Posted by: steveonfilm | January 13, 2011

Some Good Advice

I check ScriptShadow every day at noon. Why? Two reasons. One, that’s typically when new screenplay reviews go up. And it’s about the same time I eat lunch at work. So I’ll read the review while I’m grubbing, and try to download any scripts that sound interesting. Two, sometimes Carson posts up interesting articles and commentary that are just plain good things for people to know.

Today was one of those days.

The article is titled “What Now” and it’s all about what a writer should do when they think their writing has reached a point where it’s ready for prime time. The article was inspired by a writer that he’d been going back and forth with for a while about some scripts they’d written. They thought they were good and ready to rise up. Carson thought differently. And this just crushed the writer.

I think we’ve all been there at one point or another. While I would have LOVED to have gotten a “worth the read” when Carson reviewed “Served Cold,” I wasn’t under delusions that my writing was prime time yet. I wasn’t “crushed,” but I certainly found myself inspired like I hadn’t been in a long time. Then again, I’m already successful with my regular career, so maybe I’m not hanging on to that desire to still prove myself like this writer was.

Anyway, Carson went on to offer nine things that he suggests aspiring writers do. Some of these I know about. Some of these I’d never even thought about. But here were a few choice entries I wanted to highlight:

BE PATIENT
…it takes most screenwriters an average of 7-8 years before they break in… If you think you’re ready for the big leagues after 2 years of scribbling, by that same logic you should be able to apply for the lead heart surgeon job at Cedar-Sinai after two years of undergrad. … Allan Loeb, the screenwriter who’s making more money than any other screenwriter in the business right now, didn’t sell his first script until his 12th year trying? …don’t put unrealistic expectations on this craft. It’s a lot harder than you think it is. Just keep working at it and when it’s your time, it’s your time.

I thought this was just a fantastic way to frame how long it takes to get “good” at screenwriting. You’re not going to get there with 2 years of trying. Carter uses the metaphor of a heart surgeon, but sports works just as well. You’re not going to make the varsity squad for football if you just started playing. You need to start in junior high and learn the ropes, and then work your way up, getting better each year.

READ ALL THE BOOKS
You have to read the major screenwriting books. Even if you think they’re bogus and a sham. Read them. Why? Because I read too many scripts where writers don’t even know the basics of the 3-Act structure … if you’re pursuing this screenwriting thing, I’m presuming you want to make a career out of it. For that reason, study it just like you’d study for any career.

We’re all amateurs here. But if we’re serious, we need to act like this is job training. Most of us aren’t going to go to formal school for this. But then again, we don’t do that for job training either. We take online courses. Or buy books and work toward technical certifications. Regardless of the path, we all do the same thing, and set aside time EVERY DAY to get better at our career. Screenwriting is no different. Books are our job training. It’s the best way to learn the basics, terms, and ideas that you’ll need to develop to get better. They don’t have all the answers, but they provide a starting point. The rest is up to you.

JOIN AN ONLINE SCREENWRITING COMMUNITY
There are several screenwriting communities on the web, a couple of the most popular being Triggerstreet and Done Deal.

I’ve mentioned this before, but have really fallen back on keeping up at it. I’ve made some wonderful contacts through the blog, but I don’t think it’s enough. I have a Trigger Street account, and I need to get back into that. It’s a great way to get people to read your scripts. One you’ve reviewed three, you can upload one of your own. Give it a try.

ENTER CONTESTS
…Contests are not stupid. They’re invaluable. Why? … Because they keep you on track, because they keep you focused, because they give you deadlines, because they chart your progress. The truth is, you’re probably not going to win any of these contests. But when you start getting good, you’ll see your screenplays advance and you’ll start to gain confidence that what you’re doing is working.

You’re not going to start a career in this thanks to a contest. But it’s a great tool to measure yourself. I know I’ve gained confidence in my writing thanks to how I did last year. I’d have NEVER sent a script to Carson had I not semifinaled. But I did, and had the confidence to send it to Scriptshadow, and because of that I had more people read my stuff and give me feedback than I ever have before. Deadlines are a good thing too. Contests are a great way to set goals for yourself. The point isn’t to win (but it’s a great side effect), it’s to set your mind to something and do it.

READ SCRIPTS
This advice shouldn’t come as a surprise. You’re on a site about reading scripts. Naturally, I want you to read as many scripts as possible. And I mean AS MANY AS POSSIBLE.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, you learn a TON from doing this. I don’t read as many as I should, but I do read them often. Sometimes I write about them, most of the time I don’t. I’ve got links to a lot of places you can find scripts. Check them out. But if you belong to a site like Trigger Street, read those scripts too. See what other amateurs are doing. You’ll pick up on things some people do you might want to duplicate. You’ll see things some people do you’ll want to avoid. But the bottom line is you’ll learn.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if you don’t read Scriptshadow you really need to. Carson tells you why some scripts work, and why others don’t, and does it in a why that ANYONE can understand. He provides a great resource for writers like us.

Until next time, keep writing!
-Steven

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