The hazardous journey down Contest Road

May 16, 2017
Flat tire in formal attire

A savvy driver is prepared, no matter what they encounter

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.


A writer does what again?

March 24, 2017
typewriter

Just another schmuck with an Underwood

In case you haven’t been following me on social media (which is easily rectified), I’ll post semi-daily updates regarding my progress in writing the latest draft of my current spec.

(Incidentally, just passed the page-75 plot point on the pulp spec)

After I post an update, my network of fellow creatives will offer up their very supportive and encouraging comments.

“Great job!”

“Keep going!”

“I don’t know how you do it!”

I do, and it’s actually a pretty simple formula: I try to write every day. Even if it ends up being just a short amount of time, or all it yields is a single page. Sure, sometimes life gets in the way and I’m not able to write, but there are definitely more days of writing than not-writing.

Writing scripts (preferably my own, but I’m not picky) is what I want to do. More than anything. So I continuously work at it, trying to improve my skills and produce quality material. It’s the only way I know how to get there.

Some might say I currently have the luxury of just writing specs. No pressure. No deadlines. No conflicting sets of notes. But I don’t really see it that way. I treat this like a job because I’m working on making it my job.

To reinforce the whole “marathon, not a sprint” concept, maintaining a daily regiment of writing helps me prepare and get in shape for when it’s time to take on the real thing.

And when that actually happens, I’ll be able to keep up.

(Speaking of which, I’ll be running my first half-marathon of the year this weekend. Once again hoping to hit the 1:55 mark, but breaking 2 hours will be just fine and dandy.)

Mini Bulletin Board time!

-Writer/friend-of-the-blog Mark Sanderson is proud to announce the release of his new book A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success. Mark is also an accomplished screenwriter and script consultant.

-Script consultant/literary manager Whitney Davis will be teaching an 8-week Introduction to Screenwriting course through the Writing Workshops Dallas program beginning on April 4th. Even though the course will be conducted in Dallas, attending via Skype is also an option. Bonus for attending in person – Whitney’s homemade cookies.


Edits, inspiration, and the rinse cycle

February 10, 2017
housewife

Gosh, what a day! My whites are sparkling AND I have a stronger sense of my protagonist’s internal goal!

I’ve mentioned before about my tendency to overwrite, which usually applies to both outline and actual pages. This time around with the pulpy adventure spec is no exception. There’s simply too much going on, so before the amount of material got too overwhelming, some significant editing was needed.

I don’t know how or why I do this, but sometimes there’ll be a scene or sequence that’s more or less a repeat of what’s already happened. Such was the case here. In the overall context of the story, the second one was more important, so thus began the great removal of the first one, along with reinforcing the connection between what came before it and the second one. It actually wasn’t too bad. It tightened up the story much more than anticipated and, in my opinion, kept that energetic momentum going.

My slightly unusual work schedule allows me to dedicate most of the early afternoon to writing, which is occasionally interspersed with some household chores. For this particular instance, it was laundry.

In some ways, I’ve been quite content with my progress, but there was something still nagging at me about it. Things felt…incomplete.

I was somewhere in the middle of that day’s writing session when the washing machine let me know the latest load was finished. While my body went through the motions of hanging stuff on the drying racks, my mind was barreling along a continuous stream of thought.

“What if THIS HAPPENED? Or THIS? Maybe I’m looking at this from the wrong angle. A lot of this has been about the protagonist. What about the antagonist? I don’t want them to come across as a mustache-twirling cartoon villain. Their goal seems too vague. Hey, I wrote a post about that. This is their plan, but why are they doing this? How about THIS? Hey, that’s not bad. Let’s take it one step further and make it THIS. Ooh! This would tie in perfectly to the rest of the story! Hmm. Would this make them see themselves as the hero? Whoa. It sure does. Hokey smokes, I think I’m onto something. I better write this down!”

And I did. It was like the satisfaction you’d get after finding the long-lost last piece of a jigsaw puzzle and snapping it into place. The more I thought about this, the more excited I got about implementing it. In fact, the editing/rewriting is already underway.

I cannot begin to explain what a surge of writing adrenaline (if there is such a thing) this created. There’s a line of dialogue in my western that even to this day still gives me chills. This new idea – same thing.

While all of this will no doubt push back the projected end date for having a completed first draft, this new development is totally worth it.

This is just another example of how inspiration really can strike when you least expect it. Embrace it when it does.

And if you’ve been sitting at your computer, frustrated that the words won’t come, maybe stepping away and doing something completely mundane might provide the solution you seek.

Plus, you’ll get the laundry out of the way, which is always good.


The “sound” of your writing

January 17, 2017
eavesdropping

No! Find your own style of writing. Don’t copy someone else’s.

When somebody reads your script,is there something about the writing that they can tell you’re the one who wrote it? Do you have a certain style or “voice” regarding how your material reads?

Each writer develops their own particular way of not only how they write, but how that material comes across on the page.

When you’re just starting out, maybe you play it safe and keep things simple and straightforward. Or you might try from the get-go to emulate a script or writer you really, really like, because if it worked for them, then it stands to reason that it will undoubtedly work for you in the exact same way. This is occasionally referred to as the Tarantino Syndrome.

There’s nothing wrong with appreciating a pro’s style, but for crying out loud, DO NOT try to duplicate it. That’s how they do it, which is not the same as how you do it. It also smacks of laziness. You want to make a name for yourself, right? So how are you going to do that by writing like somebody else?

Find a way that works for you and stick with it. Hone your writing skills with each draft until every script you offer up is undeniably identifiable as yours.

The more you produce, the more comfortable you’ll get with how you write, along with becoming more confident in your abilities. You’ve put in the work learning the rules, so now you feel ready to see how far you can bend them (but not too much! They can be very fragile at times.).

Soon you’ll have no hesitation to start putting your own spin on things; little touches here and there. Although the usual challenges and obstacles will still be there, you might discover that your overall process of writing has gotten just a little bit easier.


Looking back, planning ahead

December 30, 2016
champagne-toast

Auld Lang Syne and all that

Well, 2016 is pretty much in the books. I hope it was a good year for you, writing-wise.

Mine was okay.

Among the more noteworthy events:

-I completed the first draft for 3 separate scripts. 2 comedies, 1 sci-fi.

-One of those comedies was written, edited and rewritten/revised over 10 days.

-My western made it to the top 15 percent in the Nicholl and was one of the top 100 in the Emerging Screenwriters competition, but did not advance with PAGE or Austin.

-Several read requests from managers and production companies. Unfortunately, everybody passed with the commonly-used “Just not what I’m looking for.”

-Built up my network of talented writers located all over the world, along with numerous getting-to-know-you in-person chats with those in the immediate geographic vicinity.

-Organized and hosted a very successful and enjoyable networking event for screenwriters. In a deli. A block from the Pacific Ocean.

-Took part in script swaps for somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 scripts.

Not a bad compilation.

As for 2017, the usual objectives:

-Along with the aforementioned rewrites, complete the first draft for at least 2 or 3 new scripts.

-Continue the quest for representation. Already a few potentials on the horizon.

-Based on how my western did in the Big 3 contests, I’m torn between seeking professional feedback for one more polish, or just leaving it as is and trying again next year.

-Continue providing notes and doing script swaps.

-Look into hosting another networking event, probably at a bigger venue.

-More networking and establishing connections with more talented writers.

-More getting-to-know-you in-person chats.

-Watch more movies.

-Read more scripts

-Stay confident. Be patient. Not lose hope, even on the shittiest of days.

-Keep trying to make this work. Eyes on the prize.

And a final note to all you loyal readers – thanks for coming along on this rollercoaster ride of a journey. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing about it.

All the best from me to you for a very happy and successful 2017. Fingers remain, as always, firmly crossed that this is The Year It Happens.


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