Balls of Steel: Putting Your Script Out There

Often screenwriters Direct Message (DM) me on Twitter with questions. If I can answer them in 140 characters, I send a quick DM back. But this week, a question came to me requiring a more thoughtful examination of the issue.

“I have a script Dimitri Davis slapped a ‘recommend’ on a while back. I polished it, and now it’s ‘ready’ to be sent out. So, why am I scared out of my mind of sending it out? Guidance is needed.”

Putting your script out there for the very first time is one of the most horrifying experiences for a writer… or at least it should be. Frankly, I’d be worried if you weren’t afraid!

The first challenge is recognizing when your script is truly finished. It’s so easy to play in happy rewrite land forever, where your baby is safe from the world. But at some point, you need to stick a fork in it and call it done.

So, let’s say you’re comfortable with your script’s readiness, but you’re still fearful. Discovering the source of fear is tricky, since every writer is different.

Fear of failure is the most common. The reality is, only 2% of scripts get recommends. So, this writer is already ahead of the game. But what this also means is 98% of scripts get a ‘pass.’ Should that keep you from trying? Hell no. All it takes is one ‘yes.’

Fear of success: I hear you scoff, “Why would anyone be afraid of succeeding?” Maybe it’s a fear of not being able to repeat the success in the next script. No one wants to be the one-hit-wonder writer. After writing Slavery by Another Name, I was terrified I’d never be able to repeat that quality. But, I promise you, if you are a good writer, you will write more than one great script. Believe in yourself.

Fear of jumping the gun: This specific screenwriter got a ‘recommend’ yet is still fearful he’ll blow his one shot at a first impression. To him, I simply say, “Breathe…you’re ready.” But for those who haven’t gotten coverage or feedback prior to sending out their work, you might want to pull back on the reins. It’s critical to have your script as polished as possible before you submit it to anyone.

Fear of the long road: There’s only one way to survive the ten years it’s going to take to break in: manage your expectations. Wait? Did she just say 10 years? Oh yes, that’s the first expectation you need to get a handle on. After many conversations with the great Unknown Screenwriter, we both agree it takes eight years to truly become a great writer and understand not only your craft, but also the business. The extra two years to break in is simply to get your well-written script in the right hands.

What if they say my baby is ugly? Well, it probably is. All first scripts are wretched. And I mean, the kind that stink even through a closed door. If you can’t afford a professional consultant, allow fellow writers to give you notes. The trick is in knowing what notes to listen to and what to toss, but the real work comes in the rewrite. You must put the work in to fix the script, or why bother getting notes?

There’s no easy way to get from an idea to a fantastic script except to work your fingers to the bone. So, stop whining and do it. If you’re not sure how to even start a rewrite, I taught a webinar for The Writers Store called The Dreaded Rewrite. I poured all my little tricks into the class, exposing my personal rewrite process… tricks I learned from professional writers, consultants, and my Scriptchat peeps.

What if I suck as a writer? This is a big one. Unless you’re one of those rare, steadfast, secure writers, you probably have a bit of fear you’d be more competent at flipping burgers than writing screenplays. If you absorb nothing else I’ve written today, you need to really soak this one lesson in: Just because a person passes on your script, even if they say the most vile things about it, does not mean you should quit writing and grab an application at Wendy’s®.

Instead, look at your work honestly and see if there’s any truth to their feedback. If you were a producer with that script sitting on your desk, would you put millions and millions of dollars at risk to make it? Because that’s what you’re asking them to do — to spend a fortune to bring your words to life. Do everyone a favor and be honest with yourself before saying your script is solid enough to warrant that kind of risk.

Procrastination: As long as I got this baby to hang onto, hug, kiss and change its diaper, why bother starting a whole other gestation of another baby that will take years to perfect and mold? After all, if you send that polished baby out into the world, you’ll need to make another one to walk in its footsteps.

This is the one I’m guilty of. I am addicted to rewriting. I love it to the point of obsession. For me, starting a new script is excruciating. Once I’ve outlined, the first draft flies off my fingertips, but that initial outline feels Herculean. I’m going to have to write more about this in an entirely different post. But for today’s purposes, if this at all feels familiar to you, get over it. You’ll never get that stockpile of scripts if you keep hanging onto the prettiest one. Step outside of your comfort zone and start making more bundles of joy.

Sometimes to take that next step in our careers, we have to have blind faith in ourselves and in our ability to succeed. Believe me, I have gotten my fair share of rejections. At first, they crushed me. But every one of them also brought a lesson. Either I put the script out too soon; I knew the execution didn’t match the pitch, or the production company wasn’t the right fit. The fact is, I can’t control what someone else thinks of my work. All I can control is making it the best script I can to tell the story I intend on telling.

There are countless reasons a script gets turned down, but you can’t allow fear to hold you back from ever letting a decision maker read it. What’s the worst that can happen? You take a chance, and they say, ‘no.’ But, if you don’t send it at all, there’s a 100% certainty it won’t ever get made.

I’d take a 2% chance over a 0% chance any day.

Need Editing Tips? Get 5 Top Reasons to Take Rewriting Seriously plus our FREE Rewrite Checklist Download

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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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14 thoughts on “Balls of Steel: Putting Your Script Out There

  1. Pingback: Balls of Steel in Storytelling « A Storytelling Lifestyle

  2. Erik Dessler

    And Matthew, I feel you. My wife and I are disabled, and for us just the postage of mailing out multiple queries(not to mention ink!) is a nightmare sometimes. (They talk about ‘starving artists? I’ve been hospitalized for low blood sugar and sodium deprivation from not eating. Whee!) But on we go…

    I am completely idiotic when it comes to even knowing where to begin to send these things; what I have is a year-old writer’s market. But I make multiple copies of my most perfect packet – for me, that includes music – and then find the one or two places that seem most appealing based on how close to the intent of my work they are.

    Although…. Again…. I myself feel like I’m running out of options.*laughs.* I just turned 35 myself, Whee.

  3. Erik Dessler

    Just as I was having crushing, tearjerking doubts about my piece, to the point of being almost incapable of writing at all. Thank you. This is brilliant. Kismet happens – just, literally, the hour I needed it most.

  4. Perry Hall

    Matthew,
    You have GOOD problems. Suck it up and act like everyone you send to is the only person on Earth and you picked them to send to because you heard they are wonderful. Play ROCKY music in your head to break the tedium AND never complain about having a job. I’m 66 and I’ve got ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD.
    cAPTAIN

  5. Matthew L.

    Okay, I have a question and a dilemma: I have 3 completed scripts that need to be sent out, plus 2 others that are about 50% done. Plus a list of about 100 agents to send out queries to. Do I have to send them seperate? Or can I send each of the 5 query letters at the same time? If so, should I wait till the other 2 are done so I don’t have to redo this whole process? Honestly, this is why I have dreaded sending them out because there are so many agents, and alot of them just have regular mailing listed, not email. That’s alot of envelope signing, plus the seperate query letters (5) that have to typed and retyped for the same agent, and so on to the next agent! And I live in KC, Mo, not Cali, so it’s not like I can just drive over and drop them off.

    See what I mean? Anybody else have this problem? How do I tackle this while working a regular job and trying to finish 2 other scripts at once? It’s so tedious yet I can’t go on not sending these out. My dream has always been to sell my first screenplay by the time I’m 30, which is in a year! Running out of time!

  6. Perry Hall

    Jeanne,
    Rejection is harder on females than it is males because we are used to hearing MANY NO’s to one yes.
    But yes comes to all men nomatter how unappealling we are. I know that for a fact because I am the frog who got kissed by the princess.
    If your readers who write say No! to themselves, this is called, SELF IMPOSED NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT and is totally unaceptable. You are telling them correctly when you say, “SEND IT!” Send the script to be reviewed so you can rewrite it and send it again. Send it to anybody who will read it.
    Jeanne, You may remember how bad my writing was? I wrote 15 scripts before I got a RECOMMEND and I endured many reviews with suggestions attached that I go to work as a WaLL Mart greeter.
    All said and done, I did one thing right. I never quit and I kept myself in the game swinging for the fence. The script I’m writing now to be finished before Christmas is going over the fence in South Carolina to land in LA. Just wait and See. I mean it’s something you know, just like in baseball.
    Your friend,
    CAPTAIN

  7. DebbieJscreenwriting

    Oops, I missed a word out and changed the sense. Drat decorative nails! ‘I’ll go and ask someone else who has sold a screenplay from a screenwriting group and maybe that’s here is it?’ Pro-level feedback from competitions? Works to an extent. Then where? Who are the script-polishers we can pay to read what might ultimately be trash? Okay, I’m being negative, but it’s a jungle or a crossroads.

  8. DebbieJscreenwriting

    Yes, I’ve been in happy rewriteland but you can have new insights or ideas for a better ending if you come back afer a while. It depends on the writer as to how long that is, but not less than one week, if it’s a spec. script. If you’re writing to a deadline, switch off phone, email etc. and head down.
    Maybe you can post about where to send scipts for feedback. The scammers are getting louder. I sent first 10 pages of a script to an outfit that reckoned it had table readings every month. It did give some feedback and I thought about what they said and adapted it. I need an in-depth view and don’t know any — oh yes I do. I’ll go ask someone who has sold a screenplay. Thanks for the article. There is always something to learn and push yourself forward.

  9. ariel

    Send out – Where?

    Also, have you noticed, most movies, whether science fiction or even romantic comedies, use scripts written to a certain formula. What if the writer diverges even slightly from this formulaic convention? I think he has another hurdle to overcome.

  10. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

    Millie and Romona, totally hear you! I don’t think there’s a writer alive who hasn’t heard a wide range of feedback on their work, from fabulous to “get a new career!” It’s the nature of the beast. But to break in, all it takes is one “yes” 🙂

    Unk, AMEN!!!!!! That is probably the biggest reason to rewrite the hell out of something before ever submitting!

    Dimitri, great advice from the man himself.

  11. Dimitri Davis

    Too many great things to quote from this article!

    As Unk points out, it’s imperative to make a strong first impression. If you can’t get coverage, pitch the script to friends and strangers (not family) outside the biz; if you can’t impress them with a sentence, it’s not ready yet.

  12. Unknown ScreenwriterUnk

    Let me add one other fear that WE SHOULD HAVE.

    FEAR OF THE DREADED DATABASE. The database that gets shared all around Hollywood with names of writers who’s specs stunk.

    You do NOT want to get on or in that database.

    As always — great post.

    Unk

  13. romona robinson

    I swear your article are so timely to issues I’m going through…needed to hear this. Going to do a last scrub on my third act of current baby and send it out for feedback. I need to have the do I truly suck or do I have the sensibilites to really make a go of it.

    I’m not really a fearful person, but this paralyzes me sometimes and I have to let it go so I can feel free. When you get the whole, oh you’re a good writer, then one is like, omg you suck so hard…you don’t know who to believe…was smoke being blown up my azz all this time? Stuff like that.

    Anyhoo, all this to say…yes it’s time, let go and let it be. Will keep you posted on my little journey.

    Thanks for your insight, as always.

  14. Millie Raphael

    As always, a brilliant article. You manage to lay out the cold, hard truths of screenwriting, but mix in the perfect dash of inspiration to keep us happily in the trenches. Thank you!!

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