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.

(you + ideas) x plan = 2022

As we stand on the cusp of a brand spanking new year, do you know what you want to accomplish, writing-wise?

More importantly, do you have a plan on how that’s going to happen?

I’m finding that it really helps to take a realistic approach, focusing more on the things we can actually control, rather than the things we would like to happen.

Knowing your own productivity and output, how many scripts do you think you could write/rewrite?

For me, I’m looking at 1-2 new ones, and 2-3 rewrites. Might be a bit of a challenge, but still doable.

I’ve also noticed an increase across social media of writers offering to give notes to other writers, so that’s something also easily achievable. Doing that once or twice a month benefits both you and the other writer, and a lot of the time the other writer will reciprocate, so…win-win.

Lots of writers are also directors or filmmakers, so maybe making a film or a short is part of your 2022 to-do list. Count me among that number. Got a horror-comedy short I’m just itching to make, and have started the ball rolling to see that happen.

No matter what you’re hoping to accomplish this year, I hope you not only do that, but also manage to enjoy yourself along the way. You should be getting as much out of the journey as you do finishing it.

And keep in mind that while you might be flying solo on a project, you’re definitely not alone. Just about every other writer out there is going through the exact same thing. Don’t hesitate to ask for help, advice, or feedback, or to offer it.

Win-win, remember?

Here’s to a phenomenally productive 2022.

Create (and follow) your own route

As the year starts to wind down, I’ve taken part in a few writer Zoom get-togethers where the participants all discuss how their 2021 went, and what they’re hoping to accomplish next year.

(I’ll go into a little more detail regarding my own plans for 2022 in the next few weeks)

It was great to hear about the wide variety of projects that saw completion, along with the pride each writer took in talking about their work. Also nice – modesty. No pumped-up egos or “bathe in the splendor that is my wonderfulness!”

There were also those who had started something, but for some reason or other, hadn’t been able to finish it. That yielded a lot of sympathy as well as encouragement to get back on their respective horses.

The biggest underlying theme of all the conversations was “This is something I’m passionate about, and I’m going to do what I can to get it done/made.”

Doesn’t matter if it was a script, a short, a film, a webseries, or whatever. Each person had a project (or projects) that they were working on and was excited to be doing so. Results were varied, as were the timelines of progress.

Which is really what a lot of this comes down to. Each writer was working on a project and doing so in the way that worked best for them.

What was also really nice was that nobody was comparing their progress to anybody else’s, which is how it should be. It’s easy to fall into that sort of trap, and doesn’t help with bolstering your own confidence.

Everybody’s path is unique to them, and them alone. What works for you might not work for somebody else, and vice versa. Focus on what you’re doing and don’t worry about the other person.

Seeking an outside opinion? Ask someone you trust for honest and helpful feedback, and don’t feel obligated to take their word as “this is what needs to be done”. This is YOUR project, so trust your gut instincts to lead you in the right direction.

Most of all, do what you can to enjoy the journey. If you’re not enjoying it, the odds are high the material will reflect that, which means the reader/audience won’t enjoy it either. If you’re not passionate about it, why should we be?

We do this because we like/love it, right?

And it’s great seeing people be excited when talking about a project they love, because it makes us want to know more. Maybe we’ll even be invited to offer up our thoughts and comments to help them make it better.

So here’s to you being proud of what you accomplished in 2021, and for more of the same in 2022.

Words that need to be heard

It takes a lot of determination and persistence to make it as a screenwriter.

A LOT.

And since so many other people are trying to accomplish the same things (more or less) as you and I, the difference between good days and bad days is a vast one indeed.

We learn to take the hits and the disappointments to the point that we chalk it up to “them’s the breaks”, and move on to the next thing. It is vital that we toughen up our skin to help us survive the journey.

But let’s go back to the good days thing.

When something positive happens for us, we do not hesitate to trumpet it from the rooftops – a rooftop in the form of some kind of social media platform.

And when that happens, our network of peers and associates is just as quick to join in the celebrating. We’re practically deluged with “congrats!”, “that’s awesome!”, “well deserved!”, and the like. Speaking for myself, I really appreciate it, and make a point of returning the sentiment when appropriate.

As writers, we live and breathe using words as our craft. We write something and hope it has the desired effect. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it makes a much bigger impact than you could have ever expected. (Those are particularly pleasing.)

Don’t underestimate the power of what you write. Not just for your latest script, but also when it comes to how you present yourself to the rest of the writing community.

Are you always there with a positive message? Do you think “telling ’em like it is” is the way it should be?

Sure, somebody who does well in the Nicholl or Austin is going to get all sorts of congratulatory messages, but what about somebody who came in second or made the quarterfinals in that small contest you’ve never heard of? Are you just as enthusiastic for them? Do you let them know that?

When I was just starting out, I naturally had the novice’s daydreams of “they’re going to love it!”, which of course didn’t happen. Just about every response from my queries would be along the lines of “thanks, but no thanks” (if there was a response at all), and the contest updates that most of the time start with “Unfortunately…” It’s just the way the business is. You take your lumps, move on, and try to be a better writer so you do better next time.

Anybody who’s reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about. We’ve ALL been there.

I’ve recently read the lamentations of a novice writer who hasn’t had much luck in their efforts. They’re convinced that this can only mean that they’re a terrible writer, their family isn’t supportive of them even trying, and are thereby doomed to fail no matter what, so why even try? With as much sympathy and understanding I can put into text on a screen, I (and others) have tried to explain to them that everything they mentioned, from not placing in a contest to getting a pass from a query to them feeling completely alone in this, is not unique to them. Making any kind of progress on any of those fronts won’t happen overnight.

If ever there was a time that words could make a difference for the better, this was one of them. Hopefully my comments had at least the start of the desired effect.

We’re all busting our asses trying to make it however we can in this crazy business, and any outside offering of hope or encouragement is always welcome.

So as you skim your way across the turbulent waves in the vast ocean of social media and see someone’s comment, good or bad, about how they or their writing are doing, take a second to respond.

Let them know you’re rooting for them and hoping for continued success.

You’ve been where they are and hope things get better.

You’re thrilled for them.

You’re sorry.

You’d be amazed at how effective words, especially yours, can be.

A win is a win is a win

This is a tale of two writers.

Both have recently achieved success, but of very drastic varying degrees.

The first writer has had some tremendous accomplishments over the past few weeks. Their work has placed very highly in some prestigious contests, resulting in sales, professional writing assignments, membership in the Writer’s Guild, and representation with a management company of significant importance.

The other writer had a script do well in a small contest, and had some nice things said about their writing during an online forum chat.

At first glance, the first writer definitely had the better results. Who’d complain about all of that? This is what we’re all working towards, right? That’s like a dream checklist with every box checked off. No doubt ones such as “script produced”, “film/TV show produced and released”, and “box office/ratings hit” still remain, but this is the initial phase.

Even the writer admitted they’re a bit overwhelmed by all of it.

Meanwhile, for the other writer, the contest win is nice, and while it may not be “makes the industry take notice”-level, it still fills them with a certain sense of pride. They sent their script out, hoping for something good, and that’s what happened.

Regarding the online forum chat, the moderator has raved in the past about the professional-level quality of the first writer’s material, so for the other writer to also receive similar praise was pretty uplifting and encouraging. Truth be told, it was just about the first page of a script, but why quibble?

While the first writer’s journey to success seems to be coming to fruition right before our eyes, the other writer continues to sit at their laptop, diligently plugging away and working on scripts that will hopefully garner some attention from reps and producers.

Also important – the other writer is thrilled for everything the first writer has accomplished. They’ve earned it. There might be a smidge of jealousy, but that’s expected, and the other writer can use that as motivation to do better.

The moral of the story is twofold:

First – be proud of anything you accomplish with your writing, no matter how big or small it might seem. This isn’t an easy thing we’re doing, so try to enjoy the journey and celebrate the high points whenever possible. Don’t hesitate to toot your own horn – within acceptable limits, of course.

And second – everybody’s path to success is going to be wildly different from everybody else’s. What works for one person might not work for another. It’s up to you to find your own path and keep pushing forward on it. It might take you longer than you want to reach that finish line, but it definitely feels worth it when you get there.