By Lee Hamilton.
“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit” according to Richard Bach, and while he was talking about writing novels, the same absolutely applies to screenwriters too. But while writing a screenplay can be one of the most rewarding, fun, and creative outlets you can have, it can also be, at times, one of the most difficult, frustrating, and soul-destroying pursuits on the planet too.
Even the most successful screenwriters out there have experienced moments of crippling self-doubt about their writing ability, or have written their story into an impossible corner, or have been one rejection email away from giving up entirely. So, how did they get out of their writing funk, and more importantly, how can you?
Take a Break.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but if you’re writing to a tight deadline or only have a limited time to spend on your writing, the thought of NOT writing might feel ridiculous, but in reality, if you keep pushing yourself, you’ll end up burning yourself out. Taking a break allows you to reset, rest, and return with a fresh mind. For how long you take a break is up to you. Some people find that scheduling regular breaks helps keep them sharp, while others claim that stuffing their screenplay into a drawer and leaving it for a year allows them to re-examine it from an entirely new perspective, helping solve whatever issues were originally hampering them.
Writing a screenplay can often feel like a mammoth task that can quickly become overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Breaking the writing process down into smaller, more manageable chunks can help you to start making progress quickly and keep your writing momentum going because all those small parts soon add up to a larger whole. Compartmentalizing can be anything from trying to achieve a set word count each session, writing a set number of scenes, outlining character arcs, to doing specific passes on rewrites. Setting yourself a small specific task is much easier than trying to do everything at once.
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Finding a writing partner isn’t for everyone, but if you’re struggling with one particular area of writing, finding someone whose strength is your weakness can help complement both of your writing and help create a stronger whole. Screenwriting can be an extremely lonely job, and some people thrive in this environment, but there are many advantages to having a writing partner, such as being able to bounce ideas off one another, problem-solve issues, being accountable to someone else, and just having some additional support can be extremely valuable.
If you are too close to a project, it can be very hard to look at it objectively, so getting some fresh eyes on your work can really help you discover what’s working and what’s not. Although it can be scary at first, the fact is, if you want to sell your screenplay, it’s going to be read by lots and lots of different people, so you need to get used to having your work scrutinized. Whether it’s from screenwriting friends, a mentor, or a reputable coverage service, the more eyes you can get on your script the better, but obviously, the more experienced the reader, the more likely you’ll get more relevant feedback. Good coverage should explain why something isn’t working, helping you to focus on problem areas that when addressed will ultimately make your script stronger.
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Don’t take it Personal.
Rejection is part of the screenwriter’s world. So, you mustn’t fear rejection because you’re going to have to get used to it if you want to succeed. There are a ton of reasons you might get rejected, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re writing is bad. Your concept might not have been a good fit for the production company or they are already making a similar script and not looking to buy more, etc. Rejection is also an opportunity to improve your writing. Getting critical feedback on why your script was rejected can turn a negative experience into a positive one.
Ultimately, as with the writing process itself, beating the blues is all about finding something that works for you. You maybe need to re-discover what it is about screenwriting that you love, remind yourself of the end goal that’s been driving you, go connect with other people who share your passion, or do something as simple as writing something fun just for yourself.
Whatever it is, remember Richard Bach’s words… don’t quit!
Lee Hamilton is a script reader, developer, and author. Lee was one of the original readers to join Shore Scripts and has since moved into education and development, penning numerous articles, workbooks, and writing courses.