In an interview I recently did for the acclaimed UCLA screenwriting professor Richard Walter, he posed the question, “How do you define success as a screenwriter today?”
My response was immediate.
“For me, success is simply waking up every single day and making the decision not to quit but to sit down and write instead. The day I hang up my pencil is the day success will evade me forever. That’s just not an option.”
Days after I answered that question, I’m haunted by what others might define as “success.”
Is it money? Fame? Validation? Is “success” even possible to define, or do our definitions of it change throughout our writing careers?
In order to achieve success, we first need a goal.
Any major success I have achieved has been accomplished in baby steps – one small goal at a time. Take my new job as Editor and Online Community Manager of ScriptMag.com. Even that was achieved in small milestones. Three years ago, I didn’t have one published clip or any social media experience. But now I have many clips, all written one post at a time, and an enormous online community of support.
If I can do it, so can you. That’s not meant as cliché. I mean it. I believe it.
But that’s not screenwriting. Screenwriting is an entirely different beast to conquer.
Screenwriters juggle multiple projects, overwhelm ourselves by sneaking in writing time between our day jobs and life (though some would argue there’s no time for a life). Many days, insecurity and exhaustion from self-promotion and hard work plague us.
At some point in our careers we all feel the weight of the insurmountable odds. Rejection heaped upon us, over and over, hitting us like bullets. On those days, just getting out of bed is a “success,” or forcing ourselves to put pen to paper for a 30-minute writing sprint when we really want to throw in the towel.
Rejection, disappointment, and impossible odds are a part of this business. Accept it. Build a tough skin. Expect to be told “no” countless times. Go Into The Story posted a great article recently about how to handle those insane odds. Give it a read. Bottom-line, you need to let harsh criticism and rejection propel you to work harder. Consider it a double-dog dare to beat the odds.
Even if I don’t make it as a screenwriter, I will never consider myself a failure. Never. At the end of my life, whether I’m produced or not, I will not say “what if?” because I know I left no stone unturned in my efforts.
For me, success is putting it all out there, giving it everything you’ve got, doing the very best you possibly can, despite the odds, and doing what you can to control your own destiny.
Above all, success is self-fulfilling. Don’t let anyone else define what success means to you and your life.
Please share your definition of success in the comments. I’m dying to hear what you all use as the bar!
For tips on how I navigate outside of Hollywood, my webinar Breaking in Outside of Hollywood is available On Demand at The Writers Store.