By Paul Zeidman
I’ve been working on establishing a career as a screenwriter for several years. It hasn’t been an easy journey. Progress is gradual, sometimes moving forward at a truly glacial pace, but at least it’s moving.
I always say that with every draft of every script, I feel like I get a little bit closer to achieving that goal of being a working writer. Until then, I toil along, constantly striving to improve and produce some kickass quality material.
And I know I’m not alone in this. Venturing through social media and online forum communities, I see similar comments from countless other writers. A goal sought by many which only a few will accomplish.
Everybody’s journey is different, and each one takes a different amount of time. When I read something like “I’ve only been writing for three years and just sold my fourth script!”, or “23-year-old scribe’s spec hits top of the Black List, sells for high-six-figures 5 minutes later!”, after my initial thought of “Lord, just strike me down now,” the self-doubt and pessimism kick things off. Am I doing something wrong? Does my writing really suck that much? Why them and not me?
Then logic and rationality enter the picture. Maybe they happened to have the right kind of script the right kind of producer was looking for exactly at that right moment. It happens.
Finally, practicality and acceptance show up. So your script wasn’t what they were looking for. That’s only one producer/agent/manager. There are A LOT more out there.
I’m also connected with a lot of writers who are seeing things happen with their scripts - options, production deals, leading to writing assignments. Some of them have been trying for just as long, if not longer, than I have. What do they all have in common? They kept trying, both with the writing and their careers.
Like my dad always says, “Persevere.” It all starts with you. How bad do you want it and what are you willing to do to get there? Enough to put in the work to write and fine-tune your script (through as many drafts as it takes), and then do whatever you can to get it out there (contests, queries, etc.). If you don’t, who will?
How many of these have you heard, in one form or another?
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
“You’ve got to hear a thousand ‘no’s before that first ‘yes.”
“The only secret formula is hard work.”
“It only took me twenty years to be an overnight success.”
These quotes and sayings, often heard by aspiring and ambitious screenwriters, should also serve as not-so-gentle reminders about the steep uphill battle that is trying to make it as a professional screenwriter.
We all know this isn’t an easy industry to break into to begin with, and it definitely takes time to learn how to do it the right way, let alone professionally. Yes, it sucks, but that’s the way it is. Rant and raise a fuss all you want, but it won’t change anything.
All you can do is keep at it. Just because somebody else succeeded sooner and faster than you did doesn’t mean it can’t still happen for you. It probably wasn’t easy for them either. They may have been struggling along for a long time before this, just like you. All you’re seeing is the end result.
I’ve had experienced writers and industry pros react very favorably to my material, so I truly believe the kind of stuff I write will eventually find a good home. Of course I’d rather it was sooner than later, but the more I work at it, the better chance it will happen sooner.
It’s a lot easier to give up than to keep trying. Even though it’s been a long, difficult journey, I prefer to keep trying.