Just the pep talk I/you/we need

pecan pie
Where else could you find comfort, reassurance, and tranquility, all on the same plate? 

(Author’s note – I wrote a lot of this earlier in the week, but circumstances of a confidence-instilling nature have occurred since then. I considered scrapping it and starting over, but thought the content was still relevant, so opted to stick with it. Enjoy.)

Let’s face it. Trying to make it as a screenwriter is an almost impossible task.

Emphasis on “almost”.

It can be done. Remember, every single writer whose name is up on there on the screen had to go through a lot of the same things you and I have. Probably even more.

The sad truth is that you will have to endure a lot of frustration before you start to even come close to achieving the results you want. And that frustration can easily lead to anger and depression and feeling like you’re wasting your time and this is never going to work out.

I say this because I’ve been that writer. Many times. This week was no exception. Several writer colleagues had some truly awesome things happen for them, and deservedly so.

Still, I can’t help but feel a slight pang of jealousy about it, but that’s all on me. In no way would I ever intend to divert the spotlight away from their success. They earned it, so they are more than entitled to enjoy it.

As for me, sure, I might wallow in self-pity for a little bit, but time and experience have helped me “get over it” faster, but the hurt does tend to linger.

Writing might be the last thing I want to do, but it’s actually been pretty therapeutic. Shifting your attention to another project – maybe one you haven’t worked on in months – helps with the emotional recovery process. Sometimes I’ll vent to another writer; usually someone who’s been through the exact same scenario.

Once I get all of that out of my system, the drive to succeed once again takes over, I get back on the horse and pick up where I left off – because the only way I’m going to make it is to keep trying, and that the only person who can make it happen is me.

That’s how it is for all of us. You’re not alone.

There will be so many situations where things don’t go your way. In the beginning, it feels like somebody’s stomping on your soul. But you eventually learn to accept that it happens, which helps toughen you up for the next time, of which there will also be many.

So on that note…

There will be a lot of times you just want to give up, or feel like the only word you ever hear is “no”, or have it seem like you’re the only writer on the face of the Earth not making progress.

Corny as it may sound, the best piece of advice I can offer is to keep at it. You will definitely hear “no” a thousand times before that one significant “yes”, but you won’t get it at all if you don’t keep going.

This is not a career path for the easily-defeated or the thin-skinned. I’ve had people tell me my story ideas were stupid and my writing was awful. One memorable character even thought my script was so terrible they were certain it was some kind of practical joke. Comments like that sting, but only temporarily. You learn to ignore them to the point they don’t even faze you anymore.

I’ve had the good fortune to make lots of connections with very talented people, many of whom have been more than willing to help me get closer to that goal.

I’m still here, still trying, determined as ever. And I sincerely hope you do the same.

Happy to be done with it

jump-for-joy
Yeah, kind of feels like this

Another chapter has closed in my ongoing quest to become a working writer, or at least an annoying wrinkle has been ironed out.

Following the latest but not-surprisingly disappointing results, my involvement with the  “pay to pitch” practice has come to an end. A person can only take so much before totally abandoning the ship in question.

Simply put: I ain’t doin’ it no more.

How did I end up here? Easy. Desperation.

Despite all my efforts on several fronts, nothing was happening with any of my scripts. I got to the point that I’d try anything.

So I tried this. A few times, each with the same result – PASS, accompanied with a few classic chestnuts. “Couldn’t get excited about the story.” “Didn’t really care about the characters.” “No specificity of the throughline.” (This last one will stick with me until the end of time.)

I even went so far as to do one via video streaming, but technical issues really mucked things up. It’s kind of tough to pitch to someone when they can see you, but YOU CAN’T SEE THEM. Did the best I could, but still another PASS.

I got a survey/questionnaire about this one, and didn’t pull any punches in airing my frustration about it, adding how I couldn’t in good conscience recommend the service to anybody.

A representative contacted me soon afterward, expressing their sympathy and understanding, as well as an explanation that “their policies regarding responses were different now”, and offered a free pitch. I considered it, and decided to hold off unless something too irresistible came along. The rep also offered to help me with the pitch so as to get maximum results.

A few months went by, and what seemed like a solid match popped up. I contacted the rep, asking for their help, which they provided in the form of suggested edits. Each subsequent draft had to be uploaded to a file-storing program for the rep to read it, but I didn’t know if each new draft was replacing the old one, or just sitting there next to it. My emails to the rep were going unanswered, and the deadline was drawing near fast. In the end, there was nothing I could do.

The deadline came and went. Days went by, and no response. Days turned to weeks, and still nothing. As it neared the 2-month mark, I’d decided that was a sufficient amount of time and sent an email to the rep asking what had happened (plus a copy to the rep’s supervisor, just in case).

The response was almost immediate – from the supervisor. This was the first they’d heard about my situation, apologies were offered, along with the promise to give my pitch top priority with that company the next time. I said I’d be in touch.

A few hours later, I got an email from the original rep, who informed me they were no longer with the company (their departure most likely around the same time as, if not before, my original deadline).

Jump ahead a few days, and a response to my original pitch arrived from the company in question.

5/5 in every category, save for a 3/5 in Character Obstacles (which was one of the things I’d cut based on the rep’s suggestions).

PASS.

I sent another email to the supervisor, informing them about this (since I’m sure they weren’t even aware of it) and officially calling it quits. I won’t hold my breath waiting for a response.

What bothers me the most about this whole experience is how easily I bought into the false hope that was being sold. Like I said, I was feeling frustrated and desperate, and this seemed like my only option, which of course it wasn’t.

There are very rough days where I get extremely depressed about my lack of progress, and going through something like this doesn’t help – especially when it keeps happening over and over again. You learn real fast how many hits you can endure before wanting to simply give up completely.

But I’m not at that point just yet.

A lot of writer friends have offered up words of encouragement, and a few positive things have happened recently so as to improve my spirits, or at least renew my belief in my writing skills. Things will take a turn for the better.

The marathon continues, one step at a time. But I won’t be paying for it anymore.

 

Don’t open that door!

doors

Another busy week around Maximum Z HQ, with a significant part of it involving waiting to hear about the potential future of some of my projects.*

I hate the waiting. It opens the door to allow fear and anxiety to stroll on in.

A friend who’s a director put it very succinctly: It’s all about control. A lot of that stuff is out of your hands now, which makes you nervous about the outcome. You have to redirect your attention to anything and everything for which you can take charge, and do something with it. The sooner the better.

How absolutely true, and it was exactly the reminder I needed.

In my case, that comes down to the work and all things related. It’s easy to forget how many things with which I’m involved. My own stuff (which is a growing category unto itself), giving notes, networking, sending out queries, just to name a few.

Sure, it would be great for everybody to respond quickly, preferably with news of a positive nature, but it doesn’t work that way. These things are known to drag out for excruciatingly long periods of time, and me fretting over it is the last thing I need.

I wouldn’t even be surprised if I get an email in a few months about one of these that I’ll probably have totally forgotten. It’s happened before.

Keeping busy really does help you stay focused and keep the negatives at bay. It might not be easy, but do what you can to slam that door shut, lock it and throw away they key.

 

*heard back from a producer soon after posting this. They passed on my script, which sucks, but will now re-double my efforts with the other projects.

 

Networking: more than just a group thing

“Working on the rewrite while I wait to hear from that manager. How about you guys?”

Despite the fact that writing, for the most part, is a solitary activity, a lot of us take great pleasure in being connected with other writers.

They can be the invaluable support, guidance and motivation we sometimes need to give us that little extra boost. Having a problem and being able to tap into this kind of resource in order to find a solution is priceless.

We get access to all the goings-on, good and bad, that happen among us and our peers.

While I’ve seen my fair share of both, I’m glad to say that a majority have been of a positive nature. This person got a manager. That person finished their latest draft. That other person began working with another writer on a new project. I’m thrilled for all of these developments, and offer up congratulations and words of encouragement. Each and every one of these people has worked hard to reach this particular milestone.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous. That sense of longing and wondering “Will I eventually/ever get to announce some good news of my own?” keeps nagging at me, so I continue to buckle down and redouble my efforts in the hopes of making it happen a little sooner. Some days it’s really tough to be patient.

On the other side of the coin are the not-so-great things. This person’s script got a pass from a high-profile agent. That person is suffering from a severe case of writer’s block (or worse – depression). That other person is going through some tough things in their personal life. These also happen to a lot of us, resulting in messages of sympathy, understanding and moral support.

I’ve experienced this too. When times are tough, you find out who’s really in your corner, and are glad to know it.

But I wouldn’t have any of this kind of support if I hadn’t sought it out. There’s a reason it’s called “social” media. I’ve been able to connect with so many awesome people because of what I’ve read or seen about them online.

Is there a writer (professional or peer) whose work you enjoy? Someone whose tweets always make you chuckle? Send ’em a note telling them that.

Even better – are they in your area? When I learn about a local writer, I’ll offer up the opportunity for a face-to-face chat over coffee or lunch. I’ve also done this with folks just visiting the Bay Area. This has resulted in some great ongoing working relationships.

Everybody’s career advances at its own pace, and all the fantastic help and support we get on days good and bad are major pluses. Many writers are introverts at heart, but you have to make the effort to put yourself out there and get to know somebody.

It gets easier the more you do it, and you’ll be glad you did.

Taking comedy seriously

My objective
My objective

It’s been a long time since I attempted to write a comedy, but the process has begun and I plan to see this through to the end. (the latest – hit the page 10/inciting incident plot point as of yesterday.)

Quite a challenge, to say the least.

For the time being, my objective is to produce two pages a day. Three if I’m on a roll. “That’s all?” you may ask. Yep, because a lot of that time is spent going back and fine-tuning the jokes.

I’ll crank out a scene, which usually includes a first pass at the jokes, then rewrite them multiple times until I think each one works. I’ve yet to hit the bullseye the first time out, nor do I expect to. It takes as long as it takes. I’m not in a rush.

If you don’t write comedy, you’d be surprised how tough it is to come up with a joke that isn’t a cliche, or has been heard before. Which is why it’s been such an unexpected positive result to discover that each day it gets a little easier. Not much, but just enough to make it seem slightly less daunting.

But add to that how comedy is subjective and everybody’s sense of humor varies, and we’re right back to extremely daunting.

What”s proven to be a huge help has been reading other comedy scripts and watching a lot of comedies to study how those jokes are done. I’ve really come to appreciate the Tina Fey/30 Rock-style, in that the joke, no matter how absurd it may be, fits in seamlessly and organically. Counter to this is the old-fashioned way (“Who cares what’s going on? Here’s a joke!” (rim-shot)), which feels forced and shoe-horned in, and is often not that funny. A cautionary example of what to avoid.

I suppose it’s even possible my daily output could potentially increase by an additional one to two pages, but I don’t want to strain myself.

-Thanks to everybody who contacted me after the developments of last week. It’s nice to know you’re not alone when things get dark, and a lot of those same people are more than willing to help you pull yourself out of it. A combination of working on the comedy, plus some encouraging feedback on the western (and its logline) have really helped put me in a better mood.