Thursday, January 21, 2010

Still with me?

I know my screenwriting posts are perceived by some as discouraging. I have no doubt that this blog would be MUCH more popular if it were the super-positive kind, telling people that we're all special snowflakes, that anybody can be a writer, that talent and hard work are irrelevant and all you need are some "ideas," a positive attitude, a little networking, and a fervent belief in "The Secret."

But this blog isn't for those people who think writing is an easy ticket to a quick buck, or that Walter Mitty-esque daydreaming will magically result in impressive accomplishments. This blog is for the people who are serious about writing and want an unvarnished picture of what they're up against, so they can be fully prepared (and, hopefully, triumph against the odds).

When I started out, pretty much the only information you could find about the business of screenwriting came from so-called "gurus" who would tell aspiring writers whatever nonsense they wanted to hear, in the hopes that the aspirants would buy some simplistic "how to write and sell your screenplay" book/course/etc. Nobody who wants your money is going to tell you that the only way to write and sell a screenplay is by putting in many years of grueling work...any more than a diet-book guru is going to tell you that the only way to get in shape is by eating healthy food and exercising consistently, or a "get rich" guru is going to tell you that very hard work and careful saving is the only way for a regular Joe to become a millionaire.

The one exception to all the screenwriting hype was the excellent site, run by A-list screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio. My favorite column was a slightly tongue-in-cheek piece by Terry Rossio called "Throw in the Towel." Read it; he's certainly a much better (and funnier) writer than I am.

I think I'd be doing the serious aspiring screenwriter a disservice if I didn't paint an accurate picture of the overwhelming difficulty of this endeavor. But please understand that I'm not saying these things to be discouraging! I'm saying them because I want you -- the person who is really serious about doing this -- to succeed. In any difficult pursuit, you need to know how high the bar is set and what obstacles you'll likely face, so you can plan your strategy. Because screenwriting looks so deceptively easy from the outside, a lot of aspirants become frustrated when they try to break in without a clear strategy and solid preparation, and they run smack into a brick wall they didn't even know was there.

There's a difference between telling someone their dream will be difficult to achieve, and telling them it's impossible. If you've read all my posts about how long and hard you'll have to work, how much you'll have to sacrifice, how much stupidity and ignorance you'll have to endure, and how (even when you finally succeed) you'll still be underpaid and under-appreciated, and you're still here, saying "fine, bring it on, I'm tough, I can totally handle that," then I have great hopes for you. Because talent can only take you so far; you need to be a fighter, too.

And here you are: Unflinching. Determined.

Knock 'em dead, fighter.


  1. I had read "Throw in the Towel" after a week of reading all of Rossio's articles last year, and it damn near brought me to tears. It's so long, didn't know where it would end.

    I've never seen or been involved in a more subjective craft, where so many have something to sell you (even if they have no credentials), that had such terrible odds, and was full of throngs of disillusioned people debating useless issues on blogs.

    In the same, there are generous individuals like you and Rossio sharing info, free of charge, so that's cool.

  2. Re: "throngs of disillusioned people debating useless issues"

    So, so true. Honestly, this is why I don't visit screenwriting bulletin boards any more. For me, nothing sucks the joy and enthusiasm from writing more than the rancor and ignorance of sites like those.

    In my observation, the people who know it's a subjective craft with terrible odds fare better psychologically, and end up having a better chance at success. Conversely, it's the people who see a few bad movies and decide, "Hey, if that crap sells then screenwriting must be easy money! I'm gonna crank out a script and make a million bucks!" -- those are the people who freak out when their early efforts fail to sell. Rather then reassess their assumptions about how "easy" it all is, they take to ranting on bulletin boards about how it's obviously just a crapshoot, or all just nepotism, or all just...well, everything except a hard craft and a complicated business! :-)