loyal readers – thanks for coming along on this rollercoaster ride of a journey. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing about it.

All the best from me to you for a very happy and successful 2017. Fingers remain, as always, firmly crossed that this is The Year It Happens.

Do you know what you don’t know?

scarecrow
I’m no ThD (Doctor of Thinkology), but I try

Throughout the online writing community, among the many forums and networking groups, there will always be someone, most likely just starting out, who asks a question along the lines of:

“How do I go about accomplishing THIS?”

The variations on this are endless (as are the number of possible answers, but that’s another subject for another time).

A lot of the time, the question stems from a simple lack of knowledge; they just don’t know. Most likely, it’s about a subject which the more seasoned of us have an answer, probably having lived through it ourselves. Hoping to pass on the benefit of your experience, you provide an answer.

Is it what they were expecting to hear? Maybe. Maybe not. But you are giving them THE TRUTH.

With any luck, the question-asker is grateful and appreciative. A win for both sides. They learn something, and you fulfill the mentor role. Even if you just told them “For God’s sake, DON’T DO THAT!!”

And sometimes they don’t like the answer, possibly even getting angry and resenting you for telling them what is, in essence, THE WAY THINGS ARE. How dare you shatter their illusion in which they can do no wrong? They probably don’t realize how petty and thin-skinned they’re acting; two traits which will doom their potential writing career before it  even gets started. Hey, at least you tried to help.

(Side note – this process is a two-way street. If somebody asks you a question straight out of the first day of Screenwriting 101, don’t insult or belittle them for asking it. You were in that exact same situation once too. Plus, it makes you come across as a total dick.)

If you’re among those just starting out, remember that nobody’s first script is at 100 percent. Mistakes will be made. Don’t be afraid of making them. It’s the only way you’re going to learn.

If you’re among those who’ve been down this road many times, be willing to take on the role of patient educator and help when you can.

Even though writing is for the most part a solitary activity, we’re still part of this community, and all in this together.

Expiration date: NEVER!

arthur dent
Don’t throw in the towel just yet, Arthur

A friend emailed me earlier this week to vent his frustration regarding the latest development for pitching his TV pilot. Suffice to say, it didn’t go the way he’d hoped.

“Writing is hard work for me, and to have a project like this dismissed completely deflates me. I think I need to set a deadline (end of 2016?), and if I haven’t gotten a sale or at least representation by then, exit, stage left.”

I can totally sympathize. Who hasn’t been in that boat before? You try and try, feel like you’re making no headway and going nowhere fast.

But setting up a deadline of when you’ll stop once and for all?

Um, no.

As we all know, this is not an easy thing to do. The odds are already stacked against us, and it takes an extraordinary amount of effort, determination and perseverance to keep moving forward. And that’s just to get your first break.

I of all people can attest to feeling like nothing good is ever going to happen for me, and why again am I putting myself through the agony of all of this?

Because we’re writers. WE WRITE BECAUSE WE LOVE DOING IT.

For a writer willing to give up writing is, to quote the late, great Vizzini, inconceivable. As crazy as it sounds, I’d rather write and continue to fail than not write at all. (But in theory would be improving after each failure, thereby resulting in an inevitable success.)

DON’T GIVE UP. You never know when things will work out for you, so continuously having at it will always increase your odds.

Continue to work on getting better. Even if only a handful of people read your stuff and like it, that’s still a victory. And they do add up.

IT’S A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT. It takes a very, very long time to get to the finish line, let alone at your desired pace. And even then, you’re always striving to improve on it. Take this from someone who writes screenplays AND does half-marathons.

Believe me, there will be shitty days. Lots of them. You will be angry and frustrated. You will see others succeed while you feel like you’re going nowhere. It happens. But that’s the price you pay for setting off on this seemingly impossible journey.

But also keep in mind that you’re not alone. There are lots of us out on a similar path. Feel free to make the occasional turn so your path intersects with somebody else’s. It can help make the journey a bit easier.

My friend responded with a note of thanks and gratitude, which included “I’m ultimately a storyteller, a writer. This is what I exist to do, even if my audience is a small one. I will work hard to find it and share my stories.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Hang in there, chums.

Guaranteed to last forever

khan
And it all starts with this guy
Something just a little different and of a somewhat personal nature today.

In the summer of 1982, I went to see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

With my dad.

At a night-time show (probably the 7:30 one).

As a thunderstorm raged outside (typical south Jersey summer weather conditions).

It was a great night.

All of these elements combined to make what was one of the most memorable times I’ve ever had at the movies. What made it that way? I can’t say specifically, but it just was.

It’s still something I will truly never forget. If I ever get to meet Nicholas Meyer, I’ll make a point of telling him that.

Maybe someday a dad and his son or daughter will go to see a movie I wrote, and that child will experience the same sensation I did: the creation of a memory they cherish for the rest of their life.

(Whether or not they tell me about it in their adult years is beside the point, but I wouldn’t object.)

What writer wouldn’t want to have their work be the basis for something like that?

And now I’m a dad who enjoys going to the movies with my child. Could history repeat itself and we see a movie, and we have a great time, and it’s something she’ll remember for the rest of her life?

So far, it hasn’t happened yet (as far as I know).

But it sure is fun to keep trying.

Looking back (and a peek ahead)

sleeping
Me around 10:30 on New Year’s Eve

As the end of the year gets closer, one can’t help but be a little reflective of how the past 12 months have gone, and in this context, it’s all about the screenwriting and its related subjects.

-My western. A labor of love finally put to bed once and for all. This script has gone through A LOT of changes, and both I and it could not have gotten to this point without the sage feedback received from many of my trusted colleagues.

-Other scripts. Over the course of this year, I completed a first draft and two outlines (with a third in its final stages), all for separate scripts. I may not be as productive as I’d like, but think this is still pretty good. I’m hoping that at least two of these will be completed scripts by this time next year.

-Establishing a career. I’ve always said that each draft of every script gets me a little closer to accomplishing that dream of being a working writer. 2015 saw some strong progress on that front. My writing’s getting better, I discovered I’m pretty good at pitching, and found out the hard way what should and shouldn’t go into a query letter. It’s an ongoing learning process, but I’m getting there. Hopes are high of moving to the next level or two in 2016.

-Networking. The number of writers I’ve connected and interacted with has definitely grown by leaps and bounds. Some have been in person, while most have been via social media, but the benefits have been tremendous all around. From exchanging script notes to being a sounding board for ideas to plain old moral support, you couldn’t ask for a more helpful bunch of folks. Hopefully they got as much out of it as I did. Highly recommended.

-Running. After involuntarily taking a year off, I got back into the habit of going for runs and took part in four half-marathons this year. Didn’t set any new records, but stayed within my realm of expectatins. Really glad I did them and already looking forward to the ones next year. How does this relate to screenwriting? Well, apart from the standard quote of “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon (or half-marathon, in my case)”, it’s about determination, endurance, perseverance, and setting a goal and working towards achieving it. All necessary elements involved in writing a script.

-The blog. This year saw the wrap-up of my series of interviews with scripts readers and consultants. I still keep in touch with a lot of them, and happy to say that a lot of those posts continue to get hits. Thanks to all of you for that. In the meantime, no big changes planned for what you read around here, but I’ve got a few ideas.

Thanks for reading, happy new year, and may we all get some kickass writing done in 2016.