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.