Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Do I suck?

Serita writes: How do you really know when you are a talented writer? My friends who read my specs tell me how funny they are, but I have literally applied to every single fellowship out there and I haven't been accepted to any of them.

Wow, this is tough - and we all ask ourselves this. We'll never really stop.

As writers, our success is always based on what others think of our work, which is probably why it's so nerve-wracking. We spend hours at the keyboard, molding characters we absolutely love, writing lines we think are so wonderfully clever. But unless other people agree with us, we're not going to get anywhere. You have to find people who are fans of your writing. People might tell you they like your script, but if they don't A) offer to represent you, B) buy it, C) offer you a writing job or D) pass it onto someone who can do one of those things, then they didn't really like it that much. Friends are great - but they might be afraid to tell you the truth. Or they might just not have any way to help you.

You have to keep writing, and keep sending your stuff to people. If you give it a few years and you don't find anybody to do any of the above, then maybe you're not cut out for this. As for the fellowships - they're great, but they only accept a tiny fraction of applicants. It doesn't mean you're a bad writer. I don't think it's wise to count on fellowships alone. This business is very competitive, and you have to give yourself the most opportunities you can. You have to be proactive, be your own biggest advocate. Success is not going to hunt you down. Come to LA and meet more people to send your scripts to.

If you can imagine yourself being happy doing something else, then you're not meant to make a career in writing. But if you know you HAVE to do this, keep going.

If you're good, you'll get there. Don't feel like talentless people with great Hollywood connections have a big advantage over you. You still have to be a good writer. I see it all the time: My boss's friend's wife's son's friend's friend will write a script and send it to us. He had the connection. He got inside. But then we'll read the script, and it will suck. And we'll pass. Because you still have to be a good writer.

If you are, keep at it. You'll get there.

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Dan Williams said...

Absolutely agree.

Another way to know if you have talent is, are you getting better with each piece you write? If you are, you have talent, and if you are, there is no reason to stop writing and every reason to continue.

As well, if you get great joy from your writing, THIS is the primary reward: you are doing what you love to do. When you get good enough at it, you'll get published/produced.

If you just write simple scenes and keep at it, you'll keep getting better: the character enters a setting with a goal, there's an obstacle, there's a resolution, next scene.

You'll always feel insecure about your writing until you master the craft, but one day you will, and the struggle will have been worth it.

(And using Times New Roman helps!)

Emily Blake said...

I think it's a combination of two things. One, you just feel it. Not that you don't have doubts, but you read your script and you go "yeah, that's pretty awesome." And the doubts come few and far between.

Combined with that, if you give your script to people in the industry who know what to look for and they say "You can sell this" or that it can get you a job, but give you a good note or two, then you've got something.

If anyone ever tells you only positive comments and doesn't offer a single note, they're lying to you or they don't know anything.

Sasha said...

If your only choices are to die or to write, then you've got to write. What does talent have to do with it?

It's pointless to worry about things you can't control. God-given talent is one of those things, and the compulsion to write is another.

Personally, I also find it very, very tough to work in a professional vacuum. But (like Serita) I don't have a choice, so I let go and do my best.

Maybe writing ambitions are a curse. Maybe my worst fears will come true and I'll end up a bag lady protected from thunderstorms and crazies only by thigh-high piles of unsold specs.... but eh, c'est le vie. It's win or die, so guess I'll play to win :)

*Enough cliches for ya there, everybody?

Sarah said...

Die or write? Not me. The act of writing is odious. Reading something I've written, on the other hand, is a buzz. I am currently a TV scriptwriter and have worked full time around a story table on primetime shows. (Note: not in this country.) Did I once enjoy working as a suit in an advertising office? Yes. Am I thinking about buying a business right now? Yes. Do I intend to keep writing my original ideas? Yes.But die or write? Not me. So don't be disheartened if this doesn't feel like you, either. You may still be a professional writer some day.

Dave Shepherd said...

Winning a fellowship does not equal having a career. It equals a start of a career. You still have to be good enough to keep going. I'd hazard a guess that most people (not just those who win fellowships) aren't.

Also, to anyone doubting themselves --

Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Dark Knight) had his first feature film rejected at Slamdance (though he went back a year later with the final cut and got in).

The guy who wrote and directed The Dark Knight was rejected.

Pixar's original concept for Toy Story was rejected by Disney, causing them to go back and rework it into the classic we have today.

Rejection isn't always a bad thing.

If Christopher Nolan and Pixar can be rejected, it can happen to anyone.