One of the most common analogies regarding screenwriting is “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”.
Speaking from experience, it most certainly is.
For long-time followers of this blog, one of the things I enjoy doing when I’m not working on scripts is to go for a run. It’s good exercise, lets me catch up on my podcasts, and offers plenty of time to think about my writing projects.
After years of half-marathons, I decided it was time to take on the next challenge – a full marathon. A whole 26.2 miles.
Despite all the training I did, of which there was A LOT, when I set out that morning, I was still nervous. Could I actually do this?
That’s when I reminded myself, and did so repeatedly over the next few hours:
It’s the distance, not the time.
Much as I wanted to finish with a respectable time and pace, I’d decided it was more important just to finish.
Long story short – I got to mile 20 and a twinge developed in my heels and ankles, which then turned into out-and-out pain, so I ended up walking the rest of the way. It took me longer to get there, and definitely wasn’t the way I’d hoped things would play out, but I kept going and crossed that finish line. All the hard work and effort had paid off.
What does this have to do with screenwriting? It’s the perfect metaphor!
Earlier this week on social media, I posted my standard question to the screenwriting community – how’s your latest project coming along?
Answers covered just about the entire spectrum. From “great!” to “almost done with it” to “working out a problem in the second act” to “slowly” to “not at all”.
I can certainly sympathize with those last two. Frustration about a lack of progress is common. Our creativeness just isn’t cooperating, which doesn’t help either.
It usually boils down to two choices: accept the frustration, dig in a little deeper and keep pushing forward, or give up.
For me, giving up just ain’t an option. I love the writing too much to even consider it. But like with the running, I may not get the results I want when I want them, but I’ll keep trying until I do. It might take longer than I want, which honestly would kind of suck, but if that’s what it takes, then so be it.
As writers, we put way too much pressure on ourselves to succeed, sometimes within a somewhat unrealistic timeframe. “If I don’t get the results I want, I’m a failure.”
This is NOT an easy thing we’re trying to do. At least give yourself credit for being willing to do the work. Some people don’t even get that far.
Everybody’s path to success is different, as are our individual finish lines. You know the route you need to take, and how challenging it’s going to be, so it’s up to you to decide how you want to take it on.
So to all the writers feeling disappointed or frustrated about how things are (or aren’t) going, remember that the road ahead may seem treacherous and insurmountable, but if you keep pushing forward and do your best to enjoy the journey, you’ll be that much closer to crossing that finish line.
Hang in there, chums. I may be running my own race, but I’m still on the sidelines, cheering you on.
The past few days have been all about revising the outline of my sci-fi adventure spec. My editor’s pen has been getting quite a workout as I slash scenes and sequences out of the previous draft with wild abandon.
Sometimes inspiration will strike and I’ll come up with something entirely new that not only makes the point even better, as well as open up more possibilities further along in the story. That’s always nice.
But another side effect of all this work is more occurrences of thoughts along the lines of “Is this going to be any good? Will anybody like it? Is working on this even worth it?”
There are so many labels for this sort of thing. Self-doubt. The Impostor Syndrome. Second guessing yourself.
And writers do it to themselves ALL THE TIME. Yours truly included.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Fear of rejection? We put so much work into our material and are afraid people will think it’s trash?
Every writer deals with it in different ways. But the important thing is that you’re dealing with it.
Accepting that somebody probably won’t like it is an important first step. You can’t please everybody, nor should you try to. That faction will always be there.
On the other hand, you might be surprised how many fans you end up getting. While the negative reactions tend to stand out more, they’re usually dwarfed by the number of positive ones. And those positive ones can make quite a difference in eliminating that self-doubt.
You send out your latest draft and hope for the best. Everybody wants glowing and ecstatic reviews, but you should take a more realistic approach and prepare for a variety of reactions. Anything from ‘I loved it!” to “it’s okay” to “just didn’t do much for me”.
And all of those are okay.
There will always be different reactions to your material. It’s how you deal with them that will shape how you choose to move forward.
One option – giving up, and nobody wants that
Another option – continue writing, but not showing it to anybody. Some might take this route, but a majority won’t.
Yet another option – continue writing, and accept whatever the outcome. Probably your best bet.
I recently had an online interaction with a newer writer. They were upset that a query they’d sent got a pass. I explained that it happened all the time, and that it was all part of the process.
Their response was “I just need someone to believe in me”. I told them that the first person who had to do that was themselves, and that if they did that, others would soon follow.
You need to be your biggest fan. If you don’t believe in yourself or your writing, why would somebody else?
So circling all the way back to my current project – I’m admittedly still a bit anxious about all the usual stuff, but I will admit to having a lot of fun writing it. This is the kind of story I love to write AND see, and I need to embrace that mindset. It’s easy to spot when a writer’s love of their story and the material is one the page, which is what I’m shooting for.
Hopefully future readers will pick up on that, thereby influencing them for the better.
So to all the writers out there – may your next writing session be as fun, enjoyable, productive, and inspiring as possible.
You’re stronger and more resilient than you think, even when you don’t think you are.
It’s a been good week around Maximum Z HQ. A very good week, you might even say.
Got a couple of read requests, including one several months after the initial pitch, and my western advanced in the first round of a reputable contest.
On the actual writing front, made some good progress in the latest overhaul of the sci-fi adventure outline, plus got a last-minute invite to come up with a story idea for a friend meeting with a filmmaker looking for potential projects.
All in all, not too shabby.
Do I wish every week could be this fulfilling and rewarding? Most definitely.
Will they? Heavens no. But that’s expected. It’s the just way it is, and I accept that.
Everything that happened was the result of me putting in the time and effort. Writing, rewriting, researching who’d be most receptive to queries, figuring out which contest was most worth entering, and so forth.
I just happened to be fortunate that a lot of them are paying off very close to one another.
I also realize that each read request could results in “thanks, but no thanks”, my script doesn’t advance any further in the contest, and the filmmaker doesn’t like my idea.
Disappointing, sure, but it won’t slow me down, let alone stop me. I’ve got too much else going on to worry about it.
While the road to screenwriting success may be dotted with potholes, sharp objects and people who shouldn’t be allowed behind the wheel to begin with, every once in a while you get a long empty stretch of green lights and smooth pavement. It may not last long, but it’ll might make you appreciate it even more.
So when you have a brief window of time where it seems like everything is actually going your way, savor it knowing that YOU EARNED IT. And definitely spread the word to your support network – they’ll be thrilled (just like you’d be if it were them).
Use the emotions and sensations you’re experiencing during this happiest of times to keep you going when every response you get is “NO” and the dark clouds return.
But also keep in mind that it won’t always be like that. This path is full of highs and lows, mountains and valleys. The important thing is to enjoy the journey and keep pushing forward.
As we head into the weekend, I’ll take a moment to review the past few days and think “This was nice.”
And then get right back to the grind, once again hoping for the best.
Quite the productive week around Maximum Z HQ, with the most significant being the wrap-up of the latest draft of the sci-fi adventure spec. It’s an improvement from the previous one, but could still use some more work. Rather than jump right in, I’m letting it simmer for a bit.
The original plan was to return to the horror-comedy spec, which is actually still part of the plan. Setting up the new draft’s notes page required me to dig through all of my script files, which involved seeing titles for older scripts that could also use at least one more draft. Four in total.
Thus a plan developed.
Work on all of them. A little at a time.
Jot down some ideas for one. Fine-tune a few scenes for another. Revise the outline for this one. Totally overhaul that one. Go through notes for all of them.
Or choose one to work on per day. A few steps forward, spread out over time.
Or I might strike creative gold and steamroll my way through one, temporarily foregoing the others.
Who knows how this’ll play out?
It could be a stroke of genius. It could also go horribly, horribly wrong.
But the important thing is I try. I’ve got lots of new ideas for each of these scripts, and will do what I can to make them better.
Having completed two drafts in as many months demonstrates to me that I have the ability to get the job done in a relatively timely manner. So no reason to think I couldn’t continue to make that kind of progress, or at least come mighty close to it.
Updates will be posted accordingly. Especially if the results are encouraging. Depends on my mood at the time.
Some exciting times are on the horizon and closing in fast. Sounds like it’ll be quite the thrilling journey. Hope you’ll come along for the ride.
Chris Mancini is a Writer, Director, Comedian, Author, Producer, Podcaster, and Parent, which also makes him very tired. He has also written, directed and produced on everything from soap operas to parenting books to horror films, which are all more closely related than you think.
A strong advocate of podcasting, Chris was the co-founder of the COMEDY FILM NERDS podcast, and is currently working on is scripted horror anthology podcast CONVERSATIONS FROM THE ABYSS. Chris was also one of the founders of the Los Angeles Podcast Festival.
What’s the last thing you read or watched you thought was incredibly well-written?
The two extremes would be Avengers: Endgame, because it was the culmination of years of storytelling, and Paddleton because it was a small two actor character piece that just sucked you in. The relationship and the drama of the two leads and their interaction was incredibly engaging. Mark Duplass and Ray Romano did an amazing job.
Were you always a writer, or was it something you eventually discovered you had a knack for?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 16. I submitted short stories to magazines. Yes, that was a thing. Ironically, I got published first with non-fiction. I was a journalist for a local newspaper for a while (also a thing), starting at age 18.
What are some of your favorite comics and/or webcomics?
I really enjoy Hellboy. I also like anything by Neil Gaiman, and grew up on a healthy dose of Spider-Man and Daredevil. I actually remember when Spider-Man first got his black costume. It was an alien symbiote that came out of some weird machine during Secret Wars. I remember not being happy because I always liked the red and blue one. But you get over these things. I am also reading a lot of kids’ comics with my son, like Cardboard and Amulet which I am really enjoying.
How’d you get your start writing comics?
I kind of made it happen on my own. I’ve always wanted to write comics, and I had a story I thought would be perfect for the medium. I met Mark Waid through a mutual friend and podcast fan and he championed it. So I found an artist I loved and kickstarted it. I was able to fund it thanks to the generosity of the fans and then Starburns Press picked it up. I am very happy to be over there, and I think it’s a great fit for the book. I just got my first offer for a short piece in their next comics anthology. My first comics writing assignment! I’m hoping for many, many more. I would love to write more comics.
A lot of people hear the term “comic book writer”, but don’t really know what the job entails. How would you describe it?
Interestingly, since I have a background in indie film what you’re really doing as a comic book writer is writing and directing. You’re writing the script but also describing the action, pacing, and what goes in each panel. Basically you’re storyboarding like you would for a film. In indie film you have to wear a lot of hats, but with comic book writing you’re not just writing some abstract script. You’re describing each panel and basically directing the book. That’s why it’s so important to have a great artist to be paired with like I was with Fernando Pinto. Eventually you develop a shorthand and it gets quicker.
What inspired you to write your graphic novel Long Ago And Far Away? What was your process for writing it?
I’ve always loved fantasy stories, and growing up was a sucker for the stories about kids from our world who go into a fantasy world to save the day, like The Chronicles of Narnia. But I always thought about what would happen when those kids come back to our world and become adults. How would it have affected them? And then what if they had to go back into that world as an adult? The process was very, very long. I had the story a few years ago and it was in and out of development at various companies as an animated show, etc. But it never moved forward. But it was the kind of story that stays with you, and insists on being told. We all have stories like that; ones that won’t let you go. So I thought that a comic book would be a great way to tell the story. And I wouldn’t have to worry about there not being enough money for computer effects.
LAAFA was funded via crowdfunding. With a lot of comics creators taking that route to self-publish, is it something you’d recommend, and what are some tips you’d offer?
I recommend anyone who wants to create to just get out there and make it happen, any way you can. If someone buys your idea or hires you, great. But more often than not we have to greenlight ourselves. So if you’re a filmmaker, make a short film. If you’re a novelist, self-publish. If you want to make a comic, you need to raise enough money to pay the artist and make the book. But it can be done. Just know that crowdfunding is a full time job for that window of raising money. Don’t just think you can put a project up and money will magically appear. You have to promote, get endorsements from other artists, and also promote. Did I mention promoting?
You’ve also had experience writing for film, both narrative and documentary. How do you compare writing for the screen to the comics page?
I really, really, love it. It’s like filmmaking with an unlimited budget. No one comes back and says “we don’t have the budget to blow up Manhattan” in a comic book. If it can be drawn, it can be in the story. As far as story goes, film story progression and storyboarding can be really instrumental in writing for comics and guiding your panels.
A key component of writing (and not just for comics) is to make the stories and characters relatable. What sort of approaches do you take to accomplish that?
Characters we create often have traits of ourselves or people we know in them. That grounds them and keeps them believable. Even when it’s a supervillain, there’s a relatable trait you can give him or her. I always try to figure out what kind of character they are by how they would react in certain situations. Character reactions can convey lots of information about a character. As far as the story goes, keep the story progression organic. It should only have crazy twists in it if you were slowly leading up to them all along. The best narrative twists are the ones the audience didn’t see coming, but in hindsight were justified from the very beginning.
What are some key rules/guidelines every writer should know?
Write what you know.
Make the story personal, regardless of the genre or scope of the story.
Get help from other writers, and help them in return.
Don’t write for free for millionaires. If someone is serious about your work, they’ll make a deal with you.
Don’t neglect your body. Take time to exercise and unplug. It will help your mind focus and clear your head, which will improve your writing.
I really want to focus on writing right now, so I’m taking a break from stand-up, but may return to it at some point.. While I do the Comedy Film Nerds Podcast with Graham Elwood every week, I also have a scripted horror anthology podcast called Conversations From the Abyss that just finished its second season. I’m also hoping to get my next comic project going called Rise of the Kung Fu Dragon Master with the same team. It’s a martial arts/fantasy/comedy about a small time crook in Los Angeles who gets mixed up in a perennial battle between good and evil from ancient China. I also have various TV and film projects I’m developing and hoping to get into production.
How can people find out more about you and your wide body of work?
My website has links to my books and movies, including Ear Buds: The Podcasting Documentary. There are also links to the podcasts and my demo reel.
Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?
Peach. ‘nuff said.
Here’s an episode of the Comedy Film Nerds podcast where Chris goes into an extensive recounting of his experience with his film Asylum. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for aspiring filmmakers, plus it’s just an extremely entertaining tale. Well worth the listen.