You win some, you lose (or don’t place in) some

Another screenwriting contest season come and gone, at least for yours truly.

My western’s record with PAGE extended to 0-6, and didn’t make it to the quarterfinals in the Nicholl. After last year’s debacle with Austin, I opted to skip it this year.

(Side note 1 – I don’t pay to get the reader/judge notes, so don’t know why the script fared how it did for either contest. The Nicholl used to offer notes after the top 5 were announced, but not sure if they’re doing that this year or you had to pay upon registering.)

(Side note 2 – A very hearty congrats and good luck to the 359 writers who made it to the Nicholl QFs. I wholeheartedly applaud the Academy’s decision to limit submissions to one script per person. Other contests should follow their lead.)

My initial reaction to the news from both competitions was “I must be a really shitty writer to keep failing like this.”

But as my ever-supportive wife, a few friends who are also consultants, and several other trusted colleagues in my writers’ network reminded me:

It’s a really good script.

You’re not a bad writer.

IT’S ALL SUBJECTIVE.

This script has also done moderately well in some smaller contests, so it can’t be that bad.

I know a writer whose script advanced in the Nicholl after several years of bupkis. I also know another writer who made it to the top 50 one year, then the same script didn’t even make the quarterfinals the following year.

And as a few others pointed out about the prestigious contests and the scripts that do well in them: it may be a good script, but would it be a good movie? I’ve read some contest winners (and some top vote-getters on The Black List); some were very well-written, and some just didn’t do anything for me. One or two even made me question why they did as well in the contest as they did.

Furthermore – did any make me eager to shell out the cost of a ticket if it were available on the big screen?

Not really.

But again, that’s just my take – i.e. SUBJECTIVE.

At the very least, reading these scripts could be helpful in a “developing your craft” kind of way.

So where do I go from here? I’m rewriting a pair of newer scripts, and haven’t decided if either will go the contest route. Possibly, but right now I couldn’t say.

I’d rather focus on getting them in decent shape. If that means skipping contests next year, that’s fine by me.

AIC mode – re-activated

The past few weeks have been quite the whirlwind of activity on several fronts.

First and foremost, after much work and effort, I released my book GO AHEAD AND ASK!, VOLUME ONE. Responses have been enthusiastically supportive. Plans already in place for Volume 2, which is tentatively set for a late June/early July release.

In case you were wondering, there wasn’t any post last week due to traveling to help the inimitable Ms V wrap up her freshman year at college and transport her home. This also included my running my first in-person half-marathon since February 2020. Finish time of 1:59:06, which was much better than expected – especially considering how much it rained during the race.

But all this activity also meant I didn’t get much writing done, so now it’s time to get back into a somewhat normal routine.

As in – setting aside time to write, or using a phrase I’ve heard bandied about more than a few times:

AIC – Ass In Chair

I’ve got several projects that I’d like to work on, and the only way to make any progress on any of them is to just sit down and do the work.

However much time I can spare each day will be fine, and you can be certain I’ll do my darnedest to get the most out of that time as possible.

The results have already proven beneficial, including a drastic reworking of the latter half of Act Two for one script. This had been nagging me for a few days prior, and it felt great to work my way through to a solution that seems much stronger and more effective than what it was before.

I know all future writing sessions might not be as productive, but I’ll take whatever progress I can get.

Here’s hoping your upcoming AIC times are just as good.

3 months in, and…?

2022 is now 1/4 over. How’s it been for you, productivity- and results-wise?

Are you making the progress you’d hoped you would? Any goals achieved or finish lines crossed?

If so, great!

If not, don’t be so hard on yourself. Sometimes things take longer than we’d like them to.

The important thing is that you’re putting in the effort, and that any progress is good progress.

It can probably said with absolute certainty that lots of writers started the year with the mindset of “I’m going to accomplish X, Y and Z!”. Like with most things, numerous factors play a role, so results will vary.

It’s great to give yourself some long-term goals, but setting up some short-term ones can really help boost your morale. Create goals you know can achieve, like setting aside a specific amount of time per day for writing and writing-related activities, or that you’re going to write X pages a day.

Accomplishing something is all about putting in the work, and that takes time.

Look at it from this way. If you’re not where you thought you might be around now, you still have 9 months to work on getting there.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

This applies to more than just writing a script.

Pace yourself. Know what you’re capable of, but don’t be afraid to give those limits a little extra push.

Good luck, and hope you have a wonderfully productive next three months.

From the archives: If only you could eat a bad script

pineapple upside down cake
Let the metaphors commence!

Author’s note: got some other stuff that requires my attention, and a recent discussion about pineapple upside-down cake reminded me I did a post involving it a few years ago, so hope you enjoy this blast from the past from July 2016.

“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.”

The writer’s GPS: always recalculating

The road to screenwriting success is a long and hazardous one, filled with constant obstacles that make you constantly second-guess yourself, doubt your judgment, and even make you wonder if you’re even headed in the right direction.

Trust me, we’ve all been there.

And the longer the journey takes, the longer it seems like anything good is going to happen – if it happens at all.

Who doesn’t know a writer who’s made some progress, only to have things stall out, making them question if it’s worth continuing on, or are just so fed up that they throw up their hands up and say “That’s it. I’m done.”?

As someone who’s been at this for a good number of years, again – totally been there.

There’s a part of me that always feels bad when I hear somebody say this sort of thing. Thanks to social media, I’ve been able to follow many a journey, offering congratulations on successes, and encouragement for the bad times.

So when I’m engaged in an online conversation with someone, and they talk about being so frustrated that they’re ready to chuck it all, I go into pep talk mode with the hope it helps replenish their reserve of strength to keep going.

No idea how effective these are, but I keep trying.

And just like these writers, I feel that way sometimes too. I accept there’s a chance it might not happen, but the optimistic cheerleader in me is quite stubborn and keeps pushing me to stay at it. That, and I like writing too much to stop anyway.

There’s also the realization that my road to success may not be what I initially set out on, and is totally what I make it.

If things don’t seem to be going my way, and often times they’re not, I’ll take a step back and explore what my other options are.

Queries not getting any responses? Read requests fizzling out? Contest results not attracting any attention? The industry constantly saying “Thanks, but no thanks”?

Frustrating, so I’ll try something else.

I’ve got a phone with a movie camera in it, and my computer has basic film editing software, so I can take a stab at making a short film. It might not look great, but it’s something.

Bonus – the $ I’d normally spend on contests can now be put towards a film budget.

I’m fortunate to be connected to some local filmmakers. I can ask if they need any help with their projects. No qualms about being part of the crew, and it’s a great education in filmmaking.

(If the filmmaking opportunities are somewhat limited where you are, maybe see this an opportunity to start laying the foundation to create them.)

I’m extremely fortunate to be connected to writers literally from all over the world. I can ask for feedback on my scripts, and offer to reciprocate.

Since a lot of my scripts are of a visual nature, there’s the possibility of turning some of them into graphic novels. I know a few writers who’ve done this, so I could talk to them about their experience and get their advice and suggestions.

The dream to see the stories we create on the big screen is powerful, and what drives a lot of us to do this. The sad truth is it most likely won’t happen for a large percentage of us.

But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying, or that it’s the only way it can happen.

You’re going to keep getting knocked down. It’s up to you how many times you’re willing to get back up and try again.