BALLS OF STEEL: Being a Screenwriter – It’s Never Too Late

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I just got back from a whirlwind tour of colleges in the Boston area with my rising-senior daughter.  As I strolled through the beautiful campuses, I couldn’t help but remember of my own time at Cornell many years ago.

I started as a Human Ecology major, hoping to save the world as a social worker. Though my intentions were honorable, my heart wasn’t in it, so I transferred to the School of Hotel Administration. Honestly, my heart wasn’t in that either, but I was clueless as to what my true passion was.

While I trudged through my cooking, accounting, and management classes, I took two required writing courses and fell in love.

You would expect the next step on my roadmap to read, “I transferred to Arts and Sciences and majored in Creative Writing.”

Um, no. I was terrifyingly insecure. I remember saying to my writing professor, as he begged me to change majors, “Who would want to read anything I have to write?”

So, I surrendered to the mediocrity of an unhappy career.

I stayed in the Hotel School, graduated, and ran a motel and restaurant for 15 long, miserable years. I hated every minute of it. But I’d be damned if I was going to admit I made a mistake.

During the course of those years, I had yearnings to write, but never the courage to declare myself a writer. Insecurity is a tough thing to shake.

Until at 41, having tried medical transcriptioning for a year, a doctor fired me because he felt I was nothing more than a “glorified secretary.” How dare I question his use of words that didn’t actually exist. See, he was a pompous doc who made up words constantly, and I tired of pretending he was smart… because he wasn’t.

I flagged every one of his reports with notes saying he needed a better command of the English language.

Yeah, that’ll get you fired.

With no job and too much time on my hands, I decided to take a stab at a novel, accidentally stumbled into screenwriting, and the rest is history.

My point is, it is never too late to change your major. I don’t just mean while you’re at school, I mean long after you’ve left.

Don’t let life box you in. Color outside of the lines. Step outside of your comfort zone. Push yourself to go after a dream, even if someone else is telling you you’re crazy.

When I spoke with a friend about the college search, he shared his son wants to go to film school. Being a screenwriter himself, he knows how hard it is to make a living in this industry and wondered if he should steer his son towards a backup plan.

My advice: “Let him pursue his dream. He has time to do something else later if it doesn’t work out. You’ll sleep better at night knowing you supported his passion.”

I know we need to make money to survive, and being an artist is the hardest way to do that. But I ask, what good is a pile of money if you are miserable in what you do?

Every day. Every single day. Miserable.

I did that for 15 years. I had a steady income, health benefits, free food, lodging and even free tequila. Did it make me happy? Hell, no.

If you’re in college and reading this, let me give you some words of advice from someone who studied the wrong major:

  • Take courses that stretch your vision of the world as you know it.
  • Don’t be afraid of falling on your face.
  • Be honest with your advisor about what sparks you.
  • The only way to truly find your passion is to take chances and dare to step outside of your comfort zone.
  • Every school offers far more than your major. Explore. It’s the one time in your life you have easy access to so many opportunities.
  • Don’t go to bars and frat parties every night. Yeah, I had to throw a parent-ism in there.

Much of that advice holds true for you grownups too.

Life is short, but your options don’t have to be.

I was struck by a tweet I saw yesterday enough to re-tweet it:

Career and life philosophy changes are overwhelming, but all it takes is one little step at a time, and you’ll reach your goal. But sitting in the same situation that doesn’t work week after week will lead you nowhere and only waste precious time.

Pretend your 18 again, looking at colleges, deciding on a major, and deciding what part of the world you want to live. The possibilities are endless. They still can be.

As you breathe your last breath, which by the way, could be today… there are no guarantees on how long anyone lives… what do you want to be feeling in your heart? I bet that last breath would go down easier if you felt you did everything you could to achieve your dreams of work, life and love.

It is never too late. Never.

Now if I can only convince my daughter to let me go back to college with her. What a do-over that would be!

Watch ScriptMag Editor Share Her Advice on Facing Your Writing Fears

Jeanne Veillette Bowerman shares her personal story of facing her fears in order to propel her writing and her career. Click on the image below to watch Jeanne’s advice. In just eight minutes, you might have a whole new perspective.

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8 thoughts on “BALLS OF STEEL: Being a Screenwriter – It’s Never Too Late

  1. Nate

    Bravo, Jeanne. I spent 13 years in the hardcore business world as a business analyst and a tech writer. The last ten years were absolute misery. As my career progressed, I found myself gravitating to words versus numbers (I was always the WORST math student). I wrote a 40-page novella and had no idea how to proceed with it.

    When I was laidoff at 33, I decided to go to film school. One of the best decisions of my life. A true blessing. I’m currently working as a copywriter and freelance screenwriter in LA, but this decision (which was terrifying at the time), completely changed my perspective on life. I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

    Write on!

  2. Maureen

    Hi Jeanne,

    Your article just had me crying here because tonight’s the night I, a 65 year old, have to make the decision of my life – I can go sign a contract for a very good teaching salary, the first good one I’ve had in 5 years (last 3- no work at all) and work at a job which looks to be scary all around – the building, the area, the lack of a syllabus and wondering where to begin OR I can stay home with my two kitties, whom I’ve had the chance to spoil these 3 years and continue to try to get my screenplays that are posted out there, as well as work on the Young Adult trilogy I just started to write and keep dreaming big of my writing career taking off finally! I wrote a kids’ book a dozen years ago that didn’t go anywhere because I hadn’t a clue on how to publicize it. Now, I keep trying to get connected with actors to tell them about my two finished scripts and let them tell me if they want to see them, but can’t get a hold of any of them because you have to know somebody to know somebody and even get an agent. So, as I sit here pondering tonight, I see this letter of yours and say, “Does this hit the mark!” You’re telling me to go with my dreams and not get into a job just for the security. That’s the only reason I was about to go and sign on with them, despite all my fears of the place and the work. I figured I only have another year and a half, then I can get 25% of the state’s teacher retirement plan. That’s it- 25%, which’d be a big deal to me, when I retire, which I don’t ever want to do. But, I want to spend the rest of my life writing because I love it. Most of all, I want to hit it big with my screenplays because I could see $ coming in faster than the time it takes to write books and get them published. I also like that I have to be brief, with writing scripts, which is something I could really learn to do because I do like to talk, hence, write. Thanks for your wisdom in this regard. You made me feel good that my heart was going with what I loved most – the writing. At this age, I really wasn’t looking forward to disciplining the kids because they don’t listen or do the work or are so totally bored because the periods run 90 minutes that they disrupt and tune you out. I hope that my not going in to sign tomorrow won’t hurt my friend’s feelings because she really wanted me there at her school and I’ll be disappointng her. If I don’t go for it, will I go buggy again not having a job that pays well? Will I ever make money at my script writing?? I know my stories are good. I have a 3rd one to finish and should get to work on that one and say goodbye to the school job site because this would be the only job offer I ever get at my age in teaching. It’ll be a tough decision. I just don’t want to get in the job and find out I bit off more than I could chew and got into something where the workload is stupendous. I used to teach SPED kids most recently and that was easy, as far as the work load was concerned. So, I again thank you for making me feel good that I’m going to choose the root of my heart and not my pocketbook. I hope I stay with this decision- or, I’m up early going for a drug test for this job and going to see the big shots over a contract. Wish me luck with choosing what you finally did. YOu’re a lot younger than me and have the chance for a brighter future in this field of our dreams. Good Luck to you, too!

  3. Jacquelynn

    Perfect! This is just what I needed to read this morning (and everyday) to keep motivation and determination going when that terrible monster of doubt sets in.
    Thanks!

  4. Michael

    Nicely written. I too didn’t pursue a major in film or writing, but instead went the safe route, cause I didn’t have the balls to go out and risk falling on my face. So fast forward 14 yrs later, I’m now pursuing a route into the industry I’ve loved as a kid. I started this, of course, many years earlier, but I still wish I would’ve put caution to the wind back when I was much younger.

    I tell my kids now, pursue making a living doing what you love, not what is safe.

  5. Mark Dispenza

    Jeanne,
    My experience is similar to yours, and sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I followed my passion and not the illusion of economic security. On the other hand, my rocky road through life has generated wisdom and insight that I hope make me a more effective writer of narrative fiction. As a fellow late bloomer, I salute your passion and your conviction that it’s never too late to follow your bliss. Write on, my friend!
    Mark

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