Often, writers come to me wanting to know: How long is this going to take? Am I going to sell my script next month? Next quarter? I don’t have a manager or a stellar writing sample but… Can I get staffed for the upcoming television season? While everyone, everywhere wants to see things happen preferably fast, the reality of the screenwriting game is that this is not a sprint. At least not as far as building a career is concerned.
Building a screenwriting career is a marathon. One in which you will likely be challenged, pushed to your limits, and on occasion feel this close to walking away. In order to ensure that you don’t fall prey to the obvious hurdles that can make you feel like success may not be your particular end game, you’ve got to keep your eye on your prize and keep training for the road ahead.
Building a screenwriting is hard. There is no question about that. But it’s also true that the longer you stay in this game, the longer you keep at it and the more you write, the more your chances for success will increase every day. This is a game of tenacity. Of writing, and writing, and writing some more until you have THAT script at THAT time. The one that makes your career and sets you on a winning path. Keep writing, and you will get there.
Sticking to screenwriting and continuing to fight for your career is a balancing act: Figure out how to balance the demands of your life such as work, family, or other commitments with your writing, and you will already be ahead of the pack. Create windows for your writing that you can take advantage of consistently, moving from one screenplay to the next, so that writing is not something that you find time to do only when feeling motivated and even then most likely in spurts; Even if you only write an hour a day, find a way to fit writing into your regular schedule, so that a year from now it’s part of your daily routine.
You know what they say to people just starting to work out: stick to it for 21 days, and it will become a routine. You want the same thing of and for your screenwriting.
Marathon runners get discouraged like everyone else – their time is too slow, they struggle at a certain leg of the race. It’s the same for screenwriters. Try to figure out what will push you through the tough moments while you’re still feeling motivated, not when you’re down and out and without any semblance of motivation. Any time you lose working towards your screenwriting career could be costly; Put ideas, sayings, motivators in place to help you get through the moments when a screenplay you put your heart and soul into did not sell, or when a manager you were hoping to sign with suddenly stops returning your calls. It happens to everyone. To the best of us. It happened to every writer working in the industry today. But to get working, you have to stay tenacious. You have to identify your go-to’s when All is Lost, and you find it hard to stay motivated.
When I first launched my coaching business, I had a single question running over and over in my head: What would you do if you had no fear? At moments, I hung on to this little mantra as though my life depended on it. Sure, there were moments when I worried that I made a mistake. When I thought that, despite all of the cheerleading and encouragements from my writing clients, making this a full-time thing might have been a mistake. But in my darkest moments of worry about the potential outcome from the choice I made, I went to my mantra again and again. In many ways, it’s as responsible as any action I took and every writer I work with for where I am today.
My client Kelly resorts to what she calls ‘Goal Porn’ when things don’t go her way or when a completed screenplay doesn’t get the attention she deserves. These are the moments she resorts to fantasy – what it will feel like to sign with management, to win a contest, to sell a script or get a script optioned – to get her motivated again. Another writer I work with resorts to watching underdog movies back to back: Rocky, Rudy, Cinderella Men. He throws in Karate Kid and Remember the Titans on particularly bad days.
The point? You have to prepare for the tough moments with as much focus as you prepare for your impending success. After all, every working writer out there has their story about how close they got to not being able to pay rent, or paying rent but still feeling so dejected they were ready to walk away anyway. Hurdles are part of the road any achievement driven aspirant is going to take. Whether you have a friend to turn to, a writing team, a career coach or a movie that will pull you through it again and again, it’s important that you prepare yourself for the tough moments as well as your success. After all, your long-term career may just depend on it.
- More Writers on the Verge articles by Lee Jessup
- Get a New Story: The Voice of Doubt is Not Truth
- Balls of Steel: Balance
- Get a New Story: Set Smarter Writing Goals
Tools to Help: