How many want-to-be Screenwriters in the room?
I see a lot of hands.
Screenwriting promises riches and notoriety, but much like acting or professional sport, only those few with the inherent talent, and more importantly, the unstoppable drive, succeed. Very few make a living in this arena. Plenty of dreamers though.
I’d been interested in writing since my teens but never had the drive to keep myself on track. Back in the early 90’s I took an interest in screenwriting. I read at least a dozen books on the topic from authors like Michael Hauge, Lew Hunter, Syd Field and Dwight Swain, to name a few. I even developed my own webpage at the time ‘The Procrastinating Screenwriter’s Page’, back before everyone and their uncle had a screenwriting site. Over the years I wrote four screenplays, three horror, one action/adventure. While the process was both exhilarating and frustrating, often at the same time, the feeling of accomplishment made it worthwhile. I received an honorable mention in a Writer’s Guild screenwriting competition with my second script, but beyond that, no success story here. Part of my problem, I realized, was my ill effort at second-drafting. My second drafts consisted of minor tweaks and changes. Successful writers attack their work with a much more critical eye. I also tended to procrastinate.
In recent years I kept a journal of ideas for scripts, stories, and the occasional novel. A while back I switched gears and took up writing for children (we’d just had our daughter). Again, I loaded up with several books; after all, what better way to avoid actually writing, than by reading about writing? I wrote four children’s books, one self-published, but again, spent little time trying to actively market my work. The letters I did send out to agencies and publishers were returned with a polite, no thank you. I sold one story to a popular Children’s website at the time, but that was about it. But at least I was now a professional (insert laugh here).
Then it was back to screenwriting, although I did have a couple of flash fiction stories published online in the interim. I was also active for a time with the online writing group Critique Circle. This was the first time I had ever engaged others to critique my work, and it was a real eye opener. I am still a member of the group, and I highly recommend CC to anyone who is looking for honest feedback.
Over the past few years I began and abandoned at least a half dozen scripts. While I get excited about an original idea, I lose steam once I start breaking down characters, motivations, backgrounds, plot points, and so forth. I believe two types of writers exist, those who do extensive background work before they write (detailed character charts and complete plot outlines), and those who ‘fly by the seat of their pants’. I realized early on that I am not in the first group. But equally problematic, after 20-30 pages into a script, I find I’m not in the second group either.
So where am I?
Here, writing a blog.
My recent/current project is an idea for a television pilot, in a similar vein as ‘Lost’, and the short lived BBC series ‘Survivors’. While I don’t watch a lot of television, the arrival of Netflix has been both a blessing and a curse. My story blends a post-apocalyptic backdrop with the enigmatic mysteries of the island in ‘Lost’. A sure winner (ha!). That being said, after 25 pages in, I realized I don’t know anything about my characters. The dialogue is forced, bland, and the dreaded ‘block’ has set in. This was the first stall in the process, but it’s proved insurmountable, at least to date.
So more recently I began tinkering about the idea of a novella, Christmas themed.
And along came WordPress.
I’ve read enough to know the key to successful writing rests with the old adage, ‘seat of your pants to the seat of the chair’. This is where I fail. While family life and working full time can be a crutch, it’s no excuse.
And, ever lurking in the recesses of my mind, the concept of ‘natural talent’, and if I actually have any. This is a constant challenge, and I try to remind myself that if one keeps at it, good things will result.
Then I pick up something like Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’, and think, ‘my God, what’s the use?’
But I turn off my ‘internal editor’ (that voice that tells me to quit fooling myself), and forge ahead. I may never make an impact with my writing, but in the end, just creating something original, something that’s never existed before, is cathartic. Whether we realize it or not, writing is a form of therapy. And who among us can’t benefit from a little therapy, now and again?
So the challenge remains; turn off Netflix, ignore Facebook (limit the new PS4) and write.
Get those words on the page.
My goal for
Good luck Mike.