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I’ve been perusing and occasionally posting on The Black Board – blcklst.com’s forums and had the pleasure of meeting writer Sutinder Bola.  We were discussing the idea of success and dealing with rejection in screenwriting and he posted the following inspiring statements.  Reposted here with his permission:

I was at the London Screen Writers Festival in 2010 and Tim Bevan of Working Title Films was doing a Q&A. He’s produced some of the biggest films in the last 20 years. Check him out on iMDB.

Even he said life in the movie business is a struggle. Every picture that gets made has to overcome “No” after “No” after “No”. But every “No” is one step closer to the magic “YES”.

You’ve just got to keep going, rejection is part of the job, it’s just like rewriting, you learn to live with it and eventually get better at handling it.

I also went to a Q&A at the British Film Institute featuring Simon Beaufoy (writer of The Full Monty, Slumdog Millionaire and 127 hours). He said one of the specs he feels most proud of is sitting in his drawer at home because nobody ever wanted to make it. Sometimes thats just how the cookie crumbles.

I graduated from Business School with a BA in Marketing and an MSC in Strategic Marketing and have worked in marketing for nearly 15 years. I’ve had a really good career, I’m proud of what I’ve achieved.

But I can honestly say I never felt anywhere near as good as I did when I finished the first draft of my first script. Or the 2nd draft. Or the latest draft that is being polished for The Black List.

I write because I know deep down it’s what I am supposed to do. Sure, I want to make a breakthrough and make a career out of it. And I am determined to do it. But if I don’t, I will always write. It’s what makes me feel good, it’s the best way for me to express how I see the world and what I feel about what I see.

I consider myself to be one of the few people in the world (but one of the many on TBB) who actually know what they want to do with their lives because 95% of people don’t.

Whether you sell a script or not the fact that you showed the confidence, discipline and perseverance to write one means you have already succeeded. I know I have.

You can find Sutinder on twitter.

 

Dick Van Dyke looks like he can pull it off, but he also had the benefit of a pre-recorded soundtrack.

Dick Van Dyke looks like he can pull it off, but he also had the benefit of a pre-recorded soundtrack.

I believe it’s very difficult to be successful at any one thing if you are doing many things.

And I get it, you’re creative. You’re talented. You can sing, dance, play guitar, act, draw, sculpt, and write. And it’s sexy to be a Renaissance (wo)man, a multi-hyphenate . But you’re not going to reach those 10,000 hours to be an expert at any one of these if you are splitting your time amongst all of them.

And the truth is no job is JUST that job anymore. Success means you also have to market yourself and network and be seen on social media. And more than likely all of that in addition to a day-job. There’s just not enough hours in a day.

So how do you choose your “one thing?”

1. Which one fulfills you the most?

Which one can you NOT not do? Which creative passion hurts the most to let go of? Which one do you find the most satisfaction, not in the results, but in the process? Which one do you dissapear into and find yourself thinking “where did the time go?”

2. Which one have you found the most success at?

There’s probably a reason for that success. Maybe it’s natural talent, or maybe it’s because you’ve put more time into it than the others. Either way, previous success is a good barometer for what you need to be doing.

3. Which one can you see yourself doing ten years from now?

Maybe playing in a band is something fun while you’re in your 20’s but do you wanna be doing it in your 40’s? Then why put so much energy into it now? We’ve only go so many hours on this earth, lets get to it!

It should be noted that I don’t take my own advice on this. I run a poster company, a freelance design business, co-run a production company, write essays for this blog, and write movies and comic books. But that’s at least just two industries – design & film. And the design stuff pays the bills, my day job. The writing also pays some bills, just much smaller ones. And I’m working on “slimming down.”

What about you guys? Did you used to stretch yourself thin? How did you focus in on your “one thing?”

My good pal Derek asks:

In writing novels/stories, I find I have a hard time letting dialogue be dialogue. I always want to add adverbs or describe facial expressions. I’m sure you’d have some good insight into this as a screenwriter.

Something I feel I’ve improved on is “showing instead of telling”, which obviously adds a great deal to storytelling, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on this as well.

This seems as good a time as any given the recent death of Elmore Leonard to revisit his “10 Rules of Good Writing:”

  1. Never open a book with weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” … he admonished gravely.
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip

I’m not sure I have much more to add except I think you’re on the right path there.

As a screenwriter, I can’t show a character’s thought process (and facial expressions are up to the actor), so I have to rely on their decision-making to show what kind of person they are. It helps that a character making decisions is a lot more interesting cinematically than a character blabbing on in some kind of voice over.

I do use describing words in my scripts, but it’s mostly for tone and voice.

As a prose writer, you have a lot more freedom, but I think those principles still apply. Go crazy with your vocabulary to get across your voice, but try to limit your character work to actions.

Which leads to the second part of your point on showing not telling.

Let’s say you’ve got a character and his biggest value is he never lies. If you do your job well, then he, as a character, nor you, as a writer, have to tell the audience this.

His wife asks him if her jeans make her look fat. He says “well, yeah.”

He finds out his employee tells a small lie (called in sick, went to the ball game). He fires the employee on the spot.

You’ve established a character trait by showing his decision-making which is so much more affective than him telling someone “I don’t like lying.”

And off-topic, but the great part about setting up characters this way is you can play with audience expectations. “Oooo, someone just lied to him, what’s he going to do?” or “Oooo now he’s put in a situation where he has to lie, what’s he going to do?”

And then you have an opportunity to show character change, if he does one thing in the beginning of the story and the opposite by the end.

Check out Derek’s writing and blog here.

How do you guys handle “showing not telling” and simplicity in writing? Any other Q’s? Post them in the comments below.

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Ryan Ellis Boyd recently asked me to share a writing technique with him over on his fantastic blog, The Empty Page.

Here’s what I came up with:

FIND A COLLABORATOR.

It doesn’t have to be another writer, but it can be. On my wall, I’ve got 6 current collaborators listed. Two are artists that I’m working with on comic book projects. One is a producer that I’m working with to option a book to adapt. One is a co-writer on a screenplay. One is a co-author on a self-help book project. And one is a local director who gives me notes on a feature he wants to direct.

I list these projects above my desk so that I’m always working on one of them, and I keep in constant contact with these collaborators. They give me notes, they meet with me regularly and keep me on task. I can assign a deadline and have to stick to it because someone is always waiting on it.

And how do you find these collaborators?

All of the above were friends before they were collaborators. Though, some I sought out because I liked what they were doing. I think this is an important thing to keep in mind – look for a friend first, a collaborator second. It also helps to know that someone is going to be a pleasure to work with before you’re stuck working with them.

All are massively talented at what they do and most are at or about the same level of success as myself. They all bring something to the table that I can’t (and hopefully vice versa).

And most importantly, I tailored my work to their sensibilities and involved them very early in the process to give them a sense of ownership. They’re not employees, they’re partners. You want them as excited about the project as you are.

What about you guys? Any collaboration success stories? Or for you loners out there, what helps you stay on task?

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“Just when you think you’ve reached the epicenter, the VIP room within the VIP room, a shift occurs, a reversal of perspective, and you find that you’re on the inside looking out with much the same sense of longing and displacement you felt when you were looking in. There’s always another, cooler party behind the next locked door.” – Walter Kirn on attending the Oscars after the film adaptation of his book, Up in the Air, was nominated for Best Picture.

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