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?
First, the good/positive news – the rewrite of the comedy spec is complete. However, at 88 pages, it’s a little shorter than I expected. Fortunately, adding in another 4-5 pages shouldn’t be too strenuous.
As part of the effort to recharge my creative batteries before jumping back in, I’ve stepped away from it for a couple of days.
From actually working on that script, anyway.
Since there are a lot of other avenues involved in getting your work out there, I’ve been focusing on some of those, including:
-got some great feedback on query letters, so revised one (along with updating a few lists of potential recipients – always works in progress) and sent a few out.
-submitting some pitches, and just about every one asks for a synopsis. Working on these tends to usually involve me putting in too much story info, then turning around and drastically editing it and shrinking it down to fit on one page. Despite how important this is, I’ve always disliked it.
-jotting down ideas for other scripts. While a nice reminder that I have these waiting in the wings, it’s also quite pleasant to take a look at stuff I haven’t seen in a while. Some are still in the development stage, and others are older scripts due for a massive overhaul.
-the maintenance and upkeep of connections with other writers and creatives. Like with the scripts, some are from the past, and some are brand new. Can’t go wrong with keeping your network healthy.
-reading scripts and watching movies. True, not necessarily writing, but definitely affiliated with it. It’s especially gratifying when the script comes from a writer who knows what they’re doing. As for the movies, that’s been a mix of the popular (Wakanda forever) and the Oscar nominees.
The point of all of this is that there’s much more to building a career in screenwriting than just writing scripts; it involves writing of all sorts for many other things. While I already dedicate a good portion of my available time to working on scripts, I also realize and accept that these other things are in just as much need of my attention.
And an added bonus – many of these things are not one time only. They’ll be done again and again, so the more I do them now, the easier they’ll be to do when the need arises.
Except for the one-pagers. I’ll always struggle with those.
Last time the subject was how we did, writing-wise, during 2017. Today, it goes beyond simply what you’re hoping to accomplish to “So what are you doing about it?”
Just a few days into the new year, and how much writing have you done? Are you adhering to the guidelines you set up for yourself? Making the most out of the time you have available? Are you saying to yourself “No more Youtube! No more (insert preferred form of social media here)! I got me some writing to do!”, followed by actually turning off that unwanted source of input and applying proverbial pen to digital paper?
Jeez, I sure hope so.
Repeat the process on as close to a daily basis as you can get, and you might be pleasantly surprised at the results. You might have more time to work with during the day than you realize, so why not make the most of it?
Long-term goals are all fine and dandy, but continuously crossing the finish line for smaller (and some might say more realistic) ones can also yield some solid results. It’s one thing to say “I’m going to write four scripts this year!” and another to say “I’m going to write three pages today!”, and you’d have to admit the second one is just a little bit more achievable.
Additionally, if you stick to that schedule and maintain the same kind of daily output, you could potentially hit at least some of your long-term goals a little sooner. Write three to four pages a day every day, and within a matter of weeks (or maybe a little more than a month), you’re the proud parent of a completed draft. Sure, it might need a lot of work, but the important thing to remember here is : YOU DID IT.
As 2017 wound down, I knew what I wanted to happen for me, writing and career-wise, in 2018. Now that we’re almost a whole week in, I’ve been making an effort to try and get something done on both fronts every day.
For the writing, it’s anything and everything, running the gamut between outlining, rewriting, editing, proofreading, or even just jotting down an idea for a scene in the under-construction outline for a story I haven’t looked at since April. Working with some very quality notes for two scripts, I’m actually ahead of schedule with rewriting one, and gearing up to dive into the second when that’s done.
For the career, it’s about finding more avenues to get myself and my scripts out there. I’m not just pitching stories; I’m pitching a storyteller as a potentially invaluable resource. There will be plenty of “no”s along the way, but all it takes is that one “yes”, right?
And once again, let’s tout the benefits of networking; making and maintaining your connections. You never know which one could lead to something.
While I’m still doing some of the things I’ve always done, there was also that feeling that new and different approaches were necessary. So as I work my way through all the assorted processes involved with writing scripts, I’m also navigating the awkward transitional phase of a few readjustments.
No matter what, the end goal remains the same. As always, fingers remain firmly crossed that this is the year it happens.
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.
I’ve been writing screenplays for quite a number of years, but only in the past, say five to six have I shown some significant improvement.
More than a few readers who’ve read my last three scripts have commented that each one displays a step up in quality a compared to its predecessor. Which is very nice to hear.
Feeling pretty confident in my skills and material, I submitted some of them to a few of the high-profile contests (or at least the ones that really matter). The results were less than encouraging. Don’t get me wrong. Top 15 percent in the Nicholl is nice, but it’s still falling short of expectations.
You can have the most incredible script you’ve ever written, enter it in a contest, and chances are it might still go nowhere. Contests are just one way in.
But I digress.
I figured there was nothing more that could be done with the scripts, so I might as well file them away and move on, using them for occasional query letters.
While my scripts may not be similar to those that win contests (can you imagine me writing a coming-of-age story set in 70s Reno?), they’re still fun, entertaining reads, and my passion and enthusiasm for them continue to burn strong and bright.
Like with my writing skills, they’re good, but can still be better.
That’s why I’ve decided to do what I can to make that actually happen. I’ve already gotten several sets of notes on some of my scripts, and most mention the same issues, along with some potential fixes.
As always, I have the luxury of picking and choosing which suggestions to implement, and I sincerely hope the end result is a collection of scripts of decidedly higher quality.
It’s been quite an effort for me to get my writing to get to the level it is now, and spending a little more time on trying to make it better will be definitely worth the effort.