Results are slowly trickling out for some of the big writing contests, and while hopes were high for my revised western, it once again failed to make the quarterfinals for PAGE.
My immediate reaction – that’s it. I’m done. No longer will I subject myself to that kind of humiliation!
And of course, later the same day, I was figuring out whether or not I should look into any further tweaking so as to get it ready for next year.
More than a few writing colleagues and connections voiced similar comments, ranging from the frustration of their lack of advancing in this contest, to the murkiness regarding the quality of contest readers overall, to the subjectiveness of it all, and whether contests are even worth it.
As you’d imagine, there’s a wide spectrum of opinions about all of these.
I dug up this post from last year which I believe sums things up quite nicely.
Contests aren’t the only way to break in, but a win or very high placement can help, or at least potentially open a door or two. It’s just one of the many routes a writer can take. Some writers are even fortunate enough to not even have to do them. I am not one of them.
A key component of all of this is persistence. There’ll be lots of disappointments, which can be…disappointing. And frustrating. Oh so frustrating. But learning to overcome those is just as important as learning how to tell a good story.
All you can do is send your script out there, hope for the best, and move on to whatever’s next. If things work out, great. If not, yeah, it sucks, but it’s not the end of the world. It might feel like it, but it’s not.
Try to look at it as a learning experience – “How can I make this better?” Also a question with no easy answer, but how willing are you to put in the time and effort necessary to accomplish that?
(Author’s note – I wrote a lot of this earlier in the week, but circumstances of a confidence-instilling nature have occurred since then. I considered scrapping it and starting over, but thought the content was still relevant, so opted to stick with it. Enjoy.)
Let’s face it. Trying to make it as a screenwriter is an almost impossible task.
Emphasis on “almost”.
It can be done. Remember, every single writer whose name is up on there on the screen had to go through a lot of the same things you and I have. Probably even more.
The sad truth is that you will have to endure a lot of frustration before you start to even come close to achieving the results you want. And that frustration can easily lead to anger and depression and feeling like you’re wasting your time and this is never going to work out.
I say this because I’ve been that writer. Many times. This week was no exception. Several writer colleagues had some truly awesome things happen for them, and deservedly so.
Still, I can’t help but feel a slight pang of jealousy about it, but that’s all on me. In no way would I ever intend to divert the spotlight away from their success. They earned it, so they are more than entitled to enjoy it.
As for me, sure, I might wallow in self-pity for a little bit, but time and experience have helped me “get over it” faster, but the hurt does tend to linger.
Writing might be the last thing I want to do, but it’s actually been pretty therapeutic. Shifting your attention to another project – maybe one you haven’t worked on in months – helps with the emotional recovery process. Sometimes I’ll vent to another writer; usually someone who’s been through the exact same scenario.
Once I get all of that out of my system, the drive to succeed once again takes over, I get back on the horse and pick up where I left off – because the only way I’m going to make it is to keep trying, and that the only person who can make it happen is me.
That’s how it is for all of us. You’re not alone.
There will be so many situations where things don’t go your way. In the beginning, it feels like somebody’s stomping on your soul. But you eventually learn to accept that it happens, which helps toughen you up for the next time, of which there will also be many.
So on that note…
There will be a lot of times you just want to give up, or feel like the only word you ever hear is “no”, or have it seem like you’re the only writer on the face of the Earth not making progress.
Corny as it may sound, the best piece of advice I can offer is to keep at it. You will definitely hear “no” a thousand times before that one significant “yes”, but you won’t get it at all if you don’t keep going.
This is not a career path for the easily-defeated or the thin-skinned. I’ve had people tell me my story ideas were stupid and my writing was awful. One memorable character even thought my script was so terrible they were certain it was some kind of practical joke. Comments like that sting, but only temporarily. You learn to ignore them to the point they don’t even faze you anymore.
I’ve had the good fortune to make lots of connections with very talented people, many of whom have been more than willing to help me get closer to that goal.
I’m still here, still trying, determined as ever. And I sincerely hope you do the same.
A good number of years ago, I came up with an idea for a script.
“Write something you would want to see.” This definitely fell into that category.
There were so many angles and aspects to it I found appealing. The concept kept drawing me in, compelling me to tell the story in the most entertaining way possible.
To say I’ve really thrown myself into it during all this time would be an absolute understatement.
I couldn’t even tell you how many iterations and drafts this story has gone through; let’s just say a whole freakin’ lot.
Notes? I’ve probably received enough to make two books, or at least a really long pdf. Some were good, some weren’t, and some seemed to exist in an alternate dimension where opposites are the norm.
I’d finish a draft, thinking, “Okay. This is IT.” And if you’ve been following this saga, you know how it turned out each time.
There were lots of times of feeling totally burned out, thinking there was nothing else to do. Or receiving comments like “Why keep messing with it? It’s good enough as it is.”
But something kept nagging at me, saying “This can still be better. Keep going.”
So I did. My faith in the story was still strong. I knew I could make this work.
The tweaking/fine-tuning continued, aided by a few more sets of notes courtesy of very qualified readers. My red pen was working on overdrive. Cut this. Move this. Switch these around. Expand on this. Changes and fixes were made, until…
“The End” had once again been reached. But this time it felt different. I won’t say “complete”, but you get the idea.
I’ve been extremely fortunate in connecting with a lot of exceptionally talented writers over the years, and there’s one whose critiquing ability I hold in very high regard. I asked them to look over the script, adding that this was for the most prestigious screenwriting contest of them all.
The last time they read it was two years ago, so there was some extra intrigue regarding what they’d think of this draft. Approval from one’s peers plays a bigger-than-expected part in helping a writer develop.
They liked it.
I’ve been writing screenplays for quite a while, always striving to improve both my skills and the quality of my material, all as part of the effort to become a working writer. Reading their notes helped solidify my belief that this could actually happen.
Final preparations are being made to submit the script to the aforementioned prestigious screenwriting contest. Is this draft better than previous ones? Definitely. Has its chances for this contest improved? God, I hope so.
Even if nothing happens with this or the other high-profile contests, I still have a script I consider well-written and exceptionally entertaining. At this point in time, I don’t think there’s any reason to do any more work on it. So now it enters into that category of “calling card scripts”, ready to be sent out at a moment’s notice.
In the meantime, my attention is currently being split between several other projects in various stages of development. And based on how much my writing improved working on this script, I’ll speculate that the quality of these newer ones might just end up being pretty darned good.
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?
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.