Friday, August 29, 2008

The headache of waiting

I once dated a guy who had chronic migraine headaches. (I think there was some long, hard-to-pronounce name for his condition, but he just called them headaches.) One of his friends used to joke, "Do you have a headache now?" "Yup." "How bout now?" "Uh huh." He took some intense medicine that sometimes helped, but generally he was always in pain, sometimes too much to get out of bed. And the medicine couldn't be mixed with alcohol - which made college life kinda shitty sometimes. His dad had the same condition, and just sort of grew out of it when he was 22ish, so my guy hoped that one day he would wake up, headache-free, and his life would be perfect.

But that's the thing - your life is never going to be perfect. I made this point to him once, and I think he was annoyed for a minute, but then he agreed completely. Sometimes you get so focused on one thing, you give it an inflated amount of value. You see it as a grand solution to your life, when in fact there is no such thing. You give it more meaning than it deserves.

All the contest and fellowship deadlines have passed, and people are starting to get ansty. (For the record, if you made it to the last round for Austin, you get a phone call. If you didn't, you get a letter - and I've heard of people getting both by now. I've gotten neither, which seems strangely appropriate.) But you have to try not to wait by the phone or check your email endlessly, waiting for the judgement of whether you're a good writer, whether you can declare yourself successful. Because that's the thing. If you win, it doesn't mean you've completely made it. You might not get a rep. You might get a rep, but you might not get work. There are all kinds of ups and downs in this profession, both on the way up and once you've already have some success. Certainly don't downplay your successes - celebrate them - but keep working. And on the flip side, if you don't even place in the quarterfinals or whatever, it doesn't mean that you're a shitty writer and you'll never make it. It just means that whoever was assigned to read your script didn't love it. And that's how taste works.

I hope your headaches go away. But even if they do, you're not finished. You've gotta keep writing.

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Unknown said...

Thanks, Amanda. Long time reader, first time poster. This blog entry really hit home for me. Thank you.

Jane said...

I got the letter from Austin (for Bones). So that means that me and 400 other people were picked to go to the second round. And what does that really mean? Nothing.

So yeah, you're totally right. Waiting is for suckers. Action is what matters.

Trevor Finn said...

I got the letter for my Heroes spec. It said my script didn't even make it to the 2nd round! But I like how in the letter it essentially says not to be discouraged because competitions are subjective. Well then what was the point of the competition?

VFaiola2 said...


I hear you! But I think it's true, once you get to a certain level of script decency; it's a matter of reader bias/preference? My Boston Legal spec was a semifinalist in Scriptapalooza and didn't make it out of the first round of Austin. A friend of mine won the Scriptapalooza drama competition with a Dexter spec that wasn't even a nominee for my film school's 'TV script' of the year. Of course, two of the nominees entered Scriptapalooza...and weren't even quarterfinalists!

Long story short, I think once you have the character voices down and a solid dramatic structure and're in this large pool of talented wannabe-writers. At that point, it almost seems like it comes down to the luck of the reader. For instance, if I get a reader who hates Boston Legal's sexual puns and thinks the dialogue is too stylized...well, it's gonna be hard to overcome that. Likewise, if I get a Boston Legal fan who knows Denny Crane better than his own could really help.

Maybe that's simple justification for the seemingly random nature of placement I've noticed. But, human nature HAS to play a role.