Scott Myers over at “Go Into The Story” has a great post on what actually goes into being a screenwriter. I’ve mentioned this before, but screenwriting isn’t just writing. Some people will argue otherwise, but I think they’re wrong, even the progessionals.
Regardless of what you do for a living, not every second of your job is spent “doing.” Even a plant worker on an assembly line spends some time thinking. It could be between rivents, projects, implementations, driving… it doesn’t matter. We think. We observe. And all of it goes into helping us perform better.
Don’t confuse this with being jaded. You may hate your job. But odds are there is something else you wish you were doing. So you think about that… which is the same thing as what I mentioned above.
As screenwriters we don’t just write. We think. We observe. We study. We reflect. We do a lot of things to prepare us to be screenwriters and perform the act of screenwriting. Sure, the actual writing is what pays the bills, just like a baseball player’s batting average or ERA gets him contracts. But there is still practice, study, and thinking involved. You have to work at your profession to get better, and not all of that working involes actually making anything.
When you go out to eat, any stray conversation of diners at a nearby table becomes an opportunity to snatch a potential line of dialogue.
When you stand at the end of the line in a grocery store, those ten minutes spent shuffling toward check-out allow you to glance at the tabloid headlines and see if there’s a story concept waiting to be found.
In fact any time you read a magazine, newspaper, website, book — anything! — part of your brain invariably thinks, “Is this a story? A scene? A theme? A character I can use?”
I’ve explained it to people like this:
“When you walk around you see people. When I walk around I see characters.
You see a guy at the office who fixes the scratches in the wood grain on the elevator wall. I see a guy who studied painting in Paris and has a Master’s degree, is forty grand in debt, and instead of living the life he thought he would when he grew up he’s stuck in some dead end gig using his skills at paint matching to fill in the grooves of wood paneling.
You see a guy with a janitors garb on. I see a guy who’s about to snap, and God help the people around him when that happens.
You see a mom pushing a stroller. I see a woman having an affair with her OBGYN and worried about what will happen when her husband finds out.
You see an autistic kid rocking back and forth against the wall. I see a super genuis pulling one over on everyone around him as he plots the demise of the people who tease him.”
As screenwriters we’re different. We don’t look at the world the same way as other people. We see things where others don’t. All of that goes into making us who we are, and making our stories work on the page, and hopefully on the screen. While there are a select few who will rise to the top and excel where other’s have failed, we are still one in the same. A man is no less of a man because he can’t hit a fast ball. A woman is no less of a woman because she can’t bake a pie. Write what you want to write. Pursue your dreams. Don’t settle.
If youv’e got the talent, work ethic, and luck falls your way, things will happen.
That’s true for any career, screenwriting or otherwise.