Balls of Steel: More Than One Path to a Writing Career

Jeanne Veillette Bowerman is the Editor of Script magazine and a screenwriter, having written the narrative feature adaptation as well as the 10-hr limited series of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Slavery by Another Name, which was honored in the Top 25 Tracking Board Launch Pad Features Competition. Follow Jeanne on Twitter @jeannevb.

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For the past few months, my teen girl has been applying to colleges. As you can imagine, the stress of her future has led to many discussions on how to achieve your dreams, and if one can do it with or without a formal education.

This mom votes for an education – then my daughter pointed out I am pursuing a career in screenwriting without ever going to film school.

Damn, my girl is good. She should go to law school… except that’s not her dream.

I went to Cornell University School of Hotel Administration and ended up running a motel and restaurant for fifteen years. I hated every minute of it. Every. One. Yet, I couldn’t have imagined putting pen to paper and having anyone care about what I had to say as a writer.

My insecurity doomed me to a path I never felt passionate about until I rediscovered my love of prose in my 40s. To say my road as a screenwriter has been less than traditional, would be an understatement.

Let’s pretend we’re in group therapy. I’ve just confessed, now it’s your turn.

What’s stopping you from writing? By that I also mean what is stopping you from pursuing your dreams to your fullest potential?

Pull up a Word doc and start making a list. Is it fear, stress, the day job, kids, unsupportive spouse, partner, or parents?  Set a timer for 15 minutes and spill it all out, unfiltered. Do a stream-of-consciousness writing sprint.

Now put the list aside and breathe.

I want you to think about those screenwriters who have made it and whom you admire. Write a list of their names, the films they made, and why you admire them.

Now research them on IMDb and Google.

How many years have they been writing? Can you determine what age they were when they started? How many films have they had produced? How many scripts have they written that weren’t produced? Did they go to film school? How many years did it take them to get their first script sold? What other jobs did they have before becoming writers?

Now grab that first list… you know, the one full of all the reasons you aren’t moving forward in your writing.

Read it. Read it again. Read it a third time.

Do you think any of those items applied to the successful writers who are on your other list? Stress, fear, financial issues, kids, life, failed previous professions, etc.

Guess what? Those writers who succeeded before you started out as a person with a dream. Just. Like. You.

Today I had lunch with Emmy-winning TV writer Charles Kipps in New York City. He started his writing career as a journalist, then got into the music industry because of connections he made as a journalist (long, fun story), and ultimately ended up as a screenwriter and a novelist. Both his life and journey as a writer are fascinating, but not traditional or one you would find in a how-to book.

He wrote. He hustled. He was hungry.  He succeeded because he always looked for the opportunity in every single situation.

Others got in via film school or they knew someone who knew someone. Or perhaps they read screenwriting books or took screenwriting classes independently from a traditional university.

In researching your admired writers, you also might find some interesting angles you never thought of.

As my friend Unknown Screenwriter says, we all have a fingerprint. We’re all unique. There are as many ways to break into any kind of career you dream of as there are individuals in this world.

We all carve our own path. No two of us are alike, and no two journeys are alike.

Some people seem to have a charmed life. Others, not so much. If emotional roadblocks come up in your life, like the deaths of loved ones, careers or marriages, it’s tempting to curl in a ball and give up.

Don’t.

Use those emotions to help you create characters we care about. Characters we want to follow through any journey you put them on.

Maybe it’s not emotion that’s blocking you. Perhaps it’s insecurity because you lack an understanding of either the craft or the industry. That’s easy to fix.

Make another list right now of all the weaknesses you think you have as a writer. I bet every one of those can be “fixed” with a simple screenwriting class or network of screenwriters to support you either with encouragement or with advice… or both.

Now I want you to make one more list… this one is the most important of all.  Write down all the reasons you want to be a screenwriter and all the reasons you think you’ll rock at it.

That is the list you pin to the wall and look at every day. That is the list you focus on when the hard days hit. That is the motivation that’ll keep you rooting for yourself.

If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.

Be original. Have an original voice. Carve an original path. Don’t let anyone discourage you or piss on your flame.

But one thing is for certain: no matter how you decide to navigate this industry, you have to have the writing chops to back it up. So, write every day. Stay focused. Trust your gut.

Write like no one is watching. Write for you. Write naked. Unfiltered. Raw. Those are the stories that make people feel… truly feel.

Oh, and my teen girl found out tonight she got into her first-choice college! Whether she ends up in the career she thinks she wants at the age of 18 is unknown, but for tonight, we celebrate the first step on her journey pursuing her dreams.

She’s got this.

And you’ve got this… even if it takes you longer than you expected. You got this.

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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5 thoughts on “Balls of Steel: More Than One Path to a Writing Career

  1. Francis Brainfloss

    I just published a book title “Where peace walks in a tight rope.” in http://www.xlibris.com . Every time I started on working on some script or books, there’s things that I ask: Will it be like Wayne’s World? What music should define this story? Will it be like a classic movie? Is it going to be like a Cameron Crowe movies, or as big as Steven Spelbierge if I get lucky? I’m always happy with my work even though I did not sell a script yet. But it made me a good writer and story teller which I hope the world will see someday… It’s what drove me to be a writer by the way.

  2. Brian Shell

    Another stellar article Jeanne!

    In getting full-ride scholarships through engineering school and grad school too, I now find it funny that a simple elective at the end of my college career really shaped what I now do (and still aim to get better at doing) each day. It was one of those humanities courses us math geeks tended to dread titled “History of Cinema.”

    At the time in 1990, sporting my cool mullet and listening to tons of Rush (no, not Limbaugh), I had no clue what a director did or why they were important. All I knew is that I *had* to take one more of those “make you a more well-rounded individual” kind of courses in order to fulfill my college requirements, get my BSEE, and move on to grad school.

    Little did I know then, in hindsight, that it would be one of the most important classes I ever took in my entire life.

    Funny too though is that in grad school, while discerning a PhD in space physics, my optics professor told me that his PhD simply taught him one thing: “That I can teach myself whatever I set my mind upon learning.”

    So in getting an engineering career in LA in 1992 after grad school and an MSEE, you can imagine how many people called me crazy when I left it all behind in 1995 after appearing in four scenes of “Get Shorty” to become a screenwriter, a musician, and an eventual published eBook author who just submitted a short film I directed to the Ann Arbor Film Festival here near Detroit.

    The point being… I can’t tell you how many people told me to have a Plan B… or that it was time to draw a line in the sand and give up and go back to my successful career… one that I was good at but didn’t love.

    So in hindsight now with 23 eBooks published, I (loosely) quote Confucius who said, “When you do what you love, you never work a day in your life.”

    It’s the difference between wanting to go to work and having to go to work… and in my opinion… having been down both roads… there is a huge difference between the two… kind of like Neo’s choices in “The Matrix” of the red pill or the blue one.

    But the choice is… ultimately… up to you.

    No risk… no reward. No pain… no gain.

    In the game of life, ask no “what ifs?”

    Don’t let your life be a cul-de-sac.

    And live life without any regrets.

    Smile at the man in the mirror.

    He’s the Hero of your story!

    Best regards to you all,

    Brian “the Sea” Shell

    PS – and BTW, I recently reunited with that “History of Cinema” professor 22 years later to tell her how grateful I was to take her course too. I think, and hope, it made her day in way to say “Hooray” in every way!

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