Yet another busy week around Maximum Z HQ, including quite a bit of doing script notes, polishing the latest draft of the comedy spec and punching forward on the horror-comedy outline.
Fun stuff all around.
It also included my western placing in the top 15 percent of this year’s Nicholl, which is the second time for this script, and third overall. Not bad, but still not enough to get to the quarterfinals. At first I was feeling kind of down about it, but realized (and was reminded by more than a few colleagues) that a much larger number of scripts didn’t even make it that far, so I should still regard this as a positive.
Suffice to say, it looks like there’s a little more tweaking in store so as to get this script and at least one other ready for next year (along with a few other top-tier contests).
Since this blog recently hit the 9-year mark, of course there are some previous posts of relevant content.
Results are slowly trickling out for some of the big writing contests, and while hopes were high for my revised western, it once again failed to make the quarterfinals for PAGE.
My immediate reaction – that’s it. I’m done. No longer will I subject myself to that kind of humiliation!
And of course, later the same day, I was figuring out whether or not I should look into any further tweaking so as to get it ready for next year.
More than a few writing colleagues and connections voiced similar comments, ranging from the frustration of their lack of advancing in this contest, to the murkiness regarding the quality of contest readers overall, to the subjectiveness of it all, and whether contests are even worth it.
As you’d imagine, there’s a wide spectrum of opinions about all of these.
I dug up this post from last year which I believe sums things up quite nicely.
Contests aren’t the only way to break in, but a win or very high placement can help, or at least potentially open a door or two. It’s just one of the many routes a writer can take. Some writers are even fortunate enough to not even have to do them. I am not one of them.
A key component of all of this is persistence. There’ll be lots of disappointments, which can be…disappointing. And frustrating. Oh so frustrating. But learning to overcome those is just as important as learning how to tell a good story.
All you can do is send your script out there, hope for the best, and move on to whatever’s next. If things work out, great. If not, yeah, it sucks, but it’s not the end of the world. It might feel like it, but it’s not.
Try to look at it as a learning experience – “How can I make this better?” Also a question with no easy answer, but how willing are you to put in the time and effort necessary to accomplish that?
As 2017 wraps up, it’s only natural to engage in a little self-evaluation.
How many of your writing goals were you able to check off this year? Most of them? Some? A small-but-decent fraction? Hopefully you don’t need to mark the box labeled “None”.
One of mine was to complete at least three scripts. I managed two drafts, a revised outline, and one and a half rewrite/polishes (one still a WIP). Pretty solid results. A very hearty thanks to everybody who devoted the time and effort to give me notes. I hope my notes for yours were just as helpful.
Using those notes and the results of a few conversations, I think I’ve been able to up the quality of my writing a few notches. It still has a few levels to go, but it definitely seems better than it was. The next round of drafts should be really interesting, both in terms of working on them and how the end results turn out.
I wanted to read more scripts, which actually happened, but not entirely in the way I expected. I didn’t do as much reading of scripts for the purpose of entertainment or gleaning some helpful guidance because I ended up reading over 100 scripts for several contests. Don’t know if I’ll do it again, but still glad I did it.
On the gaining representation front, lots of query emails were sent. Maybe one response out of ten expressed interest in reading the script, with each ending with a “thanks but no thanks” or “just not what I’m looking for”. A bit disappointing, but not totally unexpected. Along the way, I also worked on being more strategic about the process, researching potential recipients and re-drafting the query to (in theory) really sell the concept of the script.
And what would an ambitious screenwriter’s year be without contests? My western made it to the seminfinals of a few smaller contests and the top 20 percent for the Nicholl (not too shabby), but once again whiffed it for PAGE. I’ve become somewhat disillusioned regarding contests, so will most likely really cut back on them. Maybe just stick to the big three.
There was the most pleasant experience of going to Los Angeles to attend a table read for one of my scripts. I like the idea of doing one or two of them locally, so looking into that for 2018.
I hosted two screenwriting networking events, which connected me with some very talented writers from right here in the Bay Area. Definitely plan on doing that again at least once this year. Highly recommended, especially if you’re not in Los Angeles and want to expand your own personal network.
On the half-marathon front, I ran five races this year – the most ever in one year for me. Still averaging about two hours, which isn’t bad – for me, but the quest for 1:55 continues. Already signed up for three next year, with maybe one or two more expected to be added into the mix. Like with screenwriting, improvement takes time, effort and dedication. A good pair of socks and strong knees also come in handy, and that applies to both.
Finally, this blog. As always, a great experience doing what I can to offer advice to help other writers, recounting my experiences and the lessons I got out of it, and presenting some interviews with some truly interesting and amazing creative folks. I am truly grateful to everybody who’s stopped by to take a look, like a post and make a comment.
But it’s also been exhausting. Producing posts twice a week on top of dedicating time to write and make a career out of it has simply gotten to be too much. I still enjoy doing the blog, but want to refocus my energies. So as of January 1st, I’ll be reducing my weekly output to Fridays only, and sometimes even that might be iffy. It’ll most likely be on a week-by-week basis.
I hope you had a most productive 2017 and wish you all the best for an even better 2018.
First-round results for two of the biggest, high-profile screenwriting contests have been released within the past week, and the pattern for my western’s performance in both has once again repeated itself.
Total whiff for PAGE, and top 20 percent for the Nicholl. (I’m not doing Austin this year)
I didn’t get notes from the former, and based on the ones I got last year for the latter, am not that curious as to why it placed where it did.
My initial reaction was, naturally, disappointment, but this year is markedly different in what came immediately after.
There’ve been days where the agony, frustration and just plain shittiness of things not working out was so strong I’d seriously contemplate just walking away. After all, that would be one less member of the competition, right?
But that’s simply not an option – for any of us. Our desire to succeed as writers burns too bright.
I may not have done as well as I’d hoped with these contests, so instead of shrugging my shoulders and saying “Oh well. Better luck next year,” I plan on doing whatever I can to increase my chances. With a vengeance.
Gone is the wallowing in a blessedly brief mindset of “poor, poor pitiful me”.
In its place – a reinvigorated drive to buckle down, work even harder and write scripts so fucking amazing those readers won’t know what hit them.
I don’t think I can. I KNOW I CAN.
Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead, chums.
-A new addition and a return appearance on the bulletin board this week:
-Filmmakers Caitlin Stedman and Kayla Ditlefsen have launched a crowdfunding project for their short film Unattainable. They’re around the 60 percent mark, so donate if you can!
-The crowdfunding for filmmaker Steve Davis’s No Glory continues, with about a month to go. Steve’s a talented guy, and this sounds like a fantastic project. Donate if you can!
I’ve lost count of how many screenwriting contests there are. A whole lot, I believe. But out of all of them, only a handful actually mean anything in terms of helping build one’s career.
The Nicholl. Austin. PAGE. There are others of high prominence, but these three are the ones that really matter.
This isn’t to slight the smaller or lesser-known contests, but someone who’s a finalist in the Nicholl probably has a better shot at being able to use that to their advantage than, say, the Greater Cedar Rapids Screenplay Contest (not that such a thing actually exists, but you get the idea).
As evidenced on my My Scripts page, I’ve done moderately well in some of the bigs, but have also totally fizzled out. I’ve also been fortunate to have done well in some of the second-tier competitions. Every year yields different results.
Sometimes the first thoughts that race through your head when you read that email from the contest organizer that includes the word “Regretfully” somewhere near the beginning makes you think “Does this mean my writing is lousy?”
No. It means it didn’t click/connect with the reader or readers from that contest. A lot of the contests give you at least two reads. Sometimes I’ll receive praise from the first reader, only to have the second one not like it, thereby stopping it in its tracks. Or both readers like it, but not enough to advance it to the next round. Nothing I can do about it. C’est la vie, and better luck next year.
And even if you win, or at least place highly, in a high-profile contest, that’s no guarantee to getting work. I know a Nicholl finalist who had zero traction with their script, as opposed to the PAGE winner who is now super-busy with assigments.
I know writers who’ve never won a contest, and they got work. I know writers who’ve never entered a contest at all, and they’ve gotten work. How? Because the writing wasn’t just good; it was really, really good. That’s what it comes down to. That and somebody liked it enough to want to do something with it or with the writer.
A few years ago, I was a lot more likely to enter almost any contest. And there weren’t even as many then as there are now. Time and experience has shown me that, yes, it’s a nice validation to get that certificate from that small contest you’d never heard of before you entered, but how much did it actually do to help you get your career going?
A lot of contests offer “industry exposure” to the winners, and you do get that – to a point, and it’s probably a safe bet not to the extent you imagine. Your script might get checked out by maybe a handful of reps and production companies, and even then there’s still no guarantee anybody will be interested. I’m speaking from experience on this one.
Contests are just one of the ways in. As someone who’s in it for the long haul, I’ll continue to try my luck with the big ones while also exploring other avenues. Whatever it takes.
And no matter what contest you may have entered this year, I wish you the best of luck. Except for the ones I did. Then all bets are off and it’s every person for themselves.