Screenwriting, any writing, is such a solitary occupation. It suits me. I'm always comfortable alone and inside my head. Or perhaps I've just become more solitary as a result of my 25-year span sitting behind a desk by myself. I'm Italian and gregarious by nature (and nurture) but there's a lot of me that likes being alone with a computer, book, script, or TV/movie. I always thought I could be the erstwhile caretaker on the old scifi film "Silent Running" or the Sam Rockwell character on the film "Moon."
The solitary nature of writing has tendrils into other aspects of the lifestyle. No one, perhaps even another writer, can quite understand the internal nature of who you are. Of course, that's true of most of us anyway but writers face a unique doubling down of that truth. Unless you've "made it" most of your work goes unrecognized and unrewarded except for a few friends or an attaboy you might give yourself when you type FADE OUT or THE END (do novelists still type THE END?) Perhaps you're like the hilarious character in "Romancing The Stone" who cracks a mini-bottle of booze and feeds your cat its food in a champagne glass when you've finished your latest project.
Perhaps, like me, you go to a swimming pool or wander around a store like Big Lots with your sister chattering about nonsense, finally freed from the mental constraints of your current characters and plotlines.
There's this other thing, though, which can kill your spirit a little at a time or all at once.
It's that space between success - which I define as a sale, getting a check - the ultimate Hollywood reward of someone paying you for the stuff inside your head.
But between sales, there's that place of doubt and anguish where you continually entertain and then force yourself to dismiss your anxieties about your skills and validity as a writer.
I didn't sell a script to be able to call myself a professional; I was hired to write to a concept. I am justifiably proud of this accomplishment because a production company trusted me, a non-pro at the time, to write something sight unseen going only on a previous script (that didn't sell at that time) and a brief face-to-face meeting. I thought I had made it when I got that first check. I was certain that my writing life would now be on that path to success because of what I was given, what I earned, and what I was told about how good a writer I was by many.
Then it took a year to sell anything else and that was for 10% of what I was paid for my first script. Think about it. You're hired at a six figure salary and then ignored for a year and then the next time anyone focuses on you for anything they want to pay you 90 times less than what you got before.
I mean Holy Downsizing, Batman!
I've had good years and bad years as a writer. I've worked on multiple projects simultaneously and unfortunately, I've also had strings of multiple bad years where I haven't sold anything. Nada. Zip!
I get that it's a competitive world in which I live and many people are just as motivated as me. Some are even as good as me, most not if I'm and not engaging in any false modesty. You don't sell 32 scripts and have 19 produced unless you have skills that translate. I do because I've worked my (fat) ass off to get there. And I continue to work my (fat) ass off on my learning processes and improving my skill set.
What also comes with this is multiple fallow years where no matter how skilled you are, you're writing and not selling anything. It's shocking how little anyone cares about my work at times. I can't even get it read for the most part. Producers are polite but disinterested. A lot of my contacts move on to different lives (looking at you, Catalaine Knell my first and true producer crush) and the love the industry had for me through those fans of my work has passed. I've had to make new "love connections" and let me tell you - a lot of times it just ain't happening.
Yes I've read the stories about Steven King's 1,000 rejection letters but that was at the beginning of his career, not the middle. What happens at times to writers is that space between sales when you're afraid to open the panic pantry of self-doubt because you'll be destroyed by it.
Am I kidding myself? Was I ever good enough? Why can't anyone see how fun and tasty my scripts are,,,?
And the deadly ninja assassin of the panic pantry - am I too old now? Do I still have any relevance in today's world?
F*ck and double f*ck - that is a silent and devastatingly efficient killer. It stops you in front of mirrors as you look at your aging face, or chokes you as you tell a class-full of students about your career where the last thing you sold was when they were too young to watch it. It trips you on rugs, and makes you veer slightly in traffic as you head for a networking event to try and drum up some interest in your writing.
It's just goddamned horrible.
It makes you want to dump your copy of Final Draft and sign up for re-training at your local job fair - maybe it's not too late to become a phlebotomist or social media guru.
This is the writers' life - or at least a big part of it; a unique and troubling aspect of what most of us face daily.
But it does happen to others in other professions.
I am an avid football fan and a solid fan for other sports. Lunch is a sandwich, Fritos, and either a borrowed newspaper sports section or an online sports site. I do betting pools and talk shop enthusiastically when I'm with other sports fans..
My aforementioned sister with whom I stroll through Big Lots, dumped a bunch of her newspaper sports sections on me recently and one article stopped me and made me realize that there are others who share in this empty space of little accomplishment and self-doubt.
I'm not a huge golfing fan - when my dad died so did most of my interest in golf although I do talk about it once in awhile with my brother-in-law (yes, that sister's husband - they're a one-stop shop.)
The article in question was about Phil Mickleson. I like Phil. He was a great story when he succeeded on winning a major after so many years of near-misses. And he has psoriasis which I also suffer from. We're itchy, dry, scaling skin brothers, if you will.
I had just assumed he was puttering along (yes, I did that on purpose) winning some, losing some but mostly winning.
Nope. Point in fact, he hadn't won a major in five years. Until now. A half-decade of...losing.
But the weirdness doesn't stop there.
Tiger Woods appears to be back after years of physical and emotional pain and not having won anything of note for almost a decade. The once wunderkind was supposedly has-been-kind because his body was breaking down. Except, that's not the case apparently.
But there's more! (now I just sound like one of those pitchmen on TV) - Michele Wie, another golfer of note and someone I assumed was winning her tournaments, had just done what Mickelson and Woods did - she started winning again after six years of loses.
Uh...wait a minute. WTF is going on?
I'm going to call it what it is: Inspirational.
Here are three different golfers who couldn't be less alike, all experiencing the same exact resurgence of their careers. Who knew?
I'm still shaking my head at how the Universe seems to always be keeping me honest.
If they can do it, so can I. They didn't give up, neither will I. I really hear you, Big U - you're playing my jam. Don't give in, give way as my martial arts Sensei likes to say.
Okay, to be fair, I am still selling scripts and making good things happen with my writing, but when your phone isn't ringing daily (or monthly - or yearly) you tend to worry. Or at least I do.
But, folks, I have to be honest with you, I am not as worried as I was before I realized that the simple truth is - you only fail when you stop trying. Knowing this and embracing this are two vastly different things, however.
So, I have to continue to remind myself. I will hold fast to what I know about my work - it's good enough, and try to shift my focus to what I'm (apparently) doing wrong. I will remember that it only takes a phone call or a meeting to change my world. I have never stopped writing (I have a ton of scripts ready to go) but I will redouble my efforts to get them out to the appropriate people even if I have to listen to a thousand no's.
If Phil, Michele, and Tiger can do it - so can I.
I mean seriously, I am too young and too stupidly arrogant ever consider stopping at this point. My win at a major is just around the corner of that next tee shot where I'm on in one.
Yeah, okay, I won't bore you with golf metaphors.
Let's just say "fore!" and hope for the best lie I can get.
I repeat. If Phi, Michele, and Tiger can do it, so can. So can I.
So, remember to stay focused. Stay confident. Keep your eyes on the prize, as they say.
Oh, and P.S. - the word lie is a golf term not a blatant rationalization, so bite me!
Be inspired, do good work.