Balls of Steel: The Waiting Game

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Writing is not only about the rewriting … it’s also about the endless waiting.

Waiting for new story ideas to pop in your head, waiting for a writing partner to return your emails, or waiting for the writer’s block to lift. But the most torturous wait of all is the wait for feedback after you’ve submitted your work.

I’m convinced this is why Hemingway started drinking.

I was in L.A. early this month pitching to the big boys – actually, it was a lovely young woman, but you know what I mean. As we joyously watched her nod with excitement about the TV premises we presented, we knew her nodding didn’t mean jack when it came to adding our pitches to her development slate.

We submitted the requested material and let the waiting begin.

At first, the wait time was a relief because we worked our tails off getting ready to pitch. It’s week two of the wait that the nerves hit.

I get antsy. Toes tapping, constantly checking email and voicemail, and my BlackBerry® glued to my pocket like a silicone-filled needle stuffed into the Real Housewives.

However, I understand the industry well enough to know, even with a great script, the odds of a “yes” are slim. I get that. But I’m a cup-is-half-full kind of girl. So, for me, waiting equals hope. Hope for a “let’s talk about this premise some more.” Or hope for a “this project isn’t quite right for us, but we love your writing.”

The hope of them actually saying “Hell, yes!” probably isn’t even on my radar anymore. After years of hearing “it’s a pass,” I’m a bit guarded.

As I wait, I prepare for how to best use the opportunity. Which means only one thing: I keep writing and fleshing out the idea, ready to address any notes they want to discuss.

While I have their attention, I keep it for as long as I can. That is the goal. The longer I can keep their focus, the more they learn about my work and me.

So let’s play devil’s advocate here. Your email inbox pings, and it’s a “pass.” Now what?

  • I always ask if they have notes to share. That keeps a dialogue going; plus, they’ll see I take feedback well. In fact, I’m a bit of critique-loving junkie.
  • If they say they love my writing, I ask to be considered for future in-house writing assignments.
  • Since everyone knows everyone in L.A., I inquire if they’re aware of another company looking for a premise like mine. You’d be surprised how many referrals I’ve gotten that way.
  • Pitch a new idea you came up with while you were waiting to hear from them.
  • Make sure you leave that door open by asking if you can submit future work directly to them, bypassing the gatekeepers. If your writing is good, the answer almost always is “yes.”
  • Above all, thank them for their time. Can you imagine how many passes they give out every day? Those can’t be fun. Set yourself apart from the pack by showing you have class.
  • Go for a long run, or pour yourself a stiff drink. Do whatever is necessary in order to climb back on the horse the next day and get back to writing.

No one wants to hear “It’s a pass,” but if you have a game plan for how to handle the news, it makes the sting less severe. Writing as much as you can while you wait will busy your mind, help you develop a plan B, improve your work, and give you new ideas to discuss with the executives once you do hear back. Those new ideas might be exactly what your career needs to get you to the next level.

Every day you wait, is a day of hope. Let go of the stress, soak in the moment, and appreciate the value of getting an executive to read your work. Congratulate yourself for that open door and forward motion. You worked hard for it. I’m not suggesting you be all kumbaya here. It’s important to keep your expectations in check – the crash of a “pass” will kill you if you don’t. (Read my “Managing Expectations” post as a reminder.)

But while you wait, dare to reward yourself a little. For me, that means toasting Hemingway as I sit down and keep writing.

How do you handle the waiting process? The passes? Please share your experiences in the comments to help us all learn.

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10 thoughts on “Balls of Steel: The Waiting Game

  1. Ian

    Hey Jeanne,

    thanks for this article. I am a screenwriter and I just received an “It’s a pass” email today from a L.A. producer. I was going to simply move on to the next but I’ll apply some of your advice and contact them back (saying thank you and asking for notes/referrals)

    Cheers,

    Ian.

  2. Roman

    Peter Bogdanovich once discussed Greta Garbo with Orson Welles and asked: “Isn’t a shame that, out of 40 or so movies she made, only two or three were good?”

    “You only need one,” Orson Welles replied.

  3. David Proenza

    Jeanne, once again awesome and extremely practical advice. As someone who’s been on the waiting end (with each wait ending in a “pass”) I wish I had known to keep the lines of communication open. It seems like common sense but who knows where’d I’d be now if I followed up with another pitch or asked for a referral…

    Oh well, where’s that glass at anyways?

  4. Mark Sanderson

    Great article. Solid advice for writers. I was in this situation a few months ago myself. You highlighted the ups and downs and the “what to do’s” perfectly. Besides my submitted spec, once I took the meeting I pitched two more ideas. Of course it took a week to hear the news. “Will consider for upcoming staff positions.” Not bad!

  5. Pingback: Making the Most of the “Pass” | LA Screenwriter

  6. Megan Drapalski

    Great article. Glad to see I’m not the only “glass half-full” kind of girl wandering around 🙂 There’s always hope until you stop writing. That’s when the glass is empty! Thanks for the list of ways to handle it!

  7. Unknown ScreenwriterUnk

    Jeanne,

    Yeah, the waiting game is right up there with the least favorite part of this business.

    Glad you’re a “half-full” kind of a girl…

    I think if I remember correctly however… I used to be a “half-full” kind of a guy.

    Now I’m a “half-empty” kind of a guy. I never expect them to call back so if they do, I am very surprised.

    Damn.

    Your way definitely sounds MORE FUN.

    Unk

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