If a writer’s life can be a lonely one, then a screenwriter’s career is surely spent in an uninhabited corner of the planet Zeron. Scripts don’t read like novels, and your friends and family probably don’t want to spend an hour having you explain everything before they’re able to read a couple of pages of indecipherable text. So yeah, it’s lonely.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t steps you can take to improve your mental hygiene. We’d like to suggest that instead of thinking you have to do more to be successful, you should take a step back and try to do a little less of the following:
1. Stop Trying to Write Fargo
Joel and Ethan Coen already wrote what is arguably the best thriller script in Hollywood and nobody needs you to rewrite it. Too many screenwriters drive themselves to the point of zero production because they start with a fixed idea that is based on a script they admire. If you’re already imagining the actors who will be playing the various roles, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Just tell your story, and stop believing that it’s only going to sell if it sounds like somebody else’s.
2. Don’t ask for Feedback if You Don’t Want to Hear It
One of the hardest things to do is keep writing when nobody else has read a word of your script. It gets even worse when you’ve written a scene you’re particularly proud of and can’t wait to share your brilliance with someone else. Before thrusting your half-finished masterpiece in front of an unsuspecting guinea pig, think hard. You should only ask for feedback for two reasons. Firstly, you’ve finished a piece of work and are completely satisfied with it. This will give you the confidence not to throw in the towel the minute someone else isn’t quite as taken with your story as you are. Secondly, ask for feedback if you’re stuck or you need something to work but the pieces aren’t quite falling into place. You’re looking for help, not judgment, so there’s no need to be defensive when your audience responds.
3. Quit Goofing Around
There are exactly 24 hours in the day. If you take away the time you spend sleeping, eating, bathing, doing laundry, feeding the dog and buying groceries, you may only have 7 or 8 productive hours left to write. If you have another job, cut that in half and be prepared to lose some sleep.
Here’s the other set of statistics you need to pay attention to. The average American spends five hours a day watching TV and another three on their cell phone. If you’re serious about your work, you’re not going to be able to spend much time doing either. Screenwriting is as much a discipline as an art form and there’s no other way to get to the end than by putting in the time.
4. Don’t Neglect Your Wall
Let’s face it, if you haven’t yet sold a script, the only person who truly believes you can be a screenwriter is you. Build a wall between you and everyone else who thinks you’d be better off getting a real job, and make sure you keep the negativity on the other side. Periods of self-doubt are bad enough, but other people’s criticisms can break you. On your side of the fence, make sure to focus on what’s working, what sounds good to you, and how far you’ve come. For
now, you’re going to have to be your own biggest fan, so keep focussing on the parts that make you feel good.
5. Don’t Throw Anything Away
Or in most cases, never empty your digital trash. What sounds like garbage today may sing like a bird tomorrow, so don’t be too quick to press delete. If you’ve written more than a couple of lines of dialogue or half a page of text and think it sucks, start again on a fresh page but keep the old one. Your brain pumped out that particular idea for a reason, and while it may not work at the moment, you never know when it’ll be just the line you’re looking for.
Then there’s all the other “do” stuff. Get rest, go for a walk, read scripts, eat well, change your underwear… In the end, the path you take to success will be uniquely your own, but the challenges you encounter will be much easier to surmount if you didn’t place them there yourself.