The single greatest way to learn how to be a screenwriter is…
Hold that thought while I share the following story from Justin Mark’s essay in Hollywood Reporter titled “My Life as a Screenwriter You’ve Never Heard Of.”
Here’s a day in the life of a writer that you don’t always get to hear about.
It was 5 p.m., and I was playing Call of Duty. Why? Because I wanted to. The phone rang; it was a producer with whom I’d just spent the past two years laboring over a cable pilot, a time-travelly science fiction thing. We’d delivered the final cut to the network, and we were awaiting The Call — the one where you hear that your show, which tested well, is being picked up, that your life is about to change.
But the producer had That Voice. Any experienced writer knows That Voice. Because That Voice means one thing: The network passed. “Hey,” the producer said, “we fought for it till the end. We’ll find something else.” I agreed. And that was that.
Probably not three minutes had elapsed in my game of Call of Duty. Two more minutes to go upstairs and erase my now-dead pilot’s name off the list of projects on my dry-erase board. Two years of effort gone in five minutes.
As I wiped the board clean, I saw another project listed below. Kind of a back-burner thing — I was busy at the time — but I owed the producer a call. So I picked up the phone. Told him I was in. By the next morning, I was back at the keyboard, as if yesterday’s pilot had never happened.
And that, my friends, is what it means to be Just Another Working screenwriter.
So. Lets assume you want to be a writer. You’ve written a screenplay or two. You’re proud of your work, but you’re frustrated because you haven’t “broken in” yet. You’re still working a day job that you hate and you just want to taste the sweeeet success of being a Hollywood screenwriter.
Well, the truth is, your life as an amateur screenwriter isn’t that much different from a professional screenwriter. You’ll still face rejection. You won’t be able to please everyone. You’ll get fired. Your script that you spend two years writing will go nowhere. You’ll get rewritten. Your name won’t make it onto a film. You will fail repeatedly because it’s the nature of any creative business.
So the answer?
The single greatest way to learn how to be a screenwriter is to learn how to fail.
So be proud of your rejections. Be proud of the negative feedback you get on your scripts. You’re only going to get better, and along the way you are learning the necessary skills to face failure and rejection. It never goes away.
It reminds of one of my favorite quotes:
“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill
Learn the ability to keep going. To never lose enthusiasm. To be rejected one day and start a new script the next. Learning these skills now will only make you more successful later. Do you love being a writer? Then every rejection is an opportunity to write something new! Embrace it.
One last bit of encouragement from Doug Chamberlain, writer of Toy Story 2, from the On the Page podcast:
“Don’t quit. If you don’t quit, you will break into the business. Every single friend of mine who I met in either classes or workshops, every single one of them who didn’t quit, without exception, became a professional working writer in this town.” – Doug Chamberlain