My two cents on giving my two cents

nickel
Plus an extra cent to cover expenses

After a brief hiatus, I’ve started giving notes again. It’s always helpful to step away from your own material and dive into somebody else’s. More often than not, it’s a win-win situation.

Sometimes there are exceptions to that rule, but more on that in a minute.

The quality of the writing has ranged from just-starting-out to seasoned professional, so my notes and comments are provided with the level of feedback most suitable to the writer’s level of expertise. One writer might still be learning about proper formatting, while another might want to consider strengthening up that second subplot.

One of my cardinal rules of giving notes is to not be mean about it. I never talk down to the writer, because I’ve been in their shoes. I do what I can to be supportive and offer some possible solutions, or at least hopefully guide them towards coming up with a new approach to what they’ve already got.

One writer responded by saying they were really upset about what I’d said, but then they went and re-read my notes, and couldn’t argue or disagree with any of them.

I’ve always been fascinated by the expression “This is a reflection on the script, not you (the writer).” In some ways, the script IS a reflection of the writer; it’s their skill, their storytelling, their grasp of what should and shouldn’t be on the page, that are all being analyzed. After spending so much time and effort on a script, of course a writer wants to hear “it’s great!”, but as we all know, that doesn’t always happen.

Sometimes I worry my comments are too harsh, but just about every writer has responded with “These are SO helpful!”

About a year ago, a writer I was connected to via social media asked to do a script swap. Some quick research showed they seemed to be experienced with writing and filmmaking, so it seemed like a good idea.

I read their script, and didn’t like it. I said so in my notes, and offered up what I considered valid reasons why, along with questions raised over the course of the story, along with some suggestions for potential fixes.

What I was most surprised about was that this person presented themselves as a professional, and maybe I was naive in taking all of that at face value and believing the quality of their writing would reflect that and meet my expectations.

It didn’t.

It also didn’t help that they opted to not give me any notes on my script. At all. Just some snarky retorts. Guess my lack of effusive gushing hurt their feelings, and this was their method of retribution.

Oh well.

Interesting follow-up to that: I later saw them refer to my notes in a quite negative way, along with “this script has even gotten a few RECOMMENDS”, which is always a great defense.

Follow-up #2: we’re no longer connected on social media.

Could I have phrased my comments in a more supportive way? I suppose, but I figured this person wanted honesty, not praise. And like I said, I assumed they had a thick skin from having done this for a while.

Guess I was mistaken.

And I’ve been on the receiving end of it as well. A filmmaker friend read one of my scripts and started with “Sorry, but I just didn’t like it,” and explained why. Did I pound my fists in rage and curse them for all eternity? Of course not. Their reasons were perfectly valid.

Or the time a writing colleague could barely muster some tepid words of support for one of my comedies. I was a little disappointed, but after having read some of their scripts,  realized that our senses of humor (sense of humors?) were very different, so something I considered funny they probably wouldn’t, and vice versa.

I’ve no intention of changing how I give notes. If I like something, I’ll say so. If I don’t, I’ll say so. You may not like what I have to say, but please understand that it’s all done with the best of intentions. My notes are there for the sole purpose of helping you make your script better.

Isn’t that why we seek out notes in the first place?

Send it. Forget it.

master

One of the essential qualities a screenwriter needs is patience. And lots of it. Actually, a ridiculously vast amount of it.

Things never go as fast as you want them to. It’s just the way it is.

Waiting can be tough enough as it is, but when it involves other people and your stuff? Time not only slows to a crawl, but probably feels like it’s standing still.

Once you send it, it’s out of your hands. Absolutely nothing else you can do.

Naturally, you daydream about getting a response in record time. With raving, positive comments, of course. No reason it shouldn’t take more than a couple of days, tops, right?

Anybody who’s been in this scenario knows otherwise. Days stretch into weeks, which stretch into months, and maybe even into years. I know more than a few writers who heard back from a producer over a year after sending in a script. It happens.

When I was just starting out, I couldn’t help but think “What’s taking them so long?”. We tend to forget that the people to whom we’re sending also have lives of their own. It’s pretty likely our stuff isn’t top priority for them, so the odds increase that it’ll get nudged aside for something that is. As a result, your wait time gets longer and longer.

After a lot of trial and error, I’ve found sending a friendly follow-up about 5-6 weeks later can be pretty effective. It at least reminds them that you’re still around. Sometimes they’re apologetic about it, and sometimes you might not hear anything at all.

Helpful tip – DO NOT be the writer who’s offended by being treated this way. Non-stop follow-up calls and emails. Complaining about it on social media. A big part of this business is presenting yourself as somebody who other people would want to work with. Acting like this is most definitely the wrong path to take.

So once you send your stuff out, what do you do to divert your focus and attention? Easy. You’re a writer. You write. Not only does it help pass the time, but you get stuff done. How productive is it to keep refreshing your email every few minutes? Developing and adding new material to your catalog is always a good idea.

When they say “it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” the implications behind it go beyond just how long all of this takes. Hopefully you can muster the strength to keep at it on all fronts.

Have a great weekend. Make sure you write something.

A little help from your friends

boost
We’re all in this together

Bit of a shorty today – lots going on around Maximum Z HQ, but I wanted to post some items to show writers trying to break in that you’re not alone, and there actually are people out there willing to help you out.

-There’s been a lot of activity on Twitter to help non-WGA writers work on dropping the “non” from their status (as well as connect and network with other writers), and some positive results are starting to develop. Seek out hashtags like #ForYourWGAConsideration, #PreWGA, #WGAFeatureBoost, #WGAStaffingBoost, and #WGAmegamix.

-Read a phenomenal script by another writer? You can help give both it and them a boost by listing it on the Spec Script Shout Out site. It officially launches on May 31st, but you can sign up and register now. You’re also more than welcome to register yourself and your own projects. Bonus – it’s free.

The WRAC Group is a great way to help yourself out when it comes to personal accountability. It’s good, solid, and effective. Also free.

A few simple rules to keep in mind while you’re doing all of this:

-Be nice. Treat people the way you’d want to be treated.

-Be willing to help others out (leads, referrals, etc.). It makes more of an impression than you realize.

-Don’t whine. It’s tough for everybody. We all get frustrated.

-Don’t lie. The truth will always come out, and your name and reputation may not recover.

-Somebody else has something good happen? Offer some congratulations.

-Don’t be afraid to tout your own accompishments. You’ve worked hard to get there.

-Everybody has their own path to success. Some take longer. Don’t compare your progress to theirs.

The biggest takeaway from all of this is, as it is with screenwriting – YOU HAVE TO DO THE WORK! Dedicate whatever time you can spare each day. Make it part of your routine. Productivity yields results.

Good luck, chums. Now go write something.

Temporary self-isolation. Caffeine optional.

coffee writers
That’s a lot of screenplays being developed

Nice to be back. Hope you enjoyed the interviews over the past few weeks. Despite the absence of my personal anecdotes, I’ve been pretty busy with a few assorted projects, with rewriting the dramedy spec being first in line.

Earlier this week, Ms V had a soccer-related activity a little farther away than usual, so rather than schlep all the way home and back again, I opted to stick around and do some more work on the rewrite.

Fortunately for me, there was a coffee shop nearby with the always -welcome free wifi, so I ordered my latte, sat down, and dove right in.

Yes, it’s practically the ultimate cliche to work on a screenplay in a coffee shop, but honestly? It ended up being a pretty productive evening. Did some major rewriting of several sequences, cut a few pages, and came up with some new approaches to scenes earlier in the story. Definitely a solid use of my time.

Even though I have an actual office space for writing at home, sometimes being outside of the house proves to be just as beneficial. Maybe it’s the ability to focus squarely on the writing. No distractions like laundry or having to take the dog outside.

I also find that when I work somewhere else, I’m a lot less likely to screw around and waste time online. Social media and email get put on hold, and all attention is focused on the work. It helps you get a lot more done than you realize.

This is also where the wifi angle factors in. Listening to music while I write helps me think. It acts as a kind of a white noise and counters all the potentially distracting sounds being generated around me. Being able to stream it comes in mighty handy.

Another benefit – the coffee. Sure, I can make it myself at home, but a barista-prepared drink always seems to taste a little better.

No matter where you get your writing done, the important thing is to find a location that works best for you (and there might even be more than one) and provides you with the best opportunities to get the work done.

I don’t usually ask other writers about their actual writing habits and situations. Some might thrive in their home work space, while others wouldn’t think of ever writing anywhere but at the local library or their neighborhood coffee joint of preference. But I’ll admit to being curious about it. Feel free to mention it in the Comments section down below.

(Need a last-minute gift for that screenwriter in your life? How about a gift card to their local coffee shop? National chains or local, doesn’t matter. It would be very well-received.)

One goal, lots of strategies

to do list
Step 1 – plan. Step 2 – execute. Step 3 – repeat Step 1.

Last time the subject was how we did, writing-wise, during 2017. Today, it goes beyond simply what you’re hoping to accomplish to “So what are you doing about it?”

Just a few days into the new year, and how much writing have you done? Are you adhering to the guidelines you set up for yourself? Making the most out of the time you have available? Are you saying to yourself “No more Youtube! No more (insert preferred form of social media here)! I got me some writing to do!”, followed by actually turning off that unwanted source of input and applying proverbial pen to digital paper?

Jeez, I sure hope so.

Repeat the process on as close to a daily basis as you can get, and you might be pleasantly surprised at the results. You might have more time to work with during the day than you realize, so why not make the most of it?

Long-term goals are all fine and dandy, but continuously crossing the finish line for smaller (and some might say more realistic) ones can also yield some solid results. It’s one thing to say “I’m going to write four scripts this year!” and another to say “I’m going to write three pages today!”, and you’d have to admit the second one is just a little bit more achievable.

Additionally, if you stick to that schedule and maintain the same kind of daily output, you could potentially hit at least some of your long-term goals a little sooner. Write three to four pages a day every day, and within a matter of weeks (or maybe a little more than a month), you’re the proud parent of a completed draft. Sure, it might need a lot of work, but the important thing to remember here is : YOU DID IT.

As 2017 wound down, I knew what I wanted to happen for me, writing and career-wise, in 2018. Now that we’re almost a whole week in, I’ve been making an effort to try and get something done on both fronts every day.

For the writing, it’s anything and everything, running the gamut between outlining, rewriting, editing, proofreading, or even just jotting down an idea for a scene in the under-construction outline for a story I haven’t looked at since April. Working with some very quality notes for two scripts, I’m actually ahead of schedule with rewriting one, and gearing up to dive into the second when that’s done.

For the career, it’s about finding more avenues to get myself and my scripts out there. I’m not just pitching stories; I’m pitching a storyteller as a potentially invaluable resource. There will be plenty of “no”s along the way, but all it takes is that one “yes”, right?

And once again, let’s tout the benefits of networking; making and maintaining your connections. You never know which one could lead to something.

While I’m still doing some of the things I’ve always done, there was also that feeling that new and different approaches were necessary. So as I work my way through all the assorted processes involved with writing scripts, I’m also navigating the awkward transitional phase of a few readjustments.

No matter what, the end goal remains the same. As always, fingers remain firmly crossed that this is the year it happens.